Michai Stephens: Driving Forward

Written by Team USA. Posted in Driver Blogs, Feature, Michai Stephens

Published on June 01, 2016 with No Comments

EVANSTON, Ill. – The hidden beauty behind learning how to maximize our opportunities continues to define the character of myself and the RJB Motorsports team. Having competed in three of the four race weekends of the 2016 Cooper Tire USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, we find ourselves achieving a greater understanding for the task and goals at hand.

Rounds Three and Four at Barber Motorsports Park in late April uncovered an interesting set of challenges. We first had to identify, then comprehend and resolve the various issues. It seems this three-step process has found its way into nearly everything I do now : ) But, such a procedure only helps eliminate future mistakes and misunderstandings.

Thanks to a promoter test day, we had an extra day and ample track time to prep for the race weekend. The weather and car balance threw some interesting curve balls at us as we looked to march up the scoring pylon, but having yet found the head of steam we were looking for to push forward, the starts in each of the races made for a good opportunity to turn things around.

I’m happy to report both starts went well and I was able to launch from 22nd into the top 15. After that it was a bit of a struggle. Race one became more of a personal endeavor when a mechanical failure made the car extremely challenging to drive, although I was happy to be able to complete the full race distance in one piece. Race two began on the right foot as well. I made another good start, only to be nailed in the left-rear on the turn-in for corner five by an overzealous rival. This spun me back to the rear of the field, but with the help of a caution period and single-file restart, I was able to pick off a few positions before catching my teammate in P14 and crossing the line in his slipstream.

Then came the month of May and a welcomed noticeable change from this time last year. “Magical May” is how I described my emotions at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2015. My past status of a driver without a seat marvelously turned into a fitted office of my #19 Wild Boar Energy Drink and Metalloid sponsored USF2000 car for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend.

The Speedway already holds a special place in my heart and career within the first three years of my journey. Whether it be on or off the track, the teachings that have come from this place and my time here have been tremendous. From being the first place I ever drove a USF2000 car, to helping secure a Team USA Scholarship nomination, being the first place my family had the chance to see me perform, supporting the youth karting program of NXG, whom I work with on my down time, Indianapolis already has facilitated many powerful and inspiring memories for me. As we move forward, I only hope to maintain and better my relationship to her pure beauty!

I found myself toward the rear of the grid in both Indianapolis road course races due to some misfortune and mechanical gremlins in qualifying. But, just as we had done at Barber, the starts proved to be our strong point. Exiting onto the front straightaway in a clockwise direction certainly threw the brain into a tizzy but, laying in 22nd, I began to peep through the rear wings and roll hoops of the cars ahead and was able to spot the front two rows. This was perfect, because as I had learned at Barber, there was a little game to be played before we set sail. I prepared for launch as the call came over the radio – “green, green, green!” – and fired out of my starting position like a bullet out of a gun (check out the video). With the Turn One brake markers off in the distance, I looked to secure as many spots as possible. Both races began the same way, but with different line choices headed into Turn One. With fingers crossed I took the “around the outside” approach in race one, while in race two I took it to the inside and rode more curb then I had all week : ) Fortunately, I made it through the opening laps free of damage and back inside the top 15 in race one and rounding out the top 10 in race two.

As the laps wound down, we struggled to keep pace with the leaders and began to fall back. However, this did not mean we didn’t have a good time taking note of our areas of needed improvement and the fun aspect of playing with our race craft. I would like to thank the team, the Speedway, Mazda, Cooper Tire and Andersen Promotions for the GOOD times! Finishing race one 19th and race two in 15th meant we certainly still have some work to do, but just because we haven’t risen to the top of the scoring stand does not mean we have not made massive improvements as a TEAM!

Ultimately, as a team, we decided to skip this past weekend’s race at Lucas Oil Raceway. Instead we look to channel our focus to better prepare ourselves for the upcoming series test at Mid-Ohio. With the remainder of the season fast approaching, it’s time to buckle up and get back after it!!

Thank you everyone for keeping up to speed and for all the FANTASTIC support!!

My best wishes to you,

Michai Stephens

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