"This is incredible! This is awesome! Standing on the top-step of the podium after 24 hours at this amazing track in Dubai, I just can't explain how much this means to me! I love endurance racing and the challenge it presents," stated an ecstatic Lewis. "You add in the fact that this is a new team to me and a relatively new track to me and it makes it even more special. Cor Euser Racing did an amazing job. We were punching above our weight here a little bit. But, we created a plan and everyone stuck to it. Ultimately, that gave us the edge we needed to win. I cannot say enough about my teammates Vic [Rice], Henk [Thijssen] and Trevor [Knight]. It would have been really easy for any one of us to go after personal glory and ignore the strategy just to put down a hot lap and be a hero. But, we all kept our heads and did what it takes to win. I am so excited to be a part of this. This was definitely a team win."
Despite racing a Lotus Evora GT4, underpowered in comparison to the SP3-classes heavy-hitting and V8-powered factory efforts, the multi-time American Le Mans Series and GRAND-AM race-winner showed trademark consistency and speed throughout the weekend. Qualifying set the stage for what would prove to be a battle between the No. 148 Lotus and the two-car Nissan 370S factory effort.
"Unbelievable, unbelievable! A spectacular victory for the whole team. It has been a long time since I have met a driver that is fast and as smart at the same time," stated Cor Euser, team owner. "This is the first time he has driven for my team and I see now why he is so successful."
Lewis was given the honor of qualifying at the 3.35-mile/4.39km Dubai Autodrome F1-circuit for the Dutch team and held the top-spot for much of the session. However, a late charge by the Nissan team nipped the No. 148 of the pole position. Lewis put on new tires and returned to the track but, despite bettering his time again on the sand-strewn course, he was not able to better the lap of the Nissans leaving the Lotus third on the grid for the start.
The No. 148 operation wasted little time moving to the front of the 8th annual 24H DUBAI when the green flag fell. The V6-powered, British-built racer moved to the point shortly after the 2 p.m. (local) start. By the race's midpoint, the team held a solid but not insurmountable lead. As the hours ticked-away, challengers threatened but never toppled the Lotus from its pinnacle and the car, or team never faltered. With a the steady lead and time waning, Lewis and the Cor Euser Racing team began to throttle back in attempt to minimize any potential issue that would snatch victory from them. This led to some moments of concern as the Nissans 370S closed the gap in the final hour. However, playing its strategy to the letter, Cor Euser went on to complete 547 laps and finish with a 10.6-second class victory - 17th overall in the 80-car field.
"It may have seemed like we controlled the race after taking the lead early-on but I am telling you we worked at it every second of every lap," Lewis added. "Our competitors spent more time trying to catch us than just staying with their own plan. They made mistakes focusing on us and not themselves. That was a big benefit to us. We did just the opposite. We all focused on the strategy. The team had great pit stops, the drivers ran exactly the laps they needed to and we never went chasing anyone. That was the key. Once again we weren't the fastest overall but we were the smartest."
Lewis now returns home to Florida where the celebration will be short-lived. The former Daytona Endurance Championship titlist will begin immediately to prepare for his 35th career 24-hour race, the 51st Running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, January 26-27. Lewis will drive the No. 16 Napleton Racing Porsche Cayman in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series' season-opener. In pre-season testing on January 4-6 at Daytona International Speedway (DIS), Lewis set the quickest time of the weekend in the newly created GX class setting the stage for continued good opportunity for Lewis. While having made 15 previous starts in the Rolex 24, Lewis will be pursuing his first-ever class victory at North America's premier 24-hour race.
In his career, Lewis has piloted every major class of sports car from prototype to touring car in 24-hour races. He has made three starts at the "grandfather" of all endurance races, the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1999, 2000, 2003) leading his class in 2003 and he has 15 starts at North America's only professional 24-hour race, theRolex 24 At Daytona (1997-'02, '04-'12). Lewis has five starts at the 24 Hours of Nürburgring ('04, '05, '10-'12) winning his class in '10 and taking podium finishes in '04 and '11. Other endurance race starts include six Petit Le Mans ('98-'01, '03, '10) and seven 12 Hours of Sebring (1997-'98, 2000-'03, '10).
Originally published in the Examiner by Adam Sinclair