Hello open-wheel racing fans! As the month of May approaches, today we will wrap up our four-part series with the final chapter in the journey of Michai Stephens. If you have missed parts one, two or three, please check them out to catch-up on what you will read today.
Below is the conclusion of a tremendous testimony of grit, determination, raw talent and destiny. Take a look at the final part of “A Leap of Faith: The Michai Stephens Story.”
Chapter Four: The Kid Can Drive
With revered motorsport personality Jeremy Shaw coming to his aide in 2015, Michai would indeed become the fifth driver in the Team USA Scholarship’s history to represent his country twice and third to ever do so consecutively.
That fall Michai was off to a hot start, reaching the podium in three of the five races he competed in against previous, present and future winners of the Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy.
However, while the stars were beginning to align, a crash at Silverstone (race five) broke his thumb and sent him packing for the United States. Due to the immediate surgery, Michai also had to withdraw himself from the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout after being an at large nominee by Mazda.
Just hours after a successful surgery on that broken thumb, Fred Edwards gave the aspiring professional a call. Yet another opportunity was on the horizon, and it would include the USF2000 championship after all.
Edwards was helping fund an all-rookie team in the open-wheel ladder series for the 2016 season, and the group was called RJB Motorsports.
Ever grateful for the opportunity, Michai did the best he could with the fledging outfit. While the results were hard to come by due to the team’s lack of experience and inferior equipment, Michai could take solace that he did not crash and or damage the car throughout the entire season.
A very consistent driver trying to push the limits of a team with limited resources, he noted “it was a rough year… A very trying year with a rookie team pitted against 15-plus years of experience (from other teams) wherever we went.”
While his rival, Gabin, at this time, a sophomore in the race series, would finish fifth place in the 2016 USF2000 Championship with superior equipment driving for Jay Motorsports. Michai would squeeze every ounce of potential he had from his car to round out the championship in 17th place with a best finishing result of 9th at the Honda GP Streets of Toronto, ironically the most technical track on the calendar.
In 2017, Michai spent much of his time as a driving instructor. Working both privately and at RaceCraft1 in Indianapolis, Michai utilized that time as an interactive driving coach to hone his own skills and teaching methods in an effort to become a more polished competitor himself.
Just as important, the talented driver would help develop the US Formula Four car in conjunction with Honda Performance Development.
In a two-day session at the Carolina Motorsports Park, Michai provided feedback on a multitude of performance aspects, including even the most minute details such as the car’s pit speed limiter.
Approaching 2018, Michai is as much a businessman as he is a driver looking to learn.
This calendar year, Michai will continue his pursuit of becoming a factory racing driver competing for national championships.
Eager to improve his understanding of life behind the wheel of a race car and honored to take part in opportunities that will bring him one step closer to his dream, Michai is looking for support in order to secure that next shot at moving forward.
Still one of his greatest supporters, Jeremy Shaw would love to see Michai get one more opportunity.
During his conversation on the Dinner with Racers podcast, Shaw recalled a unique conversation he had with three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti after Michai’s incredible run at Silverstone in 2014.
“I said, ‘what have we got here? This is just astonishing – done no racing at all, no karting, no nothing,’” exclaimed Shaw. “The kid can drive. I’d love to see him in a car because he has absolute untapped potential.
“I recon he is one of the most naturally-gifted guys I have ever come across.”
While they are sharp and poignant words from the veteran motorsports journalist, the timing couldn’t be better for a ringing testimonial.
In the outset of this feature, I mentioned how important it was for the media to make note of drivers most deserving for additional opportunities. Michai Stephens is deserving of one more shot.
We were more than pleased to have a chance to meet with Michai and have him explain his unconventional journey to the Mazda Road to Indy ranks. Open-Wheels hopes to see him on-track in 2018 and in the future.
Image courtesy of INDYCAR Media.