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Michai Stephens: R.E.S.P.E.C.T

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

Brigstock, England – The Team USA Scholarship gang has been armed and assembled. My teammate, Aaron Telitz, arrived and our Ray chassis were primed and ready for two full days of testing at Donington Park and the Silverstone National Circuit. Yup, you heard me right, Donington Park and Silverstone. The history between these two places speaks for itself. It was remarkable to drive this combination of circuits on back-to-back days. An opportunity I am well aware that not many people will ever have…. THANK YOU!

We were told about a museum just inside the gates of the circuit that hosted an immense collection of racing history. Michelle Dempsey, Aaron and I hurried off to get there before closing. Upon arriving at the circuit we could feel the history all around us. It wasn’t completely modernized yet, and for a moment it reminded me of an old air force base. Once through the gates the museum stood front and center. As we burst through the entry doors, we knew it was going to be a photo-finish to the front desk. The man behind the counter said we had made it just in time and we were going to be the final visit of the day. So, Aaron and I headed off to our historic blast from the past.

The halls were filled with notable Formula One cars from every era. As expected, Aaron and I spent most of our time drooling over the Senna and Mansell displays. My first time seeing a Formula One car from any era in person was definitely one to remember and it brought to mind the pure respect their drivers demanded back in the day. As a child I used to think I could just hop into one of those cars and start turning laps. With the experience I have now, there is still a lot to be learned before ever sliding into the cockpit of one of those bad boys.

Another bright and early morning was in store followed by our first jam-packed day of on-track activities. We signed in at registration and made our way back to the Dempsey hauler and garage. There seemed to be a lot of activity throughout the paddock. A multitude of teams with different types of cars sat next to each other in a great display. To be honest, all of this became a little intimidating as the unspoken “sizing up” was in full swing. The more I walked in and out of the hauler the more comfortable I became with my surroundings.

You could tell when a session was about to start as engineers fired up the motors to bring them up to temperature. The sounds would echo down the pit lane along with a sudden surge of energy and excitement. It was go time! While taxiing down the pit lane to the end of the pits, I quickly noticed how small a Formula Ford was in comparison to a full competition-spec Audi R8 LMS car. The beautifully crafted front headlights came piercing down as they reflected into my side mirrors. Priority number one became obvious; get the heck out of its way!

The session began and the track conditions were damp. Like Oulton Park, this circuit was demanding in its own right. The first sector of corners was like riding atop a slithering snake. Right to left, up and down, it was scary and exciting. I could feel the front of the car just losing grip with the road as I crested one of the rises. The rest of the session went well while I continued to get comfortable with the car. All the sessions were 50 minutes in length and we had three more to go! This was definitely going to be one of my longest days behind the wheel.

The sessions allowed time for major improvement. The lap times began to slowly come down as I started getting into the flow of things. After each session I debriefed with Cliff in the hauler. Video and data were logged and put on display for all to see. It was great learning from the data as Aaron and I both showed our strengths and weaknesses around the course. By day’s end, everyone was very happy with the results and we loaded up for Part 2.

That evening we slept inside the highly modernized walls of Silverstone. It felt like past to present all in one day. We slept in what they call snooze boxes: a shipping container converted into a tiny hotel room. It was very entertaining and cozy all at the same time. The next morning arrived before we knew it. We headed for registration again and made our way to the garage. A young and very talented man by the name of Carl Breeze accompanied us on the track walk and explained the nuances to turning a quick lap. As we walked he kindly reminded us of all the great racing battles that took place over the years. It was one thing to see it on television but quite another to be standing in those very spots. I felt as if I was walking along a filmstrip; the images became so vivid it was hard not getting goose bumps. Respect reared its head yet again. Without even driving the circuit I knew it took great skill and belief in one’s ability to pull off some of those masterful moves.

Time quickly snuck up on us as we hopped the pit wall to head back to the garage. It was time to strap in. The pit lane was filled with mostly open-wheel formula cars, some old, some new, but all with drivers very eager to get on track. Today we would have four 45-minute sessions and another not so normal long day for myself. A common trend here in England, the first practice session was damp. The damp conditions have become very beneficial for my starts in the mornings. It helps me to quickly get in touch with the car and the car control needed to operate quickly.

The four sessions ended with great improvements from myself and the team. Every session we are learning more about one another and it is making for a great team atmosphere. Considering the circumstances, our times were respectable in comparison to our competitors, so we were happy once again. The pure respect and desire to push ourselves in motor racing is proving to be a blast. My time here so far has been great!

Finally. . . I had to save the best for last! As we returned home from our eventful days of testing we were treated to the sight of a shipping box near the neighbor’s door. Aaron quickly noted the address and we instantly knew what was inside. The treasure that lay inside was our beautifully designed SPARCO Team USA Scholarship racing suits! We joked about Christmas coming early this year as big smiles filled the room. To see my name on an actual racing suit nearly brought tears to my eyes. Another box had officially been checked on my racing list of “to-do’s” and one I was very proud of. It was a lovely way to be rewarded for all our hard efforts in testing. A huge thanks is certainly due to all the supporters who are continuing to make this all possible.

Off to Brands Hatch this week with more time and room to grow. TEAM USA SCHOLARSHIP 2014! Yaaaaaahhhhhhooooooo!!


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