Back in 2013, CP Racing’s Shane Lewis made only his second start at the 24H DUBAI, and walked away with his first category win at the Hankook 24H DUBAI. Almost 10 years on, Shane takes a trip down memory lane with CREVENTIC, Cor Euser Racing, a Nissan-affiliated TV reality show, and an ‘old school’ Lotus Evora GT4.
Words – James Gent
Images – Eric Teeken
Heading into the 2013 24H DUBAI, Shane Lewis already had 14 starts – of 17, to-date – to his name at the Daytona 24 Hours, and three at Le Mans. But just one at the Dubai Autodrome. That had come a year earlier in 2012, when the future 24H SERIES staple had finished a respectable 5th in-class aboard a Hamburg Racing-entered Aston Martin ‘N24’ Vantage alongside Karl Pflanz, American contemporary Vic Rice, and (future) HRT Performance team boss, Kim Hauschild.
“Outside of Le Mans, and being ‘super focused’ on doing that race, I really hadn’t had that much international racing experience at that point,” Shane explains. “In the US, it was kind of tempting to think, ‘okay, there’s Le Mans, there’s Daytona and there’s Sebring, and that’s about it.’ So I really didn’t know what to expect from the Middle East. That 2012 race really opened my eyes to all different parts of the world going racing.”
Never one to make life easy for himself, Shane’s return to Dubai in 2013 would be as part of a four-driver line-up for Dutch motorsport pillar Cor Euser Racing, a team with which he’d never competed, aboard a Lotus Evora GT4, a car he’d never raced. Of course, given Shane’s experience on the American grassroots stage, this was nothing new…
“Working with a new team wasn’t that uncommon for me,” Shane continues. “I really like the team atmosphere a 24-hour race creates. For me, it’s not about, ‘did Shane Lewis win a race?’ It’s about, ‘how did the team do?’ And I think that’s why I’m still racing today and why the ‘old school’ teams, if you will, like having me on-board. I’m focused on everyone being successful.”
Though already three years old, the #148 Lotus, set to be piloted by Shane, Rice, The Netherlands’ Henk Thijssen and Britain’s Trevor Knight, nevertheless remained among SP3’s frontrunners heading into the event. Indeed, 3rd on the grid, just seven-tenths shy of category pole position and ahead even of fellow category heavyweights Barwell Motorsport and Optimum Motorsport, marked the Lotus’ cards early.
Few could deny though that the GT Academy Team RJN Nissans were the SP3 team to beat in Dubai in 2013. As well as fielding the latest edition Nissan 370Z GT4 – a 410 bhp weapon, built by Nissan specialist RJN Motorsport – Team RJN was also the latest development step for Nissan’s ‘GT Academy,’ a reality TV program that gave the best Gran Turismo video game players from around the world the chance to race in the real world. Competitively too, as it turns out: the Academy’s 2009, 2010 and 2011 winners had already finished 3rd in-class on their event debuts in 2012.
At the helm of, essentially, the #127 works Nissan, was inaugural GT Academy winner Lucas Ordóñez (already a Le Mans category runner-up at this point) and future LMP2 World Endurance Champion, Roman Rusinov. Across in the #147 sat RJN mainstay – and 2011 GT4-class Blancpain Endurance Champion – Alex Buncombe, and the late Sabine Schmitz, arguably the most celebrated racing driver to ever lap the Nürburgring. 2012 GT Academy winners Wolfgang Reip (Europe), Mark Schulzhitskiy (Russia) and Steve Doherty (USA) meanwhile would float between both Nissans on their endurance racing debuts. As competition went, it couldn’t get much tougher the underpowered Lotus…
“WAY underpowered! I remember, clearly thinking, ‘not only do we have a one-car team, we’re up against two cars with super talented guys that are ready to go!’ If you’re competing against a one-car team, the chances of them making a mistake are higher. When you have two cars on a team, and they use one as the ‘rabbit,’ maybe the other will be smart enough to learn from the other’s mistakes. And generally, when you have two driver line-ups with that kind of talent, and the cars are that fast, you don’t stand much of a chance. So we knew this was going to be tough.
“I was fortunate because, the reason I got to do these races at all was that Vic, who’s a very dear friend of mine, was the one who brought me along in the very beginning. But he didn’t like setting up a race car at all. He was really fast, but setting up the car? The feel of the racecar and the changes it took to make it better? Nah! He would rather have me there to help get it right. So that’s what I brought to the table at that time, and, not to be modest, I think that helped us get a jump on setup.”
Shots were dutifully fired across the Evora’s flanks when GT Academy Team RJN qualified 1st and 2nd in SP3, and held its advantage across the opening hour. It didn’t take long though for Nissan’s strong start to unravel. Buncombe, having been forced to queue for fuel during the first round of stops, soon dropped to 10th in the #147, five laps adrift, while a heavy accident for Schmitz during the night caused significant damage to the 370Z’s rear end. Across in the #127 meanwhile, Reip* suffered a bizarre incident during the fourth hour when the Nissan hit a wheel that had detached itself from DUWO Racing’s A5-class BMW 1 Series, puncturing its radiator in the process.
The Lotus meanwhile, despite lacking grunt down the Autodrome’s near-kilometre-long back straight, had the legs on its rivals across the intricate infield, and by the third hour, Shane, Rice, Thijssen and Knight had moved into the lead. A position it would hold for all but two of the remaining 21 hours.
“I think the reason we were successful over [RJN] is because they didn’t work together as a team. What they worked on was, ‘which one of their drivers could outrun the next one?’ ” – While speaking with radiolemans.com at the time, Buncombe freely admitted the two Nissans were “racing each other” during the opening hour. – “Whereas one of the reasons we did so well is that our drivers were fast, but still took care of the equipment.
“Today, the cars are so good that the only reason a team has a failure, in general, is if a driver really screws up, or crashes. You just have to make sure you don’t something stupid! But at that time, it was still a bit ‘old school’ before driver aids, ABS and paddle shift came in. So, the cars were really fast, but still quite basic. I actually think one of the reasons we did so well in 2013 is because Cor [Euser] was super smart, prepared the Lotus really well, and knew that all the drivers he put in his car, including myself, would bring the ‘endurance’ part of racing to Dubai.”
Attrition, admittedly, played a sizeable role alongside battle-hewn consistency. Good fuel economy and pace meant Optimum Motorsport even led SP3 during the second hour only for drivetrain failure to eventually drop the #143 Ginetta G50 to 6th at the flag. Bonk Motorsport thus became Cor Euser Racing’s nearest rival from hour-nine onwards, though a two-second-per-lap pace deficit meant the #141 BMW M3 GT4 struggled to recoup the four laps it had already lost during the opening stages. Even the recovering #127 GT Academy Nissan, which lost further time to a broken wheel rim during the night, eventually denied Bonk Motorsport 2nd in-class with just four hours to go. Neither though could touch the ‘old school’ Lotus…
“We had a run without any problems. No problems at all!” a jubilant Cor Euser told radiolemans.com at the time. “We had a couple of stop-and-go penalties, but those were the only hiccups we had.”
Not that Shane had long to celebrate his maiden class win in the 24H SERIES, however. Just two days later, the Florida native was already back in the US preparing for his 15th start at the Daytona 24 Hours, having already contested Daytona’s ‘Roar Before’ qualifying session on January 6th before jetting off to the Middle East. Staggeringly, despite his efforts in Dubai and the extensive travel in-between leaving him both physically and mentally drained, Shane went on to take his first Daytona class win on January 27th, his second 24-hour win in 15 days.
“A start to your season doesn’t get much better than that!
“Honestly, I didn’t know how hard I was going to push in Dubai before Daytona. I mean, we pushed really hard and they used me a lot in Dubai, and I’m glad they did. But when I got done, I was pretty spent. Then, a week and a half later, I was in the car again at Daytona. And you can’t just ‘show up’ at Daytona, so I really had to push myself there too. I tell you, I haven’t been that tired, when it was all said and done, in a really long time!
“Reminders of that hard work and accomplishment are important to me. I don’t keep them very long – I wear them out pretty quickly – but I still have the helmet that won Daytona, Dubai and the Nürburgring 24 Hours the following year! It may be even more important than the trophies.”
Engine failure sadly meant Shane and Cor Euser’s second collaboration in 2014 lasted just 23 laps (ironically, ‘GT Academy Team RJN’ put a rough 2012 race behind it by finishing 1-3 in SP2). It would be another five years before the American returned to the Hankook 24H DUBAI.
Shane has returned to Dubai’s metaphorical victory road since then, of course, securing GT3-AM victory alongside Charles Putman, Charles Espenlaub and Philip Quaife in 2022. In January, 10 years on from his first series win, the now-24H SERIES staple gears up for his eighth entry at CREVENTIC’s halo race, an event, Shane Lewis explains, has changed considerably in the intervening decade. And much of it for the better.
“The level of competition has changed a lot. The way it’s run, the feel, the atmosphere… we all enjoy it. But, every year, [the Hankook 24H] Dubai becomes more important on an international scale. I mean, I take every race I do very seriously. But in terms of the size of the grid and the level of competition, in the international motorsport community, Dubai is getting bigger and better.
“Honestly, if it wasn’t for Daytona being so close on the schedule, I think Dubai would be one of the premier kick-off races of every season. I really believe that.”
*Acoustic trauma sadly forced Wolfgang Reip to retire from both real-world motorsport and SIM racing in 2018. The 2015 Bathurst 12 Hour winner now works to promote the Hearing Health Foundation in its research on ‘hyperacusis,’ or noise-induced pain. Further details can be found on the HHF’s official website HERE
1. Cor Euser Racing (#148, Lotus Evora GT4) – 547 laps
2. GT Academy Team RJN (#127, Nissan 370Z) – 543 laps
3. Bonk Motorsport 1 (#141, BMW M3 GT4) – 542 laps
4. Barwell Motorsport (#145, Aston Martin Vantage V8 GT4) – 521 laps
5. LD Racing 2 (#59, Porsche 996 Cup) – 519 laps
9. GT Academy Team RJN 2 (#147, Nissan 370Z) – 456 laps