Michai Stephens, 22, from Evanston, Ill., emerged triumphant among the 33 drivers from around the country and beyond taking part in the second annual Skip Barber IndyCar Academy Shootout at Sebring International Raceway.
Stephens, who participated in last year’s IndyCar Academy Shootout where he took the fourth spot, had the fastest lap time and lowest average time in six of the eight sessions to top the scoring with a total of 288.3 points. Stephens wins a sponsored ride in the Skip Barber formula race series in 2014, a possible first step on the Road to Indy ladder system established by Skip Barber Racing School in conjunction with Mazda and IndyCar.
The event pitted the best drivers from Skip Barber’s racing schools to battle it out wheel to wheel in four sessions over a two-day period. Harry Steenbackers, 15, from Ottawa, Canada — the youngest participant ever in the IndyCar Academy — took the second overall position in the competition with a total of 260 points. The youngster won a $15,000 scholarship to participate in the Skip Barber formula race series. Steenbackers’ preparation for the IndyCar Academy included a win on Oct. 19 in a SBFRS race at Lime Rock Park.
The third and final podium position went to Max Dignan, with a total of 226.1 points. The 18-year-old from Hillard, Ohio, won a $10,000 scholarship to participate in the Skip Barber formula race series.
An honorable mention was given to the fourth-place position at the podium ceremony at the end of the competition. Eric Sidebotham, 47, from Morgan Hill, Calif., finished up with 225.6 points, just half a point from making it to the podium. ?A big reason I came out for this competition was to prove that an old guy like me, representing the Touch of Grey Racing, could come out here and still be competitive against very talented guys who were a lot younger than me, and I feel I accomplished that,” said Sidebotham.
The purpose of the Skip Barber IndyCar Academy is to provide drivers with no racing experience, and of all ages, with the opportunity to test themselves against some excellent drivers.
?What’s really great about this year’s Shootout is the demographics,? said Michael Culver, the Skip Barber CEO, who was in attendance at the meet and greet of the drivers at the opening of the competition. The pressure is immense during the competition, and all of the drivers treated this as if it were the Indy 500 and were pushing themselves to their individual limits. But bonds were also made among the competitors. Regardless of the finishing position, all the participates came away with an amazing experience.
If Stephens is successful in a Skip Barber Formula season, he will have the chance to participate in the Skip Barber Championship Shootout, where the winner will get a $200,000 sponsored ride in the USF2000 series, the next step on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder.
Last year’s champion, Andre Gomes, spent 2013 in the Skip Barber Summer Series, claiming a third place. Check out www.skipbarber.com for details about the Skip Barber Winter Series, which starts next week at Road Atlanta.