Johnny Mowlem’s Rolex
Orbit Racing’s GT Win At Daytona

dailysportscar.com”I’m still not exactly thrilled about coming second and not winning a Rolex,” said Johnny Mowlem a year ago.

12 months on, and he was much, much happier about finishing second in the Rolex 24 at Daytona – and this time, he and Robin Liddell, Mike Fitzgerald, and Jay and Jo Policastro, did each win a Rolex.

”The Orbit Porsche pretty much ran like clockwork for 24 hours – at least the mechanics of the car did. The only things that affected our performance were the windscreen misting up, and the rear ‘screen dropping into the car. Robin, Mike and myself all had visibility problems during the night, but the crew sorted that out with Rain-X. At one point we resorted to a sponge on a stick, and I had to loosen my belts and wipe a hole in the screen with my glove when it got really bad, but by leaving the Rain-X on the screen, that is not wiping it off, we had pretty good visibility.

“The back window just dropped into the car when I was at the wheel at about 3am. I finished the stint and pitted, and the crew secured what was left of it in the back of the car: the GA officials were happy with that.

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“The only other problem – apart from the Flying Lizard car – was the radio not working properly, from about 5am. They couldn’t hear me, but I could hear them. When I had to pit under the long yellow period, I screamed at them to talk to me regularly, so that I knew what was going on. I wanted to hear about gaps to the other cars and what the safety car was doing. They were great after that: because we were using the pit lane to avoid the water at turn 1, and they talked to me every time I came past them.

“That dawn stint saw me at the wheel for two minutes short of the three hour maximum, and Mike took over after me: five minutes later they red flagged the race.

dailysportscar.com“When we finally went racing again, Mike had to take the wheel because he was driving when the red flags came out. He completed a full stint, but with the parachute effect of the rear screen not being there, we were losing time to the Flying Lizard Porsche. We went from over a lap ahead to only 40 seconds ahead.

“I thought I’d finished my driving for the day but Rodger Hawley said he wanted me back at the wheel. I was pleased but apprehensive! First lap out and I was 39 seconds ahead of Mike Rockenfeller, with about 75 minutes to go. Both cars had to take on a splash of fuel, but with a dry line virtually all the way round, I could lap in the 1:55s by pushing really hard. I got the gap up to 51 seconds, and felt I had the race – and Mike Rockenfeller – under control.

“Then I had a really bad few laps. On four consecutive laps I hit every bit of traffic that was out there, and lost 15 to 16 seconds on those four laps. 50 seconds was suddenly down to just over 30, and I was starting to get a bit concerned. Then it started raining again, and we were both on slicks."

Notice the lack of a rear screen, below.

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“I had everything to lose, while Mike had everything to gain. I couldn’t afford to make any mistakes at this late stage, and took it carefully enough that he gained a second and a half on me on the next few laps. That was OK, until …. I came across four cars going really slowly approaching the chicane. The yellows were out for Tony Stewart and the Crawford, but they were going so slowly I went sailing on past all of them! At this stage of the race, there were a good number of the car owners out there, just taking it easy to get to the finish.

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“What was I going to do now? This had come up at the drivers’ briefing, and the ruling was that as long as you didn’t gain an advantage, you were OK. In other words, I had to let these four past me. But they were going so slowly – I mean really slowly - the three cars I’d passed well before the chicane also came by. I lost 16 seconds on that one lap, and more time on the next lap, fighting my way past that whole group again.

“With all this going on, the gap was now ten seconds. For one lap I really went for it, and ten became eleven, and really at that point, I felt I was going to be OK. Over the last two or three laps, I let the gap come down to seven seconds, but that was me controlling it.

“It was great to be asked to finish the race, but immediately afterwards I did ask myself whether I was being a little too conservative. Maybe I should have driven flat out to pull away, but of course there are risks in doing that, especially on slicks in the wet!! You always want to get out of the car having been the fastest, but Rockenfeller was a man on a mission. He and I were the fastest cars on the track at the end, and throughout the last 75 minutes, no one passed us – not even one of the prototypes. The TV people apparently gave us plenty of coverage, which was great for the team. Bottom line is we won, and that's all that matters!

“At one point in the race we were four laps up on the #74 Porsche, but I think we were a bit lucky to have that sort of lead. But the luck evens out, and we missed a ‘wave by’ and lost another lap because of the safety car – and then Rockenfeller got the lap back to Mike. Actually, it was Mike’s brother Paul doing our strategy, while the Lizard car had Thomas Blam doing theirs, and he never makes a mistake. Paul did a great job too, especially as it was his first ever time.

“The conditions made it an extraordinary race. Maybe the long yellow period could have been shortened by 45 minutes or so, but when the race was stopped because of the downpour, the officials had no choice. Mike said the banking was like a river of water, so that was definitely the right call.

“I did feel sorry for Max Crawford and Andy Wallace and Tony Stewart. I feel they did probably deserve the win, after having led for so long, but that's 24 hour racing for you. But it was also nice for me to see my ALMS teammate Terry Borcheller win. We both received calls from Jeff Giangrande (ACEMCO team owner), before the race, and I was joking with him about both me and Terry winning! And then it went and happened!! Jeff was very pleased for both of us.

“I was so pleased for the Policastros and Rodger Hawley; they’re really good guys, and along with the whole Orbit team, they deserved the win. To some extent they all went out on a limb, hiring three professional drivers, and Rodger in particular probabIy had a point or two to prove, so I'm very pleased for him that he achieved what he set out to do. I think Robin was pretty pleased too. After losing out so unluckily at Le Mans in November, here was his first big win.

“Who would have thought that the winning GT car would finish second?”

PS. Linking Johnny's column with the next one, Piers Masarati's, Johnny adds: "I told Piers the banking was flat, and it was, even in the monsoon conditions with zero visibility! I was flat out all the time, and going into Turn 1 early in the race, when I still had a radio, I would just ask Rodger to tell me whether to stay high or low on the track, and I was just passing people in a ball of spray!! Real "Days of Thunder" stuff!"

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