Mike Fitzgerald – Racing For Rand And Orbit
No Motivation Needed

“So, you don’t think too much of our chances at Sebring?” asked Mike Fitzgerald, after being shown the Sebring predictions from the dsc staff.

“Well, to be honest, when a car is driven by a bunch of TBA clones, I’m not inclined to think much of them, but as the Rand driver announcements came out after I made my predictions, I think I might just have to make a few revisions,” replied Gary Horrocks, sheepishly. It seems that Bill Rand was passing along the predictions, firing up his team.

dailysportscar.comFrom a crew of TBAs to a rather strong looking drivers line up came out into the public rather quickly, but Mike stated that he and Marino Franchitti were on board well before the first of the year. “I kept having people coming up to me at Daytona, congratulating me on the Rand ride, but I had to play dumb. We wanted to make sure that the timing was right to make the full announcement, and until then, I just didn’t want to let the word out.”

“Obviously, I think we have a strong team here. I expect us to be competitive in the championship and to run at the front in every race. With Marino, Bill, Derek Hill, James Gue and Andy Lally in the cars, I think we have a pretty strong line up, but it is just not in the car that we are strong, but outside too. Thomas Blam, who was with Joest, is the team manager and Jeff Braun is the technical manager. With these two, I think I have a lot to be excited about.

“We had a three day session at Roebling Road, and while we didn’t get the snow like they did at Road Atlanta, it wasn’t the best conditions either. Let’s say that we did manage to get in some running in the wet. With this being my first time in a prototype, I found that the capabilities of the car are quite astounding. I’ve driven at Roebling Road many times before, but they were all in production-based cars. It took a little bit of faith, especially in the braking area, as I was finding that I could brake two to three markers deeper than my brain was telling me. But, a car is a car. This one just has greater capabilities. It reminds me of my shifter kart that I train on.

“The AER Nissan motor ran well all test long. They sent over some support crew to help at the test, but there really wasn’t anything for them to do at all. That was good for them and us.

dailysportscar.com“Having Yokohama as a partner is very important for us. Thomas has had a relationship with them, and I think it is really nice to have a tire manufacturer on our side, developing a product that will fit our needs. In testing, they gave us some great things to try and every tire that we tried was better than the previous one."

This is Colin Braun in the Lola at the recent test.

“As far as development, most of it will take place over the course of the season. We are looking at making improvements after Sebring. What they are, I’m not really sure at this point, but like I said earlier, I expect to be up at the front all season long.”

If it is wet at Sebring, expect Mike to feel right at home. Remember, he just completed the wet Daytona race, running about 10 hours in the car. “Well, at least I did get some time on slicks this year. In 2001, every race lap I ran was on wets, and most of it was blind. That year we have some problems with the wiper lifting off at speed, leaving me blind for my six hours of running. At least this year with Orbit, I only had one stint with a problem as the windshield didn’t get cleaned well, which left me blind.

“Running with Orbit this year has been fantastic. I ran with them last season, and Rodger Hawley called me last October, wanting me in the car for this year. He allowed me to give input into who my co-drivers were to be and also on race strategy. Rodger and both of the Policastros are great to work with. For now, I know I’ll be with them for the first five races in the Grand Am, and hopefully more after that.

dailysportscar.com“The Porsche was just so reliable at Daytona. Rodger did such a great job preparing the car, that when they did the clean-up after Daytona, they did not find a loose bolt or nut anywhere. We even ran the same motor at Miami that we ran at Daytona. Other than that blown out - or rather blown in - rear window, we didn’t have a problem at all. I guess the window problem is not that uncommon, and probably resulted from inadequate bracing on the inside of the car. As far as it being a problem, well it wasn’t really until it dried out and we were back on the slicks. Then it slowed us down on the straights, as the big hole in the back of the car acted like a parachute and really affected the airflow to the rear wing.

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“I was glad that the race (Daytona) ended when it did. Many people have asked me if I thought we could have passed the Bell car for the win. With the problems they were having, I think we could have, but I’m still not sure if we could have won, as that Flying Lizard car was really….. flying. We might have caught Bell, but we still might have been only second overall. I tell you, Flying Lizard really did a great job in that race. They read the rules carefully and built that car really well. It was basically a GT3-R under that narrower Cup style bodywork. That car flew on the banking. It ran big brakes and was basically unrestricted. They were smart enough to not go too fast in the testing. They played their strategy well, and it almost paid off for them in a big way.”

Mike will be busy this year, running in both the ALMS and the Grand Am. “I do wish I was still running in the Speed World Challenge too, especially with it having the same schedule as the ALMS. I will miss it, as I have been a part of it for so long, but I’ll be busy anyway. I do feel that the ALMS is a great series to be in. The whole package is strong. The cars are all different and the competition is strong. I’m not sure exactly, but I believe that the Rand Lola will be a faster car on the track that the Daytona Prototypes. I’m not knocking the Grand Am at what they are doing at all. I understand what they are doing, but in reality, it is a different product than what the ALMS offers. The ALMS is more technology based, while the Grand Am concept is based on cost containment and close competition. I feel there is a place for both of them.”

For now, Mike will be concentrating on getting to the top of the points in the ALMS, just like he is in the GT class in the Grand Am. If it takes a little motivation, courtesy of dsc, well, we apologize to the other competitors. That is not what was meant to happen. Leave it to the TBA factor…
Gary Horrocks

 

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