7/11/2000 - Mike Fitzgerald will be competing in more premiere sports car races in North America this year than any other driver. Fitzgerald most recently drove the #81 G&W Motorsports Porsche GT3R to yet another win in the Grand-American GTU Class, in which he leads the driver's points. Fitzgerald is making a bid at the World Challenge Touring Championship with TC Kline, the Motorola Cup Super Grand Sports Championship with First Racing, and is competing in the American Le Mans Series with Alex Job Racing.
One of the great things about the new Grand American Road Racing Association is their focus on resurrecting the great traditional sports car events from years past. The Road America 500 was one such event – a 500-mile road race on one of the finest road courses in North America. I also like the fact that they’ve added some longer races to the schedule, which is in keeping with the traditions of sports car racing.
PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING
Testing began on Thursday. I was racing the G&W Motorsports Porsche GT3R in the main event on Sunday, as well as the Franz Blam Racing Corvette C5 in the Motorola Cup race on Saturday, so it looked like another busy weekend. The test day was fairly successful. I only got a couple laps in the Corvette, but we were the quickest GTU car in each session in the Porsche. Since it was a test day and there are no times posted you might wonder how we knew this. We have a woman named Sylvia (John Morton’s girlfriend) who can time every lap of every car on the track with one stopwatch. I didn’t believe it was possible until I watched her do it.
Friday practice was more of the same. We were quickest in all sessions in the Porsche, and we ran into more problems with the Corvette. During the second Motorola Cup practice session the left rear toe link broke as I was exiting the turn leading on to the front straight. I went for a wild ride that ended with me spinning into the pit entrance.
Friday afternoon ended with Motorola Cup qualifying. The crew did a great job getting the car back together in time to make the session, however, qualifying didn’t go as well as we were hoping. It can be difficult to get a clean lap at Road America because the track is very narrow, and there are several spots where you can get stuck behind a slower car and you just have to wait. I never really got a clear lap and we qualified poorly (I think sixth).
On Saturday the schedule included practice and qualifying in the Porsche, followed by a three hour Motorola Cup race. Unfortunately, it poured rain most of the morning and many of the sessions were cancelled or shortened. Qualifying in the Porsche was cancelled for the second straight race. We were awarded the pole based upon our championship points lead (at the last race it was based on practice times).
MOTOROLA CUP RACE
It continued to rain into the afternoon, and the Motorola Cup race was delayed and then shortened from three hours to two. The race got started around 4pm. My co-driver, Michael Culver, got off to a good start and was hanging near the front. About twenty minutes into the race Michael radioed the pits saying he was having brake problems. The crew chief told him to hang in there until a caution came out so we could try to fix the problem in the pits. Michael gradually lost touch with the leaders, but he was able to keep the car on the lead lap, which was all we could hope for at that point.
A full course caution came out at about the one-hour mark. Since the race was shortened to two hours we were on a one-stop strategy. The yellow was good news, since it bunched the field back up and allowed us time to attend to the brake problem. The crew bled the brakes during the stop in addition to fuel, tires and a driver change.
We were still on the lead lap, so I knew if the brakes were functional we still had a shot. Unfortunately, as soon as I left the pits I knew they weren’t working. It was a long caution, so I came back in and the crew took another look at the brakes. This time they discovered the problem – the rear brake line had a leak and all the fluid had drained out. The rear brakes weren’t doing anything and we were using up the front brakes trying to stop the car.
I went back out and began the not so pleasant task of driving a racecar with no brakes. I basically just tried to keep the car circulating in hopes that we could get another full course caution to try to work on the problem. The caution never came, and to add insult to injury, with about three laps to go the right rear toe link broke (that’s right the other one), and I watched the end of the race from the side of the track. That dropped us from seventh to ninth. Fortunately, the Motorola Cup runs at the Toronto Molson Indy event next week, so we won’t have much time to dwell on this one.
GRAND AM RACE
It was another rainy morning on Sunday, which had us worried because we were really hoping for a dry race. As fast as we had been in practice we knew nobody had anything for us in the dry, but the BMW’s still have ABS and are great handling cars in the wet so we were very anxious about the weather forecast. Fortunately, things started to clear up just before the scheduled 12 o’clock start time.
Darren started the car and after a great start, quickly opened up a gap over the second place BMW of Andy Pilgrim and Rick Fairbanks. Our closest call of the race came about thirty minutes in when Darren got into some oil and slid down the access road in turn five. That put us in second for a few laps until Darren was able to retake the lead. Darren spent the rest of his stint with Andy filling his mirrors in the BMW.
At the one hour and fifteen minute mark we pitted for fuel, tires and a driver change. The BMW also pitted around the same time and Andy got out so I was able to open up a big lead, which turned into a full lap when a full course caution came out at the end of my stint.
At this point we were in cruise mode. Nothing of note happened in either of our second stints, except that Darren again set fastest race lap. We ended up winning by over a lap in what was definitely our best effort of the season. Unfortunately, our teammates in the #80 car were involved in a race-ending incident midway through the race, while running a strong third.
Our next Grand Am race is at Trois Rivieres on July 30. We are expecting some stiff competition from the BMW’s at that event. While we certainly had the superior car for Road America, the BMW’s will most likely have the advantage on a bumpy street course. It should make for a great race.