BRASELTON, Ga. (June 28, 2003) -- Mike Fitzgerald, of Phoenix, Ariz., battled from his sixth starting position to take Round Five of the SCCA Pro Racing Speed World Challenge GT Championship today at Road Atlanta, part of the Chevy Grand Prix of...
BRASELTON, Ga. (June 28, 2003) -- Mike Fitzgerald, of Phoenix, Ariz., battled from his sixth starting position to take Round Five of the SCCA Pro Racing Speed World Challenge GT Championship today at Road Atlanta, part of the Chevy Grand Prix of Atlanta. Hans Stuck, of Austria, and Randy Pobst, of Gainesville, Ga., completed the top three.
Driving the No. 22 1st Interstate Inn/3R Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, Fitzgerald steadily moved through the top five in the early stages of the race before race leader Pobst made a slight mistake in turn seven on lap 15. Fitzgerald moved into the lead and built a cushion over the duration of the 27-lap, 68.58-mile contest to win by 2.013 seconds, averaging 100.006 mph.
It was Fitzgerald's first victory since the 2000 season, when he had a string of three-consecutive wins. His dry spell lasted 39 races, including both Speed GT and Touring Car events.
"I had a spooky start, because Michael Galati, who is normally very fast at the standing start didn't move when the lights went out," said Fitzgerald, who now has five SCCA Speed World Challenge wins. "I was able to get by him and take some good opportunities to move through the pack. When I caught Randy [Pobst], I knew he had to make a mistake for me to get through, and he bobbled a bit in turn seven and I was able to get a run.
"At the end, I was pushing fairly hard and had about a four second lead, and then my crew told me that Hans was only two seconds back, and he kept coming. The car was phenomenal though, the team has just done a great job."
Stuck, who started third in his No. 8 BMW Team PTG BMW M3, fell to fourth when Fitzgerald went by on lap seven, but passed Pobst along with polesitter teammate Bill Auberlen on lap 18. Auberlen's strong run would end with a broken wheel and flat tire after contact with Pobst, necessitating a pit stop.
Once around Auberlen's slowing car, Stuck charged after Fitzgerald, closing the gap at the end, but unable to mount a challenge for the lead.
"I have always believed you 'go fast to the last' [lap]," said Stuck, who earned his second-consecutive podium finish. "I learned that while running with Porsche years ago, because you never know what can happen. I'm very impressed at how well these Toyo tires perform, given they are street tires. I was able to run hard until the very last lap."
Pobst led the first lap in his No. 2 Champion Racing Audi RS 6 for the fourth time in five races this year. However, 10 laps into the race, the car visibly picked up a push. Nonetheless, he held on for third, his 13-consecutive podium finish in SCCA Speed World Challenge competition, dating back to 2001.
"Since we have all-wheel-drive, we have to run on a smaller tire than other cars our weight, and unfortunately, the car's aren't very kind to the front tires," said Pobst. "The quattro system always gives us an advantage at the start, but the car did begin to fade after several laps."
Boris Said, of Carlsbad, Calif., had a steady run to fourth in his BMW Team PTG entry, followed by the Chevrolet Corvette ZO6 of Phil McClure.
For his pass for second on Auberlen on the eighth lap, Fitzgerald earned the Remus Power Move of the Race and a $500 bonus. Jon Groom, of Boonton, N.J., moved from 24th on the grid to finish eighth and earned the Sunoco Hard Charger Award.
After replacing his wheel, Auberlen returned to the track to finish 10th, but he dropped to third in the point standings, behind Pobst (141) and McClure (129), with 128. Stuck is fourth, with 98, and Fitzgerald jumped from 10th to fifth, with 84. BMW extended its lead in the SCCA Speed GT Manufacturers' Championship Presented by Racer Magazine to four points, 31 to 27 over Audi. Chevrolet is third, with 24, followed by Porsche, with 19.
Defending series Champion Michael Galati's bad luck continued at Road Atlanta. After qualifying fourth in his Audi S4 Competition back-up car (owing to a testing crash of his RS 6), Galati broke a rear axle at the start and limped his car to a 13th-place finish on only three axles.
The series next travels to Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., July 25-27. Today's race will air on Speed Channel Saturday, July 19 at 4:00 p.m. (Eastern).
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