10 Questions with Mike Hedlund – driver DragonSpeed/ESM Ferrari

(image credit: David Yowe)

A huge thanks to Mike for working with us on answering these questions.  Mike is a great guy that is always willing to interact with the fans and be open, something we really appreciate.  We wish him the best of luck this season in PWC and love his wicked black Ferrari.

Matt:  It’s great to see you in Pirelli World Challenge with a GT3 Ferrari.  Compare and contrast the GT3 to the other Ferraris you’ve driven recently.


MH:  Thanks! I’m really lucky to have the support of my friends over at Extreme Speed Motorsports who helped put this program with DragonSpeed together. The GT3 spec car is unbelievably good. Really, I can’t even articulate how good of a car it is. I’ve been lucky enough to drive the Audi R8 GT3 and the Aston Martin GT3 over the last year, and all 3 of the cars are so good. From a drivers point of view, the cars simply do everything that you’d expect. When I was driving the GTD (Grand-Am Rolex GT) spec Ferrari I found the car very difficult to drive. It had an extremely narrow setup window to make it work and be reasonably fun to drive, anything outside of that window and it was like riding on the back of a castrated bronco! While it’s true that it’s still racing and is fun almost regardless of how a car drives, there is something truly rewarding when you get to drive a car that’s very fast, balanced and let’s you attack the track. The GT3 spec car actually ends up costing less than the GTD spec as well, so speaking as someone who not only drives but has to help finance the whole thing… that REALLY rubs me the wrong way. It’s something I just can’t look over… paying more, to have a worse driving experience and go slower? Not on my watch (or wallet)!

Matt:  What makes the FIA GT3 formula so successful?

MH:  For me, the primary thing that makes the FIA GT3 formula successful is the manufacturer involvement. Anyone who’s been around race cars has driven custom home/shop built machines, which can be awesome. But, up until the FIA GT3 spec came around there was a VERY select few who ever had the chance to drive a factory built race car. The difference between a factory built race car and a home built machine is like the difference between a hamburger on sliced white bread or a $25 bacon burger at a restaurant. They’ll both satisfy your hunger, but one makes you happy! Because of the strict homologation rules for the FIA GT3 machines, they come from the factory pre-developed with hundreds of testing hours using factory drivers and engineers. As long as you keep the car legal, it’s almost impossible to screw up the setup. There’s always little things you can do to find a little more speed, but as they’re delivered they drive great and are stupid fast. I love Ferrari, but this goes for every FIA GT3 manufacturer! They’re simply amazing machines and very rewarding to drive.

Matt:  You’ve raced in the ALMS and Grand Am and now Pirelli World Challenge, what are the biggest differences you’ve found in driving styles between endurance and sprint?

MH:  The biggest difference is sharing a car with other drivers. The style of the race and how we drive doesn’t really change, we always drive as hard as we can. However, the risks you take early on in an endurance race (and I was normally the starting driver) is much less. For the first 2/3rds of the race the goal is simply to keep the car clean, make no mistakes, and be in a position to drop the smack down in the last hour or so. Having said that, it’s not like we cruise around in the first part of the race.. you have to drive at 101% just to stay up front, but you tend to be more careful in traffic. The other big difference between endurance and sprint races from a drivers point of view is qualifying. Qualifying for endurance racing is simply an ego stroking session for the drivers. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with that.. and every time I was lucky enough to qualify a car for an endurance race I LOVED it! But honestly, it does nothing at 99% of the races. However, in sprint racing qualifying is critical. Especially in a series like Pirelli World Challenge where we have a large number of street races. As I learned in St. Petersburg after having a top-3 car before qualifying, but used the wrong strategy in the qualifying session and never posted a representative lap-time. Starting in the middle of a pack during a sprint race on a street circuit puts you in a very deep hole! I still finished the race with the 4th fastest lap time, but could only manage a P9 finish. Lesson learned!!!

Matt:  Sticking a little with the IMSA, how do you feel about the merger now that we’ve seen them run for a couple of races?

MH:  Honestly, I was one of the biggest cheerleaders for the merger when it was announced and during the off-season. I was also one of the first to start voicing my displeasure after I felt they missed the boat on the GTD specifications and driver classifications. I know it’s a tremendously difficult task, but they aren’t sending people to the moon or curing cancer (as much as I’d like to help do that! F*ck Cancer!). With the experience the people running the series have, my own experience running businesses outside of racing and as a customer of the series, I simply expect better.  The sport as a whole is so inbred and such a “good ole boy club” that most people will not speak their mind in public— their livelihood depends on being in their good graces. However, that isn’t the case for me so I’ll always call it as I see it. I still believe they’ll fix the major issues and it will surely be one of the strongest road racing series in North America, given enough time.


Matt:  In 2013 you did do a World Challenge race with GMG in an Audi.  What made you want to go with Ferrari instead of Audi?

MH:  It was simple economics. I talked with Porsche, Audi and McLaren about their GT3 cars. I also looked into the Mercedes which I personally think is one of the strongest GT3 cars. However, after talking with Scott Sharp from Extreme Speed Motorsports about my 2014 plans in the off-season we were able to work out a good deal for both of us by converting the Rolex GT spec Ferrari that we all drove in 2012 and 2013, and finished P4 at the 2014 Daytona 24 Hours back to full FIA GT3 spec. The costs of doing this and taking into account all the spares ESM had for the car made it much cheaper than buying everything brand new from any of the manufacturers. I was also really keen on working with the ESM guys again, so that was a big contributor to the decision as well. Given that all the FIA GT3 cars are competitive, I wasn’t too concerned with what I’d actually be driving. They all have slightly different strengths and weaknesses, but overall I rate the Ferrari very high across the board. Of course, having worked with Michelotto while running in Grand-Am Rolex GT in 2012 and 2013 also helped the decision as I knew they’d provide great technical support for the team at the track and they wouldn’t ask me to play any BOP games.

Matt:  World Challenge made a smart move by adding the full spec GT3s.  How do you see the series growing in the future, especially with the 2016 GT convergence talks happening?

MH:  I think the Pirelli World Challenge series has positioned itself perfectly for GT sprint racing. The growth will be a by-product of how well SCCA Pro Racing and the series directors and officials can execute. After speaking with many of the people involved with operating the series at St. Petersburg, I really think they “get it” and I expect great things from the series over the next 12 months, which is critical. If they can make the same strong decisions they made at St. Petersburg (1st race cancelation, which I supported (tornado warnings?! come on!) + trusting the drivers to finish under green with many local yellows) I think we’ll be in for one hell of a season which will make 2015 even better.

As for the GT convergence talks, until there’s more information released on exactly how they plan to do this I can’t make much from it. I hope they see the strength of GT3 and do something similar so the same base chassis can race at Le Mans or in regional sprint races like now. The days of building GT cars for a particular series are long gone. With the costs involved in racing these days, it can’t continue.

Matt:  When you’re away from the track, how do you relax?

MH:  Strangely, I find computer programming to be very relaxing. I tend to do that when I’m at home, which means I pretty much only do things involving racing or I work. I also play a lot of video games, but they tend to get me angry so maybe that’s not very relaxing…

Matt:  Favorite track and why?

MH:  Spa Francorchamps in Belgium. It is amazing to drive— through the mountains and forest, past old stone houses, etc. It also has so much history. The first time I went through the tunnel and ended up inside the track surrounded by all the buildings and history was the first time I’ve ever been caught out by emotions at a race track. I couldn’t believe I was actually there and was going to be able to wheel a race car around it.. I didn’t feel worthy! It’s also home to 2 of the hardest corners I’ve ever driven. Eau Rouge and Blanchimont — perhaps it was because I was in a Porsche Cup with relatively low downforce, but those corners put hair on my chest! In a GT3 car they probably won’t be as intimidating because of the downforce, but man.. in a Cup they’re something special!

Matt:  What made you want to go racing and who/what is your biggest inspiration in racing?

MH:  I grew up racing motorcycles and BMX, so it’s not really anything new to me. My biggest inspiration came once I started driving with and racing against really fast guys (the Longs, van Overbeeks, Vilanders, Bleekemolens, Dalziels of the world etc). When I saw what they were able to do with a race car in different situations and conditions, I challenged myself to do the same. Maybe I never will, but I need to find out… 😉

Matt:  You’re behind the wheel of any race car from any era, what is it and why?

MH:  Any current generation GTE car, but would love to compare a GTE Ferrari to our GT3 Ferrari! I love the class itself and the competition contained in it.

About the author


Matt Kistler is the founder and editor of NASportsCar. Matt works full time for a Fortune 500 life Insurance company and runs Kistler Media on the side producing digital media of all kinds.