Doran Racing Nissan 370Zs Finish Fifth and Sixth at Sebring
SEBRING, Fla., March 21 — Doran Racing came to Sebring International Raceway looking for points in the Continental Tire SportsCar Series, and the Lebanon, Ohio-based team left with a lot of them after its two Nissan 370Zs finished fifth and sixth Friday afternoon in the Microsoft Visual Studio 150.
Nick McMillen of Salem, Ore., and Bryan Heitkotter of Fresno, Calif. improved on their finishing position in the season opener by one spot when their #41 took the checkered flag in fifth position after 2.5 hours of competition on a bumpy and greasy track under very hot and humid conditions.
Taking the checkered flag only 3.782 seconds behind the #41 in sixth place was the #14 of Brad Jaeger of Charlottesville, Va., and B.J. Zacharias of Cincinnati.
Although none of the Grand Sport competitors could beat the two Camaros that dominated this particular race, the Doran Racing Nissans almost matched them in speed. Zacharias set the third-fastest lap of the race on lap 40 when he turned the 3.74-mile, 17-turn road course in 2:17.126. Heitkotter set the fourth-fastest lap of the race 10 laps earlier when he was timed in 2:17.479.
Jaeger qualified fourth in the #14 with a 2:17.029. McMillen was supposed to start sixth, but he ended up having to start the race on pit lane in last place when his car didn't fire up when the formation laps began. Once he got rolling McMillen threaded his way through the Street Tuner field in less than 10 minutes, but he had to do that carefully because those cars are slower and have different braking points than his Nissan has. Despite this being his first race at Sebring McMillen got that job done handily, and then took aim at the back of the Grand Sport field.
He got as high as ninth when he pitted under the third full-course caution to turn the car over to Heitkotter with about an hour and 24 minutes remaining. He and Jaeger both set their fastest laps on lap 5; Jaeger ran a 2:18.159 and McMillen ran a 2:18.320.
Heitkotter started his stint in 14th place but he had a fabulous restart on lap 27, gaining four positions. He continued to pick off one car a lap until he settled into sixth place on lap 31. Some of the cars that didn't stop under that yellow did so under green around lap 37 and Heitkotter got as high as second at that point, but then he dropped to tenth when he made the car's third and final pit stop under green shortly thereafter.
He was back in seventh place on lap 43 with 32 minutes remaining. He got sixth on lap 48 by passing Mark Wilkins' Camaro, and fifth on lap 49 when he passed Scott Maxwell's Mustang. With 15 minutes to go he was 10 seconds behind the fourth-place Camaro of Kyle Marcelli. He cut that margin to 6.041 seconds by lap 59 when the checkered dropped.
Jaeger kept the #14 firmly in fourth place for the first 15 laps until he pitted under yellow on lap 16. It was too early for a driver change, and he was ninth for the restart on lap 18 with 46 minutes gone. Almost immediately there was a crash, however, which brought out the second full-course caution on lap 19. Jaeger had already worked his way up to seventh by that time, and he moved into fifth on lap 22 when he passed both Anthony Mantella and Martin Barkey.
The third full-course caution came out right after that on lap 23 though for a stalled car, so team owner Kevin Doran brought Jaeger in at that point for the driver change with 65 minutes gone.
With the pit stop the entry dropped from fifth to 13th, but Zacharias had a good restart just like Heitkotter did and he was in ninth place by lap 29, right behind Heitkotter. He got eighth the following lap by passing Trent Hindman, and seventh on lap 32 by passing Louis Phillipe Montour. He got as high as fourth on lap 36 during a pit stop rotation, and dropped to 11th when he made the car's third and final pit stop a little later under green.
He got tenth on lap 41, ninth on lap 43, and eighth on lap 47 when he passed Hindman again. He was still in eighth place on lap 49 with 20 minutes remaining, but he'd cut the margin to seventh from more than 7 seconds to just 1.273 seconds.
He cut it to nothing 5 minutes later by passing Mark Wilkins for seventh, and he moved into sixth place on lap 55 with just 6 minutes remaining in the race by passing Maxwell's Mustang.
The race will be televised on Fox Sports 1 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday, April 5.
The series doesn't have any races in April, but it will appear at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Sonoma, Calif. on May 2-3.
For more information on the team, see DoranRacing.com. For more information on the series, see imsa.com.
Driver post-race quotes follow:
Brad Jaeger: "I think that the Nissan 370Z was superb. I think we could have been the highest non-Camaro finishing car. We had a few problems in the pits that cost us some time, but we all kept focused on what we need to do behind the wheel and we never gave up. We had some setbacks, but we battled back and we got some solid points for the championship.
"The Nissan 370Z was amazing in the heat. We kept the tires underneath us and we could move forward when others were falling off. It's a great car, and we'll take what we learned here and go on to Laguna Seca."
B.J. Zacharias: "It was really hot, but we had a really good car. We had a couple issues that cost us some track positions, but I can't stress enough that we had a really good car. I think the best any one of us could have finished was third, but the car is in one piece and we got good points, and now we'll go on to Laguna Seca. Finishing fifth and sixth was a good, solid result."
Nick McMillan: "When we headed out for the formation lap it wouldn't start for some reason, so they pushed me off to the side. We tried everything, and then it finally started, but I had to wait for the GS field to start their race and then the ST field too, so I was dead last when I actually started.
"They didn't leave me any room but it was fun to pass all the ST cars and make it happen. Then I just tried to run consistent laps to get up through the GS field as much as I could. I had a little scratch on the back of the car from a GS car, but other than that no scratches on the car, surprisingly.
"It was definitely a struggle, more because of the heat and because I had to push early on rather than be able to settle into a comfortable pace. I definitely used up some energy chasing the field; it was the hottest I've ever been in a car. I did the best I could and handed it over to Bryan in a decent position, and Bryan did great to stay clean.
"For as bad as it started out, I think it turned out as good as possible. Our goal was at least a top five, and we achieved that. It's all there; we just need to have everything fall into place.
"Laguna is next. That will be the first time my parents will get to see me race, so that will be special for me."
Bryan Heitkotter: "It was a solid result for the Doran Racing team at Sebring. I'm especially proud of the way the team rallied the 41 car back into the thick of the action, having started from the back of the entire field. Nick did an outstanding job carving up through the ST field and catching a few GS cars before the first caution period.
"I jumped into an excellent car and had lots of fun continuing to climb up the order. Saving tire life was crucial in this hot race, and I was doing my best to run fast, consistent laps and keep the tires underneath me. That was one of the biggest challenges of the race.
"A big thank you to all the hard-working crew on the Doran team, and Nissan GT Academy for the opportunity to live my dream and race in a super-competitive series."
For more information about the series, see imsa.com.
For more information on Doran Racing, see DoranRacing.com.
The team also has a Facebook page.