The Doran Racing/GT Academy 370Z NISMOs placed fifth and sixth behind three dominant Camaro Z28s and a Porsche 911 after two and a half hours of racing at the 3.74-mile Sebring International Raceway in south central Florida.
Nick McMillen qualified his #41 Doran Racing GT Academy Nissan 370Z sixth, but when the car suffered from low battery voltage before the start of the Sebring Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSCC) race Friday afternoon, that third row starting spot went out the window.
Starting from dead last in a 47-car field, 2013 Nissan GT Academy North American winner McMillen put his head down and drove hard, slicing through the slower Street Tuner (ST) entries and catching the Grand Sport (GS) field in just a few laps. Throughout his 55-minute opening stint, McMillen laid down fast laps, moving his the red, black and white 370Z NISMO up seven spots before handing the car over to GT Academy teammate Bryan Heitkotter to close out the race.
“I went to start the car for the pace lap and it just wouldn’t fire,” said the 21-year old Oregonian. “The team swapped the battery but by then I had to start dead last. Getting through all those cars racing for position, I had to get aggressive and take some chances to get back in reach of the GS field. Pretty exciting! Fortunately, just as I got caught up to the field, we got a full course caution and that allowed me to close the gap with the leaders.”
After the driver change, GT Academy 2011 champ Heitkotter left the pits in 11th, just behind the Doran racing #14 sister car driven by CTSC veteran BJ Zacharias. When Zacharias slid wide on cold tires, Heitkotter got by and quickly passed three more cars over the next few laps to sit seventh with a little over an hour to go.
Back in the #14 Doran Z, Zacharias fought back from 13th after his slide, picking up one car after another and setting the race’s second fastest lap in the process. Co-driver Brad Jaeger had a strong first stint, leaving Zacharias with a strong car near the front. But a long pit stop and the costly slide meant the series veteran from Cincinnati would play catch up all the way to the finish. And catch up he did - pulling up behind Heitkotter on the next to last lap to secure a hard earned sixth place finish.
“The car was great all day,” said Zacharias. “We had a long final pit stop and that dropped us a few spots, then I lost us a couple spots right out of the pits, but under green flag conditions with warm tires we were reeling cars in. I think we had a shot at a podium finish today, and both Doran cars were as fast here as anyone except the two V8 Camaros that finished 1-2.”
In the end, the Doran cars had just a little too much ground to make up and too little time to do it and finished a respectable fifth and sixth. That result gave the GT Academy pairing in the #41 good points after two races and reason to look ahead to Laguna Seca in May.
“The car was really good,” said McMillen. “I ‘m getting comfortable in it and I think we have a strong contender for podium at Laguna.”
The next CTSCC race will be at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca in Monterey, California on May 1-2.