In an exciting race that saw two front runners suffer mechanical issues with less than five minutes remaining and two top Camaros slapped with penalties for pit-lane violations, the two Doran Racing Nissans 370Zs persevered and achieved top-10 finishes in Saturday's Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSCC) race at Road America.
The Tower Events #41 Nissan 370Z of Toronto-based drivers John Farano and David Empringham was a big mover in the race, as it bettered its starting spot by 11 positions. It started 18th and finished seventh after two hours and 30 minutes of competition on the challenging 14-turn, 4.048-mile road course.
Doran's #14 Nissan 370Z NISMO, driven by Brad Jaeger of Charlottesville, Va., and B.J. Zacharias of Cincinnati started 11th and finished tenth. The car was in sixth position with one lap remaining, but the car got bumped and Zacharias had to save it from a near spin, losing track position.
"The final restart with one to go really hurt us. The race leader checked everyone up in the restart zone, and in my opinion the start should have never happened," said series veteran Zacharias. "When the first pack all checked up it let the cars from eighth back get a huge run and we were three- and four-wide before the start-finish line. It's hard to believe there wasn't an accident. It would have been nice to get a top-five result but it just didn't work out that way."
Tim Bell Racing's #28 370Z struggled to find pace at the fast 4-mile Road America track. Bell qualified the black and orange Z in 16th and Cameron brought the car home in 15th place for the race.
The weekend's race was a major comeback achievement for the entire Doran team, since the crew had to burn the midnight oil to prepare another car for them to drive here after the #14 Nissan 370Z RC they normally drive was badly damaged in a World Challenge race at Mid-Ohio the previous Saturday morning.
Road America marked the second-consecutive event in which both Doran Nissans placed in the top 10 in the very competitive Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series. It was also the #41's best finish since it came home sixth at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca earlier this year.
A mechanical issue on the Rum Bum Porsche put Matt Plumb into a tire wall rimming the Carousel Turn while running third with about five minutes remaining. That brought out the event's fourth and final full-course caution on lap 52 and moved Zacharias up into sixth place and Empringham into seventh with less than five minutes left.
The track crew got the accident cleaned up in time for one last-lap shootout. The restart at 53 laps down was a wild one, with cars four abreast in places. The Subaru that was leading at the beginning of the lap dropped to third with an electrical issue. Empringham somehow successfully defended his seventh place and Zacharias survived the melee to finish tenth.
Empringham was just two tenths of a second behind the sixth-place finisher, Scott Maxwell, in a Mustang Boss 302. It was a wild finish to a race that began with Jaeger and Farano doing their best to move up through the field while trying to avoid any contact so their respective co-drivers had a car that was up to the battle at the finish.
That wasn't easy, as the tone of the race was set immediately when multiple cars crashed in Turn 5 before even one lap was in the book.
Jaeger had an incident with an Aston Martin shortly after the ensuing restart that adversely affected the #14 car's alignment, but he still was able to maintain position between tenth and 13th place during his stint. Farano also put down consistent laps and ran primarily in 14th or 15th place during the first half.
With fresh tires, both Zacharias and Empringham were able to set their entries' fastest laps of the race at the beginning of their stints. By lap 32, Zacharias was up to sixth and Empringham was tenth with just over an hour remaining.
Unfortunately the cars ahead of them for position had built up significant gaps. With 10 minutes remaining, Liddell passed Zacharias for seventh but Empringham was right behind him in eighth place. The pair rose to sixth and seventh with the #13 Porsche's accident that set up a wild last-lap shootout.
"I think the Nissan was very competitive on the long run, but all the restarts were not our strength today," said former series champion Empringham. "We seemed to lack just a little torque and power on the heavily congested restarts. All in all, it was a pretty good day. These Conti races are getting tougher and tougher to hit the podium."
Fox Sports 1 viewers can see it all unfold when that network shows its coverage on a tape-delayed basis at noon Eastern on Sunday, Aug. 17.
The next event is August 23 to 24 at VIRginia International Raceway. The series then travels to Circuit of the Americas in Texas on September 20 and concludes the 2014 season at Road Atlanta from October 3 to 4.