ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – August 11, 2014 – In an exciting race that saw a top-running Porsche and a top-running Subaru suffer mechanical issues with less than 5 minutes remaining and two top Camaros slapped with penalties for pit-lane violations, the two Doran Racing Nissans 370Zs persevered and both achieved top-10 finishes in Saturday’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge 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.
The Lebanon, Ohio-based team’s #14 Nissan 370Z driven by Brad Jaeger of Charlottesville, Va., and B.J. Zacharias of Cincinnati started 11th and finished tenth. It was a great achievement for the entire 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 this very competitive series. It was also the #41’s best finish since it placed 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 with about 5 minutes remaining. That brought out the event’s fourth and final full-course caution on lap 52 and moved Zacharias’ #14 into sixth place and Empringham’s #41 into seventh.
The track crew got the accident cleaned up in time for one last-lap shootout to settle things. The restart with 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 0.217 of a second behind the sixth-place finisher, Scott Maxwell, who drives a Mustang. He was 0.837 of a second ahead of the eighth-place finisher, Kyle Marcelli, who he battled for a good portion of the latter half of his stint.
Zacharias was 0.347 of a second behind the ninth-place car, a Mustang driven by Ian James. Mark Wilkins threw everything he had at Zacharias at the end to try to steal the final top-10 position away from Zacharias with his Aston Martin, but Wilkins was 0.178 of a second behind Zacharias at the checkered.
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 his Nissan’s alignment, but he still was able to stay primarily 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 of the race. Both made suggestions and pertinent observations over the radio and turned their cars over to their co-drivers about 56 minutes into the race during green-flag pit stops.
With fresh Continental tires both Zacharias and Empringham were able to set their entries’ fastest laps of the race at the beginning of their stints. Zacharias ran a 2:24.672 on lap 20 and Empringham turned a 2:24.773 on lap 22. On the following lap Zacharias was in ninth place and Empringham was 13th, but by lap 32 Zacharias was sixth and Empringham was tenth with 63 minutes remaining. Unfortunately the cars ahead of them for position were about 16 seconds and 10 seconds ahead of them at that point, respectively.
That situation changed almost immediately. Empringham had passed Jack Kachadurian’s BMW for tenth place a few minutes earlier, but on lap 33 the BMW sailed into a gravel trap rimming Turn 8 to bring out another full-course caution flag on lap 34 and tighten up the field.
Two laps later most of the top Grand Sport cars pitted under yellow, including both of the Doran Nissans. Robin Liddell, who had been third, was informed he was being penalized for speeding down pit lane, and after all the pit stops were completed and Liddell served his penalty Zacharias was seventh, Empringham was 13th and about 43 minutes remained in the race.
The fourth-place Camaro of Andy Lally was then penalized for numerous infractions during that pit stop, and with a bit of other jockeying during the pit stops Zacharias was seventh and Empringham was tenth for the restart on lap 44. The battle between Empringham and Marcelli heated up at that point and continued throughout the rest of the race.
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 Rum Bum Porsche’s accident that set up the wild last-lap shootout.
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 Aug. 23-24 at VIRginia International Raceway. The series then travels to Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas Sept. 20 and concludes the 2014 season at Road Atlanta Oct. 3-4.
For more information on Doran Racing, see DoranRacing.com and the team’s Facebook page.
Driver post-race quotes follow:
Brad Jaeger: “It was OK. Unfortunately a lap after the first yellow-flag restart I had contact with an Aston Martin that threw our car out of alignment. It was still very drivable, but not perfect.
“The track was fine; I didn’t have any problems with the track surface.
“It was just a bit unfortunate. Our car handles great, but once we got into a pack it was hard to hang with the cars with more torque. If the green-flag runs had been longer we would have had a much better result. It was still a top 10, but if the race would have stayed yellow for one more lap we would have been sixth, not tenth.”
B.J. Zacharias: “The Doran crew had some great pit stops, and Kevin and Mike called a great race.
“Brad had a good opening stint and kept the car in good shape during his stint. We had a fast car, but the last two yellows really broke our momentum.
“The final restart with one to go really hurt us. The race leader checked everyone up in the restart zone and in my opinion definitely should have received a penalty. Also in my opinion, the start should have never happened.
“When the first pack all checked up it let the cars from eighth back have 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.
“I look forward to regrouping and heading to VIR in a couple weeks. The good news is that both cars finished in the top 10 and are in one piece.
“Hats off to the crew, who worked their tails off.”
David Empringham: “The restarts were a little crazy.
“I think the Nissan was very competitive on the long run, but all the restarts were not our strength. We seem to lack 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.”