Drivers are confident that their Nissans are well suited for the challenge.
Lebanon, Ohio — Remembering its rousing third-place finish in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race at Sebring International Raceway last year, Doran Racing has high hopes as it prepares to travel to Sebring, Fla., for this year's race there on Friday, March 20.
Both of the Lebanon, Ohio-based team's cars finished in the top 10 in this event last year, as its #14 Nissan 370Z finished third and its #41 Nissan 370Z placed ninth.
The same duo that was on the podium here last year — Brad Jaeger of Charlottesville, Va., and B.J. Zacharias of Cincinnati — will be in the #14 for the 2.5-hour race at Sebring, which is called the Microsoft Visual Studio 150. It supports the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida the following day.
Our Nissan 370Z really managed the tires better than all of our competitors at Sebring, and if the same is true this year,
Nissan GT Academy champions Bryan Heitkotter of Fresno, Calif. and Nick McMillen of Salem, Ore. will share the #41 at Sebring. Heitkotter has tested at the 3.74-mile, 17-turn road course but has never raced here, and McMillen will be making his first visit ever to the historic Central Florida track. It's always very bumpy, as 2.89 miles of the track are asphalt and 0.85 miles of it are concrete. The concrete portion includes the frontstretch, which consists of the original concrete poured in 1941 for the World War II B-17 training base that was formerly at the facility.
Last year many full-course cautions were predicted but there were only two of them and they both occurred in the second half of the race. Jaeger qualified eighth in the #14 last year and was in sixth when he finally got to catch his breath and turn his Nissan over to Zacharias. Zacharias had a terrific restart near the end to go from ninth to nail down the podium finish before the race ended under caution.
The #14 seemed poised for at least a top-five finish in the season opener at Daytona until a freak failure of a tiny hinge in the gas pedal assembly let it down. The less experienced drivers in the #41 had the better result in the first race of the year, as Heitkotter and McMillen finished sixth.
All four drivers are already counting points as they strive to move their entries up in the championship standings.
The two Doran Nissans are two of 18 cars entered in the GS class. An additional 26 ST cars make up the 44 total entries.
The series has two practice sessions at 10:15 a.m. and 3:20 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18 before the GS class qualifies at 1 p.m. Thursday, March 19. The race is slated to get the green flag at 1:05 p.m. on Friday, March 20.
It will be streamed live at IMSA.com. In addition, it will be televised on Fox Sports 1 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 5. All times are Eastern.
Brad Jaeger: "I'm really looking forward to returning to Sebring! Last year we had an amazing third-place finish, even though the team battled through some car problems during one of the pit stops. After that problem in the pits, everyone put their head down and we battled back for that spot on the podium. Our Nissan 370Z really managed the tires better than all of our competitors at Sebring, and if the same is true this year, we should be able to move through the field during the middle portion of a stint.
"B.J. and I were in line for a top-five finish at Daytona, but due to a problem with the throttle pedal we lost a few laps. My goal is to finish in the top five at Sebring to get us back in the points for the championship.
"The Nissan 370Z really shines at Sebring, and I love the circuit. The mix of high-speed corners with tight, technical sections suits my driving style. I'm really looking forward to returning this year!"
B.J. Zacharias: "Last year's race was a really good victory for the #14 car. Yes we finished third, but it sure felt like a win. At that time the Camaros were very light on their restrictions and some other teams seemed to get a great jump out of the gate. Brad had a good opening stint, Kevin and Mike called a great race, and we had great luck threading the needle on the final restart in Turn 1. It really helped the team gain confidence after our start at Daytona.
"This year again we didn't have the best of races at Daytona, but we had THE car in the race.
"This year at Sebring we're coming in with a strong mindset and I truly believe from the first session we will be a team everyone has to deal with. Nissan Motorsports has stepped it up and the whole team is pushing forward.
"Both cars came away from Daytona in one piece, so we have been able to move ahead. It's little things here and there, but everything helps when you aren't forced to rebuild chassis or build new cars.
"I think the important thing is going to be getting Nick all the info he needs, as he is a Sebring virgin so to speak. It's such a demanding track in all phases as a driver and on the car. But he's a quick study and I am sure they will be up to speed quickly.
"I think there will be an emphasis on both Brad and Nick to qualify inside the top five and be able to keep it there without over-stressing the cars."
Bryan Heitkotter: "I'm excited to race the Doran NISMO 370Z in Sebring. I have a good feeling with it at other tracks, so it will be good to add this classic American circuit to my resume. I've driven there before but never raced there.
"Nick McMillen and I had a positive debut at Daytona and I'm excited to drive with him again, especially now that he has some miles in the car."
Nick McMillen: "I'm excited to be joining Bryan Heitkotter again in the Doran Racing Nissan 370Z after our strong result at Daytona. Given the results of last year at Sebring with both Doran cars in the top 10 and the momentum Bryan and I have right now, I am confident we can put in a great result if we run smooth and stay out of trouble.
"I have never been to Sebring so I can't wait to tick off another historic track on my to-race list. I think the bumpy track will favor my smooth and consistent driving even more so than Daytona did.
"After getting my feet wet in the first round of the Continental series and shaking off the cobwebs from the off season, I'll be a step or two ahead of where I was as we go into Sebring. I'm ready to get back to racing and see what Bryan and I can do!"