18.10.2005 The inaugural IMSA GT3 Cup season ended on an excellent note for XM SATELLITE VICI RACING on Sunday as Nathan Swartzbaugh climbed onto the podium and in the process moved up the points table to clinch third place in the championship
The final race of the inaugural five-round IMSA GT3 Challenge Cup presented by Michelin took place at the demanding Laguna Seca circuit last Sunday (16th October). For XM SATELLITE RADIO VICI RACING and their promising young driver Nathan Swartzbaugh, it turned into the perfect swansong. In his first year in the higher echelons of sportcar racing, the 20-year-old Californian driver has had - by his own admission - somewhat of a rollercoaster year. And so, after a heavy practice crash during the last round which sent the team home early, everyone was looking forward to rounding this season off in some style in what turned out to be a yellow- flag littered race.
Grabbing the final podium position (3rd place) was a superb result for both driver and team, and it could so easily have been even better as Nathan had held onto second position for much of the 45 minute race, only loosing out on the runner-up spot during the final lap, when the drama-packed race was in fact being re-started for the third time in its 23 lap length. Nathan took the chequered flag 2.418 seconds behind the winner, Kevin Roush (Wheel Enhancement Racing), and 1.508 adrift second placed Phil De Angelis (Kelly- Moss Racing). The XM SATELLITE VICI RACING driver also posted the second fastest lap time of the race (1:32.463, on lap 12), just 0.199 seconds of Roush's quickest race lap.
Taking the flag in third place gave Nathan 16 points to add to the tally of 24 points he had chalked up prior to arriving at Laguna Seca. This allowed him to round out his rookie IMSA GT3 Cup season with 40 points, and 3rd place in the championship. While Jay Policastro (who finished in 13th place) comfortably claimed the inaugural IMSA GT3 Challenge Cup title, Nathan and Kevin Roush finished next up, jointly tied on 40 points each, although the latter was given the positional nod in deference to his two, back-to-back race wins.
"I'm ecstatic, simply over the moon," said a delighted Nathan, who enjoyed spraying the champagne on the IMSA GT3 Challenge Cup podium for the first time this year. "I was really down after Road America [the last round], and felt I had let the team down. This result though is really great; my career has really come on such a long way in the last year. I'm really delighted to give VICI RACING a podium finish and I want to thank all the guys, Ron, Alfred, Freddie, Robert, Bill, and everyone else for all their awesome support this year. I really hope I can be back with them all next year."
Nathan had actually started the weekend's proceedings at Laguna Seca off on Thursday morning with a best lap of 1:33.074 out of his 11 laps on track during the first of two 30-minute free practice sessions that day, to claim 7th fastest time overall (out of the 29 cars that turned up for this final race), 1.651 seconds of the pacesetter, Kevin Roush. The afternoon's second track session saw Nathan steadily improving as he got to grips with the unfamiliar and demanding 2.238-mile race track, the Californian youngster posting a best lap of 1:32.799 during his 10 laps, to take fourth fastest position, and reduce the deficit to Roush - who once again went quickest - to 0.965 seconds.
Saturday's final qualifying session saw the Florida-based team adjusting settings slightly after an overnight analysis of data, and Nathan went on to claim the outside slot on row two, after turning in the 4th fastest lap time, a 1:31.738, out of 8 laps he spent on the track. Kevin Roush again went quickest of the Porsche runners - but the gap was narrowing all the time, and Nathan was just .0282 seconds off the pole winner's time.
XM SATELLITE RADIO VICI RACING Commercial Manager Bill Colleran is very pleased with the outcome of the Laguna Seca race and the first-ever IMSA GT3 Challenge Cup season in general. "The new championship has grown very quickly in both strength and stature," comments Bill, "and its seems set for a bright future, especially as the races will support the ALMS series again in 2006, and include Sebring and the Petit Le Mans on the schedule.
"Highlights for us must surely be Alfred's round one win, and the way Nathan has developed his obvious talent and skills over the course of the year. 2005 has also seen a very successful first year of our new partnership with XM SATELLITE RADIO, and we look forward to this bond growing in strength over the coming years. We certainly hope to continue our participation in the IMSA GT3 Challenge Cup next year."
XM SATELLITE RADIO VICI RACING will announce their plans for the 2006 IMSA GT3 Challenge Cup in due course.