Nissan 350Z wins debut SCCA National Championship; three gold medals for Nissan teams at runoffs; 10 Nissan drivers reach podium at Mid-Ohio
GARDENA, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Sept. 25, 2003--Nissan's powerful new 350Z, which became the best selling sports car in America in its first year of availability, has added another impressive title to its growing list of accolades -- Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) National Champion. In its first season of eligibility, a competition-prepped 2003 Nissan 350Z won the GT2 class title in the hands of driver Jim Goughary at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course near Lexington, Ohio.
The victory was one of three class championships won by Nissan competitors over the weekend, bringing Nissan's total of SCCA National Championships to 85, the most of any car manufacturer. It was also the 15th time since 1967 that Nissan has won three championships in a single SCCA National Championship Valvoline Runoffs weekend. Goughary, of Houston, Texas, was joined by Keith Grant of Cordova, Tenn. in GT4 and Collin Jackson of Langley, B.C., Canada in GT3 as National Champions.
In total, 47 Nissan drivers competed in various GT, Production, Showroom Stock and Touring class races. In addition to the three titles, seven other Nissan drivers scored second or third place finishes. Three Nissan drivers also qualified on the pole in their classes: Kevin Dennis in G Production, Grant and Jackson.
Goughary's GT2 class win was hailed by veteran Valvoline Runoffs observers as one of the most dramatic finishes in the 40-year history of the event. Goughary survived not only a first-lap crash, but deftly avoided a last-lap, last-turn melee by his two closest competitors to take the win at an average speed of 87.029 miles per hour on the 2.258-mile road course. It was Goughary's second Runoffs win in a Nissan. In the GT4 class race, Grant kept his Nissan 200SX out front from flag-to-flag, while Jackson led a 1-2 sweep by Nissan 240SX teammates in the GT3 class.
Goughary won $5,000 for his win in the 350Z, part of the $75,000 in contingency money provided by Nissan Motorsports program for the Runoffs. Grant and Jackson each won $1,000 from the contingency program. Nissan Motorsports also provided technical assistance and parts support for all Nissan racers at Mid-Ohio.
"Nissan came to Mid-Ohio with very high hopes for success by our 350Z drivers, and the win by Jim Goughary in his race-prepared 350Z, plus T. C. Kline's third place finish in an almost-stock Z(R), reaffirms the belief we've held all year in the 350Z's championship potential," said Ron Stukenberg, senior manager of Motorsports Marketing and Operations, Nissan North America, Inc.
Kline, a Runoffs veteran from Columbus, Ohio, had the honor of giving the 350Z its first podium finish. Racing in the Touring 2 class, Kline drove his lightly modified 350Z to a third place behind a pair of more powerful V8-engined cars.
"These three wins also mean Nissan has now won National Championships with every model that Nissan has competed with, from Bob Sharp's sporty Datsun 1600 roadster in 1967, to the exciting new 350Z," Stukenberg added.
In the GT2 race, Goughary qualified fourth fastest in his class but was convinced his day was done after a crash halfway through the first lap. "The pole-sitter tried to crowd me onto the grass just before a turn, and all I could see out the windshield was sky. With all four wheels off the ground, the landing was very dramatic. I was sure something important was broken and my race was finished," Goughary said.
"I figured I'd just call it a day, but while heading back to the pits, the Z told me it wasn't ready to quit. It felt fine. I took it easy for a couple of laps and stayed in fourth place, then decided it was time to go racing."
Goughary moved into third place on lap five, into second on lap 13, and into the lead on lap 16, passing two Toyotas, one driven by a 12-time National Champion. Both Toyotas then passed Goughary in the final two laps as the trio formed a 60-foot long, high-speed snake headed for the checkered flag.
In the final turn, with only 3/10ths of a second separating first from third place and the flag only yards ahead of them, the Toyota drivers crashed into each other. Goughary swerved, missed the melee, and made Nissan Motorsports history.
David Auerbach, who built the engine in Goughary's car, calls the new 350Z's 3.5-liter DOHC V6 "one of the finest 'beginning' engines I've ever worked on." Auerbach's long history with Nissan powerplants includes building the engines for 12 Nissan National Championship cars driven by Bob Sharp, his son Scott Sharp, and Paul Newman. He also built the engines for Bob Sharp Racing's IMSA championship-winning Nissan engines.
The night prior to the start of the weekend's races, Peter Cunningham, Nissan's entrant in the SCCA Speed World Challenge Touring Car Championship series with the TeamRTR Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V, spoke to Nissan's drivers, crew and families at a congratulatory reception held at the track.
His strategy for a successful weekend at the races -- qualify on the pole and lead every lap of the race -- was taken to heart the next day by Grant, one of the Runoffs' few wire-to-wire winners.
"Our Nissan 200SX was fast right out of the box during practice," he said, shortly after bringing Nissan its fifth GT4 class National Championship in six years. His father, Richard, was the 1990 National Champion in the same class, driving a Nissan B210.
Grant, part of a vast racing family that brought three of its 11 race cars to Mid-Ohio, was racing in only his third Runoffs. In his first try, the 2001 event, he finished fourth. Last year he was second. This time -- uncatchable.
Jackson, and his teammate/employer, Dave Humphrey, gave their BM&M Screening Solutions/Specialty Engineering Nissan 240SXs a one-two sweep of the GT3 class in their first trip to the Runoffs. It was also their first road race east of Phoenix, Arizona.
"We wanted to go to the 'big show,'" said Jackson, "so both of us, along with our families, drove our trucks to Mid-Ohio from British Columbia. It was a 48 1/2-hour drive over 2,800 miles, but it was well worth it. We had no historical track reference to go on for chassis setup, so we guessed it the first day and it was absolutely perfect."
Jackson and Humphrey normally compete in the NASPORT professional series in the Pacific Northwest, but Jackson called this race "the most physical race I've ever driven in. I even got hit from behind on the straightaways. We've raced nothing but Nissans since 1984, all built by Specialty Engineering, and these 240SXs were as perfect as two cars could get."
Jackson lost the lead at the start but regained it on lap six. Humphrey fell in line behind him in lap 11 of 20. The winning average speed was 85.360 miles per hour.
In addition to the three wins, the seven other Nissan drivers to reach the podium were:
-- Grayson Upchurch, Alpharetta, Ga., 2nd in E Production, Nissan 240Z
-- Kevin Dennis, Rochester, N.Y., 2nd in G Production, Nissan 510
-- Dave Humphrey, Langley, B.C., Canada, 2nd in GT3, Nissan 240SX
-- Kevin Allen, Covington, Ga., 3rd in G Production, Nissan 510
-- T. C. Kline, Columbus, Ohio, 3rd in T2, Nissan 350Z
-- Jim Rauck, Grove City, Ohio, 3rd in GT5, Nissan 200SX
-- Ken Kannard, East Troy, Wis., Nissan 240Z
The race weekend will receive full television coverage on the SPEED network. Each race will have its own one-hour show.