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Sebring Debrief: A Charge From Last to 5th

I was excited to begin round two of the Continental Tire Sportscar Championship which would be held at the almighty, Sebring raceway. Known for it’s many surface changes and aggressive nature towards drivers and their cars, I knew it wouldn’t be a particularly easy race.

My teammate Bryan Heitkotter and I came off with a 6th at Daytona which was strong for my first race with Doran Racing and a new car. When it came to Sebring, I was already one step ahead of where I was at Daytona and itching to jump in the driver’s seat to see what potential I could reach. I put in my simulator time to learn the track, watched onboard, and asked some other drivers for tips on how to get on well at one of the toughest tracks in North America.

Having not driven since Daytona, our two “warm up” practice sessions on Tuesday were useful to learn the track and get used to the car again with no pressure. On Wednesday we began official timed practice where we started to tweak the car to see what we could get out of it. Our Nissan 370Z felt great in the morning session, very predictable and soaked up all the punishment we put it through. Track temp was cooler than it would be for the race so we didn’t want to do anything major in setup change. I ran a few laps to see if our adjustments were positive and then put in a few laps on newer tires that would compare more to a qualifying session. We were easily top ten so it was on to finding out our race setup and potential pace for Friday’s race.


Our afternoon session proved to show how much temperature can effect how a car handles. The balance was nothing similar to our morning session but these particular conditions would simulate how our car would be in the race. A combination of temperature and stint old tires made for a handful of a car at the wheel but our lap times would prove we would have a strong pace in the race. Again, we managed to find ourselves easily in the top ten at the end of the session and much closer to an acceptable pace than what it felt like in the car. We made some minor setup adjustments in preparation for Thursday’s qualifying session as we wouldn’t have any warm up, just a 15 minute qualifier to determine the Friday’s starting grid.

Qualifying began around 1:00pm right smack dab in the middle of the day when the track was near it’s peak temperature. I put together of a plan for two flying laps, a cool down, and one flyer if needed. I headed out on my first flyer which was further off pace than expected, due to not enough heat in the tires yet. My second flyer was interrupted by catching a car early so I made the pass and created a gap for a cool down before a second full flyer. My second full flyer would be my quickest lap of the session, still with a couple mistakes but would put me in P6. I went for another flyer and kept pushing with a potential time almost .8 seconds quicker than my fastest lap. Unfortunately, I caught a battling Mustang and Porsche in a bad spot which would throw my last flyer out the window. All in all, I would stay in P6, besting my Daytona qualifying position and my teammate Brad Jaeger in the No.14 would end up P4.

The Doran Racing Nissan 370Z’s had great starting spots for the race and we knew we had the overall pace to run top five and have a chance at the podium if things went smoothly. The weather for race day was less than ideal for a driver in the car. Around 90 degrees and some ridiculous amount of humid in typical Florida fashion; something my northwest roots aren’t used to. That along with no cool suits or air conditioning in the car, I knew this would become a fitness test to see how well I could conserve energy and deal with the heat.

As we wrapped up pre-grid activities I put my helmet on, hopped in the car, and made sure everything was hooked up and ready to go. I made radio contact and got into focus mode, playing out different start situations in my head.

The famous, “Drivers, start your engines!” came across the loud speakers and it was time to go. Except in this case, I wasn’t going anywhere. The car was turning over but wouldn’t fire. After a few attempts with no success I shut everything off and then back on again in hopes of resetting the system. Another push of the start button and nothing. Cars were leaving for their formation laps swerving around me and I could see my qualifying efforts slip away. I only cared about the loss of my qualifying spot for a second as I just wanted my car to start. They started pushing me off to the side as I still tried to get the car to fire. We even tried to bump start the car and it wouldn’t go. Finally, after everyone left for their formation laps we were able to hook up a jump battery to the car. One last push. Success! The car fired and I sped off to the end of the pit lane.


I sat at the end of the pit lane, staring at a track marshal holding up his hand until I could go. I had to wait and think for what felt like 10 minutes until both the GS and ST class took the start of the race before I could go. “You win championships on your worst days.” played through my head. This race would come down to damage control in being smart with passing the ST car field and running a fast consistent pace to catch the back of the GS field. Was I frustrated? Of course! But I tend to race at my best when there’s a little anger fueling my fire.

I dropped the clutch and hit full throttle as the track marshal dropped his hand. I caught the ST car field in the first few corners and started one of the most fun moments in my racing career; picking off 30 ST cars. It was no easy task, passing slower cars in their own race, not leaving me any extra room to pass. I pushed my way through and took some chances to make the passes but was able to manage to get through the whole ST field in three laps. From there, I had a fairly clear track and damage control ensued.

I pushed and tried to minimize mistakes. Running through each lap knowing I’m making up ground when I hear over the radio “You were fastest car that lap,” and “You’re running the leader’s pace.” That almost kills you even more knowing your pace is on par with the leaders and you’re playing catch up instead of battling for position. Nonetheless, I put in my best effort and caught the back of the GS field in about fifteen minutes from race start. I made a couple passes for position and continued to push to catch the rest of the field. Eventually, we ran into a full course caution which was a blessing for the No. 41 car.

With the field bunched up, now was the time to really make up positions. The green flag dropped and we were off again. I made up a couple positions and was going for another when after less than two laps another full course caution. This time we pulled into the pits to put me on newer tires and see if I couldn’t push even further up the field when the track went green again. At this point, the slow pace of the cautions dropped my adrenaline level and I started to realize how hot I was getting in the car.


The green flag would wave again and I tried to forget about the heat as I made my way up the field. Two or three laps later I had made a couple more spots on my way to breaking into the top ten. Again, we were hit with a caution with about an hour of the race gone. At this point, we decided to pit for a full stop with new tires, fuel, and Bryan Heitkotter jumping in the car. After the pit stop timing and scoring would show us about 10th. I had successfully started from pit lane and managed to get us near the top ten and in fighting contention for a good result. I was pleased with my drive and it was all down to Bryan to see what we could do.

Bryan took off and put his head down to push through the field. It took almost no time at all to see the No. 41 bumping it’s way up the leader board one spot at a time. Bryan would eventually find himself in a gap mid-way through his stint with 4th place too far off in the front for us to catch them by the end. He settled in with our teammates in the No. 14 not too far behind to run a great race to the end for 5th and 6th place for the team.

I had a great weekend at Sebring and couldn’t of really asked for a better result given the circumstances. We bested our 6th place at Daytona by one spot and are still in the fight for points. Doran Racing did a great job in setting up the car and making sure Bryan and I could do our job well. I’m excited to head to Laguna Seca next where I will be teamed up with fellow Nissan driver, Steve Doherty, in our first race as teammates. Laguna will also be the first time my family gets to watch me race in person which will be truly special for me. Until next time, thank you to Doran Racing, Nissan, and everyone who supports me and helps make this whole opportunity possible.

– Nick


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