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Circuit of The Americas Debrief: Hot Hot Heat

For the 9th round of the Continental Tire Sportscar Championship, we headed to the Lone Star state to battle the field at Circuit of the Americas. Since news of it’s inception, I have dreamt about going to COTA and getting the taste of America’s newest and greatest facility. I was excited to run a track built for Formula One; a more European style that I’m used to from running the GT3 formatted Blancpain Endurance Series last year.

As I am not planned to run in Atlanta, I was itching for a good result to finish my season here in The States. There have been many ups and downs and I just wanted to end my year on a good, solid performance. Our speed has been there all season for podium finishes and that was my goal for the final round.

Setting out on our first practice session, myself and Nic Hammann didn’t have any goals but to learn the track and get comfortable with where everything is and goes. I really enjoyed my first laps at the COTA and I immediately realized how important timing and consistency would be to put in solid laps. There was a flow to the track and one mistake seemed to ruin a whole lap.

Our morning session the next day provided some confidence to the Doran Racing team with both cars in the top five during practice. They had set up a great car for us from the get go. I had started to get my flow during the session and felt confident we had a strong car on new and old tires. We knew the whole week, and especially race day, was going to be HOT so we wanted to make sure the car was comfortable to drive during the long stints in the race.

Nic Hammann put in another great qualifying session putting the #41 Nissan 370Z third on the grid with Brad Jeager in the #14 just behind him in fourth. We had positioned ourselves to have a good race if we could stay out of trouble and get some long green flag running.

Race day was finally here, and the sweltering sun was out for the hottest day of the week. I would be the finishing driver, which meant I would most likely run the longest stint of us two drivers (around an hour and a half). I had been hydrating the last couple of days as much as I could knowing the near 100 degree temps would test us driver’s like nothing else this year.

Once Nic took the green flag to start the race he made a clean pass into first on the first corner. Unfortunately, it was short lived but knowing it was going to be a long race he put in a great stint running top five until handing the car over. Before I knew it, I was jumping into the car and was off on what would be one of the toughest stints of my short career so far.

When I got in the car we were in a good position and had some distance between us and majority of the field behind us. Unfortunately, there was a caution right off the bat of my stint. After bunching up the field and taking the restart, I tried my best to hold off a couple cars but lost a couple positions in the first few laps. I don’t know if I was driving in my mirrors or was off rhythm but this was unacceptable on my part. I knew I would need to settle down and regroup to put on a charge to the front.

I wasn’t losing the field, nor was I gaining on them either, but shortly after we ran into another full course caution to bunch up the field again. Most of the teams decided to pit during caution, including us, and run the distance to the end. This was a good moment for me to catch my breath and focus on what I needed to do. Something got caught up during our pit stop which ended up shuffling us near the back of the field to take the restart. There was still awhile to go so I didn’t panic but set out on catching the field instead.

I seemed to find my feet this time around catching those in front of me. My pace was strong and I could tell I was catching the field in front. Soon, I was on the tail end of the lead pack which were all fighting aggressively for position. I had a feeling if I was patient and didn’t push the issue, I could capitalize on the mistakes of others and work my way towards the front. I got lucky, and I seemed to make up spot after spot with multiple cars going wide, spinning, and even drive through penalties. Once things settled down, I was sitting fourth (up from 11th), and had no one pressuring me from behind. It was then I could really settle down and keep charging forward.

I continued to push, chasing one of the Camaros in front of me but could never seem to gain enough advantage to put on a charge for position. Eventually, BJ Zacharias in our sister car had caught up to me. He is always strong in the middle-end of the stints, and with the #14 third in the points championship, I wasn’t going to fight him for the spot. Instead, I decided to tag on to the back of him and see if we could catch the Camaro. Neither of us could seem to make ground until the Camaro had to make an unexpected stop which bumped each of us up a spot.

I ran behind BJ for awhile while we stretched a pretty large gap to those behind us. I settled into a pace with about twenty minutes to go when the heat really started to get to me. I hadn’t been able to drink from the water line my whole stint because it was so hot it burned my mouth when I tried. Slowly, I could feel the lack of water and the immense heat in the car draining me of energy. My pace dropped off from where it had been and I could see BJ taking out a bigger gap each lap around. I had a large enough gap behind me so I decided to minimize mistakes and energy to bring it the car home to the finish.

The group of two or three cars behind were catching me near the end which was too close for my comfort, but I was able to hold it together and finish up in fourth with one of the toughest, hottest stints I’ve been put up against. I was relieved to finish the race and get showered in ice cold water with a solid result to end my season. COTA definitely put up a fight but overall I had a good race weekend and my teammate did a great job.

I want to thank everyone who I’ve worked with this year and has been involved from Doran Racing, Nissan, and the GT Academy program for all of their hard work and dedication to make this a possibility for myself and the rest of the drivers. I can’t believe it’s been two years of racing now and it’s been one hell of a ride. I’m not sure what’s in store for next year but I can only imagine it will bigger and better than before. Again, thank you everyone so much and I can’t wait to be back behind the wheel again!!!

– Nick

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