LEBANON, Ohio, Jan. 13 — Doran Racing will field not one but two Nissan 370Z NISMO RCs in the 12-event IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSCC) in 2014, starting with the season opener Friday afternoon, Jan. 24 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Both cars just returned to the team’s headquarters in Lebanon, Ohio after participating in the series’ official pre-season test Jan. 3-5 at Daytona. The Tower Events No. 41 piloted by Canadians David Empringham and John Farano posted the fifth-fastest time for the Grand Sport (GS) class during the test. The team’s No. 14 car driven by BJ Zacharias of Cincinnati, Ohio and Brad Jaeger of Charlottesville, Va. was 13th fastest out of 23 class entries after six practice sessions on the 3.56-mile road course, just 0.684 of a second off its team car.
Although the team is looking for two great finishes at Daytona, winning the CTSCC championship is it primary goal. Doran Racing has a rich history of winning championships and international races like the Rolex 24 that this race supports. It also has deep ties to Nissan Motorsports, dating back some 20 years. In addition, Zacharias drove the first Nissan 370Z in Grand-Am competition 11 years ago.
The addition of the Tower Events No. 41 for the 2014 season only adds to the team’s arsenal. It not only gives it an additional car in the race, but it doubles the data the team can gather during testing sessions, further accelerating chassis setup.
“The addition of the 41 car this year is a blessing for both Doran Racing and Nissan Motorsports, as it gives us another bullet in the chamber,” Zacharias said. “David Empringham brings so much to the table for the team with his experience, and working together for three days at Daytona was great. Both David and John Farano are great team players, and being able to try different things on chassis setup will really help with the finer details. It basically doubles your testing time.”
Empringham and Farano won the CTSCC championship in 2012 with another marque. Empringham also won title in 2005. He was part of the team that won the Rolex 24 overall in 2003, and he also has two Formula Atlantic and one Indy Lights titles. Farano, who like Empringham is from Toronto, finished second in the Ferrari Challenge series last year, winning that series’ race at Daytona. He and Empringham finished third in the CTSCC race at Daytona last year.
Doran Racing only ran in five CTSCC races last year, but Zacharias and Jaeger finished third in the event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Sonoma, Calif. Last year they were in line for a top-five finish at Daytona until a gearbox issue thwarted their best efforts. Both have extensive experience as drivers of all sorts of race cars, and they have known each other for many years since both were raised in the Cincinnati area.
“Brad is a very intelligent driver and he’s easy on the equipment, which may be the two most important qualities the starting driver can have in endurance sports car racing,” Zacharias pointed out. “He brings a ton of experience with him from karting, open-wheel racing and even Daytona Prototypes, but his personality is really a huge key to the success we had last year in the 14 because he’s a total team player.”
Daytona is different than other facilities the series will visit this year since a good portion of a lap is spent on the oval with the throttle wide open. That poses special challenges for the nimble Nissan 370Z.
“Overall Daytona isn’t suited to our car as much as it is to the marques with larger engines that we’re up again,” Zacharias noted. “The V8s in the Mustang, the Aston Martin, the BMWs and the new 7-liter V8 Camaro definitely show their stuff. In testing the 370Z posted the fastest infield-section times but the slower trap speeds around the oval. It’s one of those races though that hopefully tire degradation comes into play, and it can even it out a bit.”
“The Nissan seems to be very competitive,” Empringham said. “Its key strength is it’s very light. It also has a nice power band. The Doran team has done a great job sorting out the handling.”
“The Nissan 370Z is quick, but there are so many unknowns that it’s hard to really know how things will be for the race,” Jaeger pointed out. “A few of the quick teams weren’t present and the weather conditions may be completely different when we return for the race. Compared to some of the other vehicles, the Nissan 370Z is amazingly strong in the infield and under braking. I also think that with a little work, we’ll be really quick through the Bus Stop.”
All agreed that finishing the race is the first priority.
“Going forward Brad and I are focusing on solid top-six finishes week in and week out,” Zacharias said. “We would like to come out of Daytona with a podium, but to be able to bring this team a championship at the end of the year would be amazing, and that is our focus.”
Jaeger echoed his teammate’s goals. “Consistency is what we need!” he said. “The Nissan 370 NISMO is fast, and we just need to finish in the top five as much as possible.
“I drove for Kevin Doran for the first time in 2007, and I’m really excited to be back with him this year,” Jaeger added. “I think that his expertise in developing vehicles and making strategic decisions during races will definitely give us an edge throughout the 2014 season.”
“I left the Roar [the test] with great confidence in the Doran/Nissan program,” Empringham said. “I truly believe we have the right car and team to challenge for this year’s championship. The Doran team has done a great job sorting out the car’s handling. There is stiff competition, so winning the championship will take reliability and no mistakes, and we must finish every race.”
“Having Doran Racing at the head of this program and having the support of Nissan Motorsports is huge,” Zacharias added. “The expertise and knowledge that Kevin has and that he is able to put into the 370Z and this program are amazing.
“The Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge may be the toughest series around, but we feel we have a really good shot and a complete package,” Zacharias concluded. “I have always said ‘Surround yourself with great people, and good things will happen.’ This team has that in place.”
Practice at Daytona starts on Wednesday, Jan. 22. The GS class, which has attracted 29 entries, qualifies at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 23. The 150-minute race is scheduled to get the green flag at 1:45 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 24. Live timing and scoring and other information will be available at imsa.com. The race will be broadcast on a same-day/tape-delayed basis on Fox Sports 2 beginning at 6 p.m. Eastern time.
After Daytona the series will hold races at Sebring Int’l Raceway in Sebring, Fla. March 13-14; Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Sonoma, Calif. on May 2-3; Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn., on May 23-24; Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., onJune 6-7; Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, N.Y., on June 27-28; Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada on July 11-12; Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Ind., on July 24-25; Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., on Aug. 8-9; VIRginia Int’l Raceway in Alton, Va., on Aug. 22-23; Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas on Sept. 19-20 and Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga., on Oct. 2-3.
For more information on Doran Racing, see DoranRacing.com. The team also has a Facebook page.
Photo credit: Fred Zacharias