KANSAS CITY, Kansas — After a challenging and often frustrating Memorial Day weekend at Lime Rock, two of the three Nissan teams in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSCC) came back strong at Kansas Speedway on Saturday.
Doran Racing No. 14 car of Brad Jaeger and BJ Zacharias started fifth on the grid, thanks to Jaeger's solid qualifying run on Friday. GT Academy 2012 Champion Steve Doherty also found the NASCAR track's road course to his liking, posting the fourth fastest time during qualifying in his Skullcandy Altima 3.5, just an eyelash off a front row starting spot. Derek Jones qualified the sister Altima No. 33 in eighth spot.
An early race penalty put the Doran Z a lap down after Jaeger had the car up to fourth position. The drivers and crew knew they had a fast car and committed put their heads down, run a fast race and never give up.
"We had a car to win. I want to thank Doran Racing, Nissan and just everyone involved for all their efforts," said Jaeger. "I made a mistake leaving pit lane and got a 60-second stop-and-go penalty that put us a lap down. Apparently pit lane was closed. The lights were difficult to see and I also had two cars ahead of me that went, so I went too, and we all got penalties. Everyone on our team kept trying as hard as they could. B.J. was driving the car with everything he could at the end."
In the Street Tuner (ST) class, Doherty very quickly pulled the Skullcandy Altima up into third spot and showed why he won the GT Academy competition two years ago by reeling off remarkably consistent fast laps throughout his stint. An unusually long pit stop and a little contact put co-driver Brian Heitkotter farther back in the field just as Vesko Kozarov in the team's No. 33 car made a charge through the field in the closing laps. The two Altimas were seventh and ninth, but Heitkotter drafted the eighth place BMW off NASCAR turn four to take the position, finishing behind Kozarov in eighth.
"After the driver change, I was struggling for front end grip a little bit," said 2011 GT Academy Champion Heitkotter. "Steve got a great jump at the start and got us in a good position, and the team had a good fuel strategy that worked well, but I lacked the pace I needed to move up. All in all, a top 10 is good to have."
In the GS class, Doran's B.J. Zacharias took over in 14th overall. His drive was immediately slowed by the event's second full-course caution flag on lap 54, and with some more pit stops by other rivals he was 11th for the restart on lap 61, although he was still one lap down. Zacharias broke back into the top 10 with 34 minutes left, ninth with 28 minutes to go, and was seventh with 18 minutes remaining.
With just four minutes to go, Zacharias moved into sixth place running a torrid pace, and he was still in that position with two minutes to go when he had to make the car's fourth pit stop for a splash of fuel. After Zacharias came out of the pits, he set the fastest lap anyone ran in the race with a 1:21.876 on his 96th lap, taking the checkered with a flourish despite still being one lap down to the winning Aston Martin.
"The Doran Racing team did a really good job here," said Zacharias. "We had a little mistake early, but the team showed its professionalism and kept digging. I'm proud of the boys today. I don't know if this is the hardest eighth-place finish I've ever had, but right now it sure feels like it. We put our heads down and didn't give up, and at the end of the day we made some good points. We'll go to the Glen with a car that we know is very good."
The CTSCC series moves to Watkins Glen, New York from June 26 to 28. For more information about the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, visit www.imsa.com.
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