MONZA, Italy – Since his GT Academy win last September, Nick McMillen has spent a lot of time on the track. His all-GT Academy team finished second in class in a 370Z NISMO at the Dubai 24 hours, and he's raced numerous times in GT4 in Europe. But his inaugural Blancpain Endurance Series race in a GT3 Nissan GT-R in the three-hour sprint at Monza last weekend felt different.
"This is the big leagues," said the 23-year old from Salem, Oregon. "I'd never been on the track with so many fast cars and top-notch drivers before. I really had a blast and at the same time learned a tremendous amount. This week I picked up so many things that will make me faster as we go."
A slight mechanical issue kept the Buncombe/McMillen/Strauss #80 GT-R from getting a hot lap in qualifying, so the car would have to start 32nd on the grid. Alex Buncombe started the car in stellar fashion, passing 14 cars on the first lap and carrying the car up to fourth in Pro-Am class by the end of the first hour of the three-hour race. McMillen jumped in knowing the team had a chance to finish on the podium.
"It took a couple laps to get comfortable and get into a rhythm, but once I did I felt like I was getting some good laps in," McMillen said. "I was battling with Ferraris and Bentleys with pro drivers and it was good racing. I got up to second in class and heard I was gaining on the BMW in the class lead, so it felt good."
The BMW that once had a commanding lead was now just four seconds in front of McMillen's GT-R. His first stint was a successful one, and he had the team in a position to podium, or even win its class.
Late in the race, with European champion Florian Strauss at the wheel, fuel conservation dictated a slightly slower pace to make the finish, and the car slipped back to fifth in class and 13th overall. All things considered, a good start to the Blancpain season for McMillen and his teammates.
"I can't wait until Silverstone, but it's over a month away," he said. "We should be a much better starting position. And racing at more familiar track for the team, I think we have a real good chance for a high finish there."
The teams now move to Silverstone in England for another 3-hour event on May 25.
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