LEXINGTON, Ohio - The Nissan Continental Sports Car Challenge teams found themselves on the short end of a couple key rulebook decisions this weekend at the Diamond Cellar Classic at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The Doran Racing 370Z NISMO showed excellent pace at the top of the field during early practice sessions, and with newcomer Brad Jaeger at the wheel qualified a respectable fifth best in the GS class. Newcomer Ryan Ellis in the number 33 Skullcandy Altima Coupe also posted fast times in practice and for the bulk of qualifying held the fast lap time. Late in the session, two cars undercut Ellis' time, leaving the Altima third on the ST (Street Tuner) starting grid. Sister car number 34 had some difficulties during qualifying and started 24th.
After qualifying the Skullcandy Altima team learned that on board telemetry indicated Ellis' engine had slightly exceeded the mandated 7,000 rpm limit and therefore the number 33 car would start at the back of the field for Saturday's race.
At the start of the 150-minute enduro, the Doran 370Z NISMO fell back two spots early but maintained its position throughout much of the first hour. At the 70-minute mark, Jaeger gave way to veteran BJ Zacharias to finish, and Zacharias moved the car all the way up into third place before the final round of pit stops. It was on the pit exit where trouble found the Doran Z. Zacharias ran through a red traffic marker and was penalized a 60-second stop and hold penalty that cost the team any shot at a podium finish. Zacharias established a new GS lap record in the closing minutes of the race, but could not make up the lost time.
"We had a great car today. I think we finally had a podium finish for Nissan, but rules are rules and I made a mistake at the pit exit that cost us," said a disappointed Zacharias. "Nissan deserves a win in GS and this team deserves one too. We will get one before this season's over. I promise you."
In ST, the two Altimas made steady progress and were just outside the top 10 at the one hour mark. Rising star Andy Lee was now in the 34 car and moving steadily forward, running 11th when another car hit the Altima Coupe in the right front and damaged the suspension too badly for the car to continue. The 33 car was sitting 12th after Ellis passed more than half the field under green. With Daytona winner Vesko Kosarov at the controls, the team gambled by not changing tires on the last stop. The car sat in ninth position with just 35 minutes left. On the restart following the final caution period, Kosarov skillfully dove past three cars into sixth position on worn tires. A last lap pass into fifth capped off another solid drive for the Bulgarian native and team co-owner.
"The top three would have been tough to crack today, so I'm happy enough with our finish given where we started." Kozarov said afterward. "My tires were gone for the last half hour of the race, so I was focused on racing without doing anything that would put us out of the race. The cars ran very well here, so we're encouraged."
The Continental Tire Challenge Diamond Cellar Classic will air flag-to-flag on SPEED TV on Sunday June 27 at 4 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. Central.