MANSFIELD, Ohio - Steve Doherty, America's latest GT Academy champion competes in his first professional race on American soil: the Pirelli World Challenge in Mansfield, Ohio. He races a Nissan 370Z NISMO.
"Everyone here at the world challenge has welcomed me with open arms. Everyone has been really friendly and asked me about everything, so it's a great story why I am here," said Doherty.
About a year ago, 29-year old Doherty was working as an auto mechanic, dreaming of a career in big-time auto racing.
"It's very physical, a lot more physical than just staying at home on the couch," said Doherty. Now Doherty is racing alongside Spaniard Lucas Ordoñez, the inaugural 2008 GT Academy Europe Champion. Ordoñez has driven everything from sportscars at Le Mans to the innovative DeltaWing and SUPER GT cars in Japan.
"Driving all sorts of cars all over the world, growing and learning and driving as a racing driver -- that's why we are here, to learn," said Ordoñez.
"Lucas is the one that started it all, and if he didn't do a good job none of us would be here," said Doherty.
The two GT Academy friends compete again. Steve is driving for DWW Racing and Lucas for SRF Racing, in similarly prepared 370Zs.
"Nissan 370Zs are made for racing and winning because of design, and Nissan is known for speed," said Rick Kulach, Sr., planner of Nissan North America Motorsports. "The Z has been a very successful racing car since it first came on the scene in 1969."
During the Pirelli World Challenge, the GT Academy pals kept track of each other the entire time.
"I saw in my mirror Lucas got tangled up, and he was sideways a little bit," said Doherty.
Lucas got clipped by another car right at the start of the race. But Steve stayed steady and on track.
"All in all I finished. There is not a scratch on the car and I got a hard charger award, so a great weekend," said Doherty.
Both feel they've won the chance of a lifetime: to live out their dreams as racecar drivers and compete across the world.
"You have to fight really hard. You have to work really hard everyday and that's why I am here five years later," said Ordoñez.
The latest GT Academy online competition, with more than 400,000 virtual racers, is underway now. Then, a new national finals competition will be August 24 in New York City.
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