Wow what a season! What an experience! My first year on a professional race team certainly had its ups and downs but boy was it an amazing experience I wont soon forget. Before I get into the recap of how we finished the last few races of the Pirelli World Challenge 25th Anniversary season with the #07 Nissan Motorsport 370Z I want to thank everyone who made it such a great time. From Brian being an awesome driver and boss to all the fellow crew guys Jason, Joe, Taylor, Reg and Kyle that I learned a ton from to the PWC staff who run one of the best road racing series in the world and also special shout out to Russell and the staff at Z1 Motorsports. Racing is truly a team effort, a brotherhood of sorts, and I have become great friends with all the guys on and off the pit wall and look forward to seeing them again in the future.
As anyone who has been following our season knows; it started out pretty darn rough with multiple issues on the car resulting in multiple DNF’s (the worst three letters in motorsport). If you haven’t been following on social media or this blog then check out my previous post earlier this year about the first half of the season. After finally having a relatively successful event at Road America in Wisconsin for Rd 7 & 8 we were excited to get the #07 Nissan 370Z to Mid Ohio where Brian has been many times and the car finally running correct.
Round 9 & 10 at Mid Ohio was a serious turning point in the development of the #07 Nissan Motorsport 370Z. With the bugs on the car figured out (mostly) and the racing gods somewhat appeased we were finally able to start focusing on the suspension setup and alignment to optimize the car throughout the 50 minute races. All season whenever the car would cooperate it would push horribly and get worse and worse as the race progressed. After making a few small adjustments that seemed to help at Road America we decided for Mid Ohio that we would make a few big adjustments to the car in hopes of getting the car in the top 10.
After a few more tweaks in practice and qualifying Brian got off to a great start moving up to 10th but then came the rain. And when I say the rain came, I mean it was raining buckets and cats and dogs and cows. With cars flying off track left and right on their slicks and without PWC making any suggestion of calling a caution or red under the conditions we made a strategic decision to bring the car in to pit and swap to rain tires as a few other teams had already done. Of course we don’t normally do pit stops so it wasn’t as fast as we wanted and ended up dropping from P11 to P14 with hopes of charging back and getting a top ten. And then as usual with our luck two laps later World Challenge called a red flag to end the race and we finished P14, soaking wet, frustrated and with lots of broken radio equipment (thanks Chad from Racing Radios for helping us out after that!) we looked forward to Rd 10 the next day and hopefully under dry conditions.
The next day with the weather perfect we started from P14 and immediately it was obvious the car had come alive and Brian quickly diced through traffic and was running P9 and racing for P8 when we unfortunately had a fuel pump failure that left the car unable to continue driving two thirds of the way through the race. The driving gods obviously weren’t done with us yet but from the clean laps we did have we knew that the car was finally performing as a top 10 contender and we were more than excited to go to Sonoma for the last race weekend of our season (better fixed late than never I suppose).
After licking our wounds and changing the fuel pumps at my shop in MD we ended up going into Sonoma for rounds 11 and 12 with a hint of bittersweet optimism. Sonoma is not onlya beautiful area among the rolling hills and wineries but it is also one of the most impressive race facilities I have ever seen with amazing elevation changes and views above Napa Valley. We knew this was our last race weekend of the year (one more PWC race weekend at Miller but not on our #07 schedule) and we wanted to finish it off strong for our fans, sponsors and team. After the first few practices we were down on speed compared to the rest of the V8 field and we made a few more changes to the setup getting even more aggressive as we went through practice and qualifying and every change we made Brian got faster and faster. The weekend was looking to finally be a good one although we were still plagued by fuel pump issues which ended up being a simple fix after a lot of headache. We qualified a dismal 18th but we knew the car would be faster in the race and get better as the race went on and we were right. Brian quickly went from P18 to P12 in the first half of the race and ended up finishing P14 after some late race fender battles with some other competitors. We knew we were finally a top ten car and hoped tomorrow we could prove it.
That night we knew it was the last time the team would be together so we of course did what we did best. Ate, drank, drank, go karted and then drank some more (race wasnt until late in the afternoon next day and shoot it was our last race). At the track we have a great time but off track we do as well and its nights like those that make you realize why racing and the guys involved are so great. Anyway the only reason I mention any of this is because after going to sleep around midnight we were all woken up abruptly around 3:15am… for one of the biggest earthquakes recorded in the lower 48 in my life time of 25 years, and we were within a few miles of the epicenter in Napa Valley. Now I had only been to California a handful of times before this and I had obviously never felt an earthquake before so you can only imagine how intense of a feeling a 6.1 for the first time would be and holy shit was it impressive. Luckily very few people were hurt, the track wasn’t damaged and we were still ready to race for our last race of the year but man that was a wild experience to add to the already crazy list of things this year. Looking back maybe this was the racing gods one last vicious act for the season.
Having survived the earthquake and of course all of us re-hashing our own stories we quickly shifted in to race mode. Starting P15 from the previous race (based on fastest lap and not finishing position) we knew a top 10 was easily within grasp now that the car was handling correct and a decent starting position. Even so we did a few minor changes to the setup and sure enough it was obvious from the get go it worked when Brian came over the radio and said “Car is perfect!”. Brian had the best car he has had all year and the #07 Nissan 370Z was on rails. Needless to say we were all on the edges of our seat in pit lane as we watched Brian work the car hard the entire race earning him his second Sunoco Hard Charger Award of the year for passing the most cars (GT & GTS not just GTS) and we finished P10 for the first time in Brian’s Pirelli World Challenge career! We were all beyond ecstatic! With all of us having worked so hard this year and nothing ever going right for so many races this top ten might as well have been a podium finish. He had been chasing 9th and 8th place pretty closely toward the end of the race but unfortunately with 10 minutes left an accident in Turn 1 ended up ending the race under yellow and a hood from the accident destroying our front bumper as you can see at the end of the race video below. That day was one of the best race days I have ever experienced and I cant wait to have a whole lot more of those next season! Until then check out the photos and videos above and below and be sure to follow Brian Kleeman on facebook and instagram @screaminkleeman.