For 45-year old Pennsylvanian David Donohue, his career is at a crossroads. After driving full-time in the Rolex Sports Car Series every year since 2003, Donohue came into the 2013 season without a full-time ride after deciding to leave Action Express Racing at the end of 2012. For Daytona, he signed on to drive the No. 16 Porsche Cayman in the new GX-class for Napleton Racing, a team that normally fields cars in Pirelli World Challenge. Napleton Racing also runs the Cayman Interseries, a spec series where teams buy race-prepped cars with directly from Napleton Porsche and race them on various courses with throwback paint schemes.
After a special Champions’ photo-op in Gatorade Victory Lane at Daytona, Frontstretch’s own Phil Allaway caught up with the veteran driver.
Phil Allaway, Frontstretch.com: You’re making your debut this weekend with Napleton Racing in the No. 16 Porsche Cayman. First of all, how did this opportunity come together for you?
David Donohue: It’s really a collection of old friends. Ron Barnaba is the General Manager of Napleton Porsche, and used to be the General Manager at Brumos [Racing] when I started there back in ’02 and ’03. He had since left Brumos and he’s been with Napleton Racing for [a few] years.
They’ve been developing the Cayman for the last several years with the Interseries, and I think Ed Napleton wanted to run this race. They made the commitment to run the race. Ed couldn’t do it himself, but they decided to continue on with the effort. My former crew chief when I was with Brumos is a guy by the name of Mike Colucci, who actually grew up with Bob Snodgrass, the spiritual leader at Brumos and a guy who was like a father to me. Ron hired Mike to oversee this effort and help manage it from the racing side because Mike has done so many of these Daytona 24 hour races. So, even the crew chief is my old crew chief from my Brumos DP days. There’s a lot of synergy personally between me and the members of the team. I didn’t have anything else going and I got a phone call. It’s a personal thrill for me to run with these guys and personally satisfying.
Allaway: Is this a full-season effort for Napleton Racing?
Donohue: No, right now, it’s just this one race. I think they’d like to do more, but racing costs money and the money’s gotta come from somewhere. They still have to figure that part out. It’s the unfortunate truth that a lot of people don’t realize how expensive this stuff is. At the end of the day, it all costs money. We’ve all gotta make a living.
Allaway: Your team has the substantial advantage of having raced your car prior to today (it’s a modified version of the car raced in Pirelli World Challenge). What kind of modifications would have had to be made to the car to make it GX legal?
Donohue: I think Grand-Am has a set of their own regulations, both on the safety side and the performance side. They basically fulfilled both of those obligations, especially on the fuel capacity and so forth. It’s got a little different engine in it, a 3.8 [liter]. I’m not really up on what the World Challenge-spec is, so beyond that, I don’t know the difference.
Editor’s Note: We took a look at World Challenge’s site and found a page of Car Facts. The Cayman raced in the GTS class, which is designed for cars “…prepared to a level much closer to that of a stock vehicle” as compared to a typical GT car. To that degree, generally stock body panels are used, although aftermarket wings are ok. Only electronic driver aids from the factory are allowed. According to Grand-Am’s GX regulations, teams are allowed to modify the bodies by installing a two-inch extension of the wheel arch on each wheel to bring the car to a maximum width of 74 inches. Replacement bodies can be used, but they must be installed similarly as stock, and must be at least as strong. Also, the 3.8 liter engine (likely out of a 911) that Donohue mentioned is legal. It replaces a normal 3.4 liter engine. Naturally-aspirated engines can be up to four liters in displacement in the class. Also, note that the Cayman had an H-pattern, fully manual gearbox (or as Nelson Canache referred to it in a press conference, an “H popping gearbox.”).
Allaway: You’ve been full-time in the Daytona Prototype class effectively since Day One, and now, you’re transitioning back to the new Cayman. How much do you have to change your driving style for the car?
Donohue: The Cayman is surprisingly easy to drive, believe it or not. It’s got a lot of the road car manners. If anyone’s driven a Cayman road car, they know how easy it is to drive and how fun it is to drive. The car is not spectacular to drive in that it’s so well-mannered and well-behaved, you get a lap time out of it [without pushing it]. The car itself does the work, not the driver. I was telling the other [drivers] that.
If you get a good lap time, it’s because the car did the work. It doesn’t come from the driver. If you try to wring it’s neck, it’s not going to reward you with much more and you might damage the car. Just let the car do the work. I think Napleton [Racing’s] done such a great job preparing the car and getting it set up in the ballpark. That experience in World Challenge and the Cayman Interseries got them that much closer when they rolled off the truck.
Allaway: 15 years ago, you were driving the Valvoline BMW M3’s full-time for PTG. Is there any similarity between how those cars handled and the Cayman?
Donohue: Yeah, I guess, because they were both really friendly to drive. One thing I distinctly remember with the BMW was how you could overdrive it, really screw up, and no one from the outside would ever know. You could easily recover. It would give you so much warning that you did something wrong and you look like a hero all the time. You would barely see it in the lap time.
The Cayman isn’t so much like that, necessarily. It tells you what’s going on. If you screw up, everyone will know, but it tells you enough that you don’t really have the tendency to screw up. I don’t think anyone’s put a wheel off in that car yet. It’s just like a road car, it gives you so much feedback.
Allaway: Having a comfortable car to drive, is that just an easier car to handle for an endurance race?
Donohue: Oh absolutely. One of the challenges that I’ve had [this weekend] is that I’m also in the No. 77 Doran [Racing] Daytona Prototype. It’s a very comfortable Daytona Prototype to drive as well. But, the speed difference is 15-20 seconds a lap. That’s the biggest challenge I have right now is just adapting to the speed difference.
Surprisingly enough, the Cayman is just a natural to drive. I kind of think anybody can get in it.
Allaway: You mentioned your secondary ride in the Doran No. 77? How did that ride come about for you?
Donohue: Really, during the Roar [Before the 24]. Dr. Jim Lowe is, I wouldn’t say a neighbor, but he lives near me and we travel together and we’ve become pretty good friends. Paul Tracy was my teammate last year for a couple of races at Action Express. We’re all like-minded people and we get along real well on a personal level.
They were wondering if they could get a fifth [driver] without a huge commitment, and I was sitting right there since I know everyone there. I’ve got the experience in the DP and I don’t really need a lot of time to get up to speed since I’ve done every Daytona Prototype race that they’ve run. I asked Ron [Barnaba] if it was ok if I kept the Cayman as a priority and maybe did a little time in the Daytona Prototype as long as it didn’t take away from the Cayman. [Barnaba] didn’t see a problem with that, so here I am.
Allaway: Since the Napleton commitment to GX is somewhat limited, could you possibly end up doing some World Challenge races with them this year?
Donohue: I have no idea at the moment. It would be presumptuous for me to say yes since I don’t know what their plans are at the moment.
[Napleton Racing] does do a lot of track days with customers and so forth and I’ll participate with them in some of that.
Allaway: The team’s Chicago-based. There’s a place up there called Audubon Country Club, right?
Donohue: Yeah, they [do them there], but they travel and go to other tracks as well.
Allaway: You’ve been full-time with the DP’s for 11 years. Do you feel a little disappointed that you won’t be racing there full-time this year?
Donohue: Of course. I put a lot of effort into [the class], especially in the early years of the Daytona Prototypes. I believe that I have unfinished business there. I’ve struggled through some really tough times when [Action Express Racing] was going through tough times. It just wasn’t the place for me to be at the end of last year, so I decided to move on and really see what would happen. Nothing was going to change if I didn’t try to make some sort of a move. We made the move, and we’ll see what happens. I wish them the best. Something will turn up.
Allaway: You’ve done multiple dozens of endurance races in the past. What do you do to prepare?
Donohue: I don’t really do anything special to prepare. You’ve got to pack appropriately, of course. During the race is where you really have to take care of yourself and make sure that you’re ready for Sunday. That just requires eating right and sleeping right, getting your rest, staying clean, staying ready to go.
Allaway: What do you like to do away from the track in order to relax?
Donohue: I really enjoy spending time with my family. I’ve got two kids and they never cease to make me happy. I also do some mountain biking. I’ve been meaning to get back into ice hockey, but just haven’t gotten to do it yet.
On paper, it appeared that Napleton Racing had the best team and package in the GX-class at Daytona, including the old-school “Hippy” scheme that ran at Le Mans in 1970 on a Porsche 917. All that the team of Donohue, Nelson Canache, Shane Lewis and Dr. Jim Norman really needed to do was to keep themselves out of trouble and victory was possible. The team did that and more. For 24 hours, the Cayman ran flawlessly without any mechanical issues to claim the very first GX-class victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Their margin of victory was a full ten laps (35.6 miles) over the similar No. 22 Porsche Cayman entered by the Canadian Bullet Racing team.
However, the race wasn’t quite as much of a breeze as they might have thought it was going to be.
“I found it a little bit odd that we got a lead of a couple of laps early in the race, and we really didn’t continue to extend it at the same rate, which was a little disconcerting,” Donohue said after the race. “But once we were on own lap, it helped with our pit strategy. We were able to keep their laps off so they couldn’t come up to us. But, we did push pretty hard for a long time through the night.”
The only real problems the team encountered during the race were a series of pit road speeding violations that could be tracked to the inability of the Cayman’s stock ECU to handle a pit road speed limiter. As a result, the team was using GPS to gauge their speed on pit road. That didn’t work all that well for the Napleton Racing team.
Donohue’s secondary ride for the race in the Doran Racing No. 77 didn’t work out all that well. The team entered their brand-new Ford Riley DPG3 chassis, but didn’t have enough spare parts to properly support the effort. Running eight laps down to the leaders, Paul Tracy spun the car into the grass at the Kink. The car suffered significant under tray damage in the spin, despite the rest of the car looking unscathed. Due to the late hour that the car was acquired and built, the team didn’t have a spare under tray to install on the car. As a result, the team was forced to retire their car just after 1:00am.
As of now, Donohue still has no official plans for the rest of the season. Neither he or Napleton Racing are entered in this weekend’s Grand-Am of the Americas presented by GAINSCO and Total, the Rolex Sports Car Series’ inaugural visit to the Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas. Only one of the Caymans from the Rolex 24 at Daytona, that being the No. 38 from BGB Motorsports, will be in Austin to take on Mazda’s diesels.
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