Throughout the year, Continental Tire will focus on celebrating the fans, media, drivers, and teams and their contributions to sports car racing, including a weekly trip down memory lane in Sportscar365’s Continental Tire IMSA Reflections series.
This week, Kenton Koch looks back on his IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship debut: a Prototype Challenge class win in the 2016 Rolex 24 at Daytona for JDC-Miller Motorsports.
As the reigning IMSA Prototype Lites champion entering the 2016 Rolex 24 at Daytona, what was your level of expectation for that race?
“I didn’t really know what to expect. I was just hoping to be on pace and make as few mistakes as possible, but with being younger and dumber some mistakes were bound to happen.
“I learned from my mistakes and held my head high considering that my pace was strong despite my lack of time in a new car.”
How much pressure did you feel to make a good impression in the big show?
“There was certainly some pressure and nerves leading up to such a major race. I mean come on, who wouldn’t be nervous with the 24 Hours of Daytona being their first race in the big show?
“I’d probably feel less pressure if it were a normal “sprint” race. Every race after that was easy compared to that one.
“I guess it was rough getting thrown in the deep end, but what an experience to have had to prep yourself for the rest of your career.”
What memories do you have of your first stint in the race?
“Racing with Renger van der Zande at night, duking it out for the good part of a stint, with two restarts that were just pure insanity. He was couple laps down from a previous incident, but he was he racing me hard!
“But the thing that stood most strong with that battle was the level of aggression but control he had.
“It was amazing to race wheel to wheel with him knowing I was aware of where inch of my car was and he knew where every inch of his car was.
“It made it so we can just race each other extremely hard without worry we’d rub, but boy you probably thought we did.
“In the end the I got by him utilizing traffic to my advantage and with a mega-quick car provided by JDC-Miller Motorsports. It was a chess match I’ll never forget!”
How nerving-racking were the final hours as you tried solidify the win?
“I didn’t have to have nerves when exhaustion was overpowering. All I was doing was trying to just bring it home.
“The No. 52 with Tom Kimber-Smith was a lap down but right ahead of me and was backing himself up into me to make me race with him. But I decided to just trail him the entire time.
“He was going so slow as to back us up in to GT traffic. I was on double stinted tires so if I tried to pass him, he ultimately had pace to get right around me again.
“So I just putted around half throttle on the banking and he did to in an effort to cause GT traffic to potentially cause a mistake on my end or be collateral damage from a separate GT class battle that turns south.
“In the end we kept the nose clean in the last stint.”
What did that win do for your career?
“Honestly, I’d say it provided a cool watch and a great experience. Not much else came from it other than to be a class winner at Daytona.
“It’s difficult to say if things would be different if we hadn’t have won, but I’m fortunate and grateful we did win!
“It was great to be partnered with JDC (the team who also got me the championship in IMSA Lites) and three other truly great people (co-drivers Misha Goikberg, Chris Miller, and Stephen Simpson).”