Driver Spotlight: Kenton Koch
Driver, No. 85 JDC/Miller Motorsports Oreca FLM09
How have you developed and matured over a five-year time period from open-wheel through to MX-5 Cup, Prototype Lites, and now Prototype Challenge?
“A lot of things happen in a five-year period of time. From my personality developing to me honing my craft as a racing driver. In the beginning, I was a shy kid who struggled with aggression on track because I was worried about crash damage we couldn’t afford. But now I am a confident (but humble) young man who has learned to use aggression and caution when appropriate. It’s what has gotten me to where I am now and been key to my success.”
How do you juggle school and racing? Alternatively, how have you worked to establish yourself through other areas such as radio commentary and other programs you’ve done with Mazda, while still determining your program for rest of 2016?
“I beg my teachers for forgiveness when I miss class! Usually they help me out and I just have to study on the plane. It is difficult when you know you’re about to have time of your life in a race car. But this is how it’s been ever since I started racing; school is a priority and is just as important as racing. It also helps in the racing world, since I am majoring in business and we all know that racing is more business than just driving.
“Establishing myself in the racing community is important. One thing I did this year was have a cookie contest. It started out just for fun, but ended up turning into a great networking opportunity. I met many people and showed a bit of my dorky side, which helps me stand out in their mind. I think I have pretty likable fun personality and like to show people that.
“Through the things I’ve done with Mazda, making this transition to the big leagues has made me feel like I am at home. From a racing standpoint it is a big step, but I already know half the people out on track and have gained respect from those people.”
Going into Daytona, what were your expectations? How did you manage those and then maintain your emotions throughout the race week?
“I didn’t really know what to expect, but it helped going into it with a team I had already developed a relationship with. I was just hoping to be within a half second of guys like Colin Braun, Renger van der Zande, and Tom Kimber-Smith. I was able to achieve that in the race and dang near set fastest lap, but missed out by .04. To say I was happy and surprised would be an understatement.
“At the test we struggled to find the optimal setup on the car. As a new driver on the team, I was able to bring a new perspective and after discussing with the engineer and other drivers, we made a change that resulted in a much more stable car. It showed in our race pace and we were all happy with the improved setup. I remained humble throughout the week and very task oriented as it’s important to not get caught up in the moment, but keep your focus on the big picture.”
So once we got to the race itself, you went through driver changes, a rare mistake and then brought the car home. How did you survive the roller coaster of emotions?
“The race was more difficult than I thought it was going to be. Getting out of the car for the first time after doing a three and half hour stint, I was pretty exhausted.
“Just a few short hours later, I was asked to do it again at 5 am after not getting any sleep. It was something I had never experienced. I haven’t made a major mistake in the past four years and to make a mistake on cold tires at 6 am was pretty frustrating and devastating. I had to get over it quickly, as I still had a stint left.
“I know the impact a crash could have on a drivers image and really hope people understand that this was something out of character for myself. JDC/Miller Motorsports knew this after I ran a very clean season with them last year, and they had the confidence in me to finish the race. Going under the checkered flag in first place at the Rolex 24 is something I never thought would happen. I still can’t believe we won!!”
Your mom was there this week, which is an inspirational story in itself. How incredible was it for you to have her and your family there for all the events of Daytona weekend, culminating with the win?
“My mom had a heart transplant a year ago, right around the time of last year’s race. During this stressful and emotional time, we received a ton of support from the racing community.
“Now to race here for the first time and win, and with my mom there thanks to her new heart, emotions ran high again…but this time tears of joy.
“I think our end of race interview illustrated how big this really is and how much it means to us. This win was a gift from God for everything she went through and we hope our story inspires others to become donors to give life to people like my mom.”