Bryan Heitkotter has quickly proven that he belongs in top-flight GT racing.
While most of his competitors cut their collective teeth in karting junior open-wheel and sports car formulae, Heitkotter got his start on a PlayStation.
The 2011 Nissan GT Academy U.S. winner made his Pirelli World Challenge debut a year ago in GTA competition for the Always Evolving Nissan squad, and was promoted to the GT class alongside JD Davison before the season was through on the strength of his on-track performance.
In 2016, Heitkotter has emerged a teammate to Davison in the truest sense: pushing the Australian and the GT-R NISMO GT3 to new heights.
He kicked off the season with a career-best run at Circuit of The Americas, leading the race and finishing second overall. The 35-year-old has logged solid runs since in what’s been an eye-opening sophomore year of PWC racing.
“It’s been really good,” Heitkotter told Sportscar365. “I can’t say enough about how good the AIM Autosport crew is.
“The engineering behind the cars is fantastic. It’s great to be representing Nissan and the GTR in North America.
“My teammate James Davison and I work really well together. He’s exceptionally fast.
“He’s always on it, so when I can sneak in a lap that’s faster than his, we can look at my data and go back and forth.
“I couldn’t be in a better place right now as far as my career goes.”
Heitkotter was quick to point out that the transition to GT3 racing has not been without a learning curve.
“I think one of the biggest things that I’ve learned about driving the GT-R is extracting the most from the tire over the entire length of the race,” he said.
“The GT-R is not the easiest car on the rear tires because it’s a heavy car and it has so much torque from the twin turbos, so it’s very easy to wear out or overheat the rear tires during a race.”
He said a change in his driving style was necessary to make the Pirelli tires last.
“That’s something that has helped me keep the pace up over a full race distance as opposed to last year where I paid very heavily in the late part of the race,” said Heitkotter.
“I like to drive heavily on the rear tires, and you can’t do that in this car. I always like to feel the car sliding just a little bit, but you can’t do that in this car on these tires.
“I just had to learn to rein it back in, but not so much that I slowed down.”
The team and car have shown some pace this weekend at Road America, with Davison posting the fastest GT time in Friday’s practice session and the pair of GT-R’s qualifying 7th and 9th for Saturday’s race.
Since the car is fundamentally unchanged since 2014, Heitkotter said that extracting the last few tenths of a second is the challenge this and every PWC weekend.
“We try to get everything we can out of the car,” he said.
“They are homologated 2014-spec Nissan GTRs. They can’t be changed, so we just put on the best setup that we can and go from there.
“You want to finish as high as possible every single race. You want pole, you want the fastest lap, you want to win the race.
“That’s obviously very tough to do in this field and this series, so my goal has to be just to get everything I can out of my car and out of myself.”
Just five years removed from winning the GT Academy title, Heitkotter admitted it was surreal to be racing at tracks like Road America in PWC competition.
“It’s really cool to sit in the same room with legends like Johnny O’Connell and all kinds of factory drivers, Patrick Long, and so forth,” he said.
“To be racing with these guys every week door-to-door and wheel-to-wheel is a really awesome place to be.”