This time last year, Catania, from Cazenovia, New York, was graduating college and driving as a rookie in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama series with only three races under his belt and a best finish of fifth place.
Fast-forward a year, and he’s leading the Platinum Cup driver championship, with one win and podium finishes in five of the six races of the young 2016 season. He has gone from relatively unknown to a driver watched by everyone in the series.
“It’s hard to deny that my position has changed from where I was last year,” Catania said. “Just being some new kid in a car to being up toward the front. It’s a change from last year, and every event and session is amplified because the expectations continue to rise based on where we are in the season. But I try not to think about it.”
Catania tries not to think about it as he takes each event and each race weekend session by session. He tries to not think about it as he takes the track with some of the best young talent in North America.
“From my own end, I feel like if I think about that I’m not going to drive as well,” Catania said. “Every time I go out, I don’t even pay attention to the other guys. I know there is so much talent out there, but I just go at it focusing on myself and getting better and better. That approach is how we’ve gotten to this point. NGT Motorsport has been tremendous with driver development and helping me figure this car out.”
Driving the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car has amplified his love affair with the Porsche brand.
“I love Porsches,” Catania said. “I’ve always loved them. The 911 is a great platform. And it’s what I know best, and it’s what I love to drive.”
The Porsche platform helped Catania advance in his driving career, taking him from sixth place overall in the 2015 points to championship contender just one year later. It also vaulted him to a completely new position within the NGT team.
He has taken on Porsche clients for driver coaching, morphing into someone NGT Motorsport relies on, both on and off the track. That’s something that isn’t foreign to the former hockey and lacrosse player.
“I’m more of a driving liaison this year, where I am trying to help the other NGT drivers and the team overall,” Catania said. “Ramez (Wahab), the team owner, will confer with me if there is a question, like what the track conditions are or setup-wise. He’ll send me out with a different setup on the car, and I have to figure out what works and doesn’t.
“I’ve stepped in to a more team leader role, which doesn’t scare me. I’ve done that with hockey and lacrosse and the other sports I’ve played. Everything from last season to this season is different in that regard, with my position on the team and my responsibilities. I’m constantly absorbing what’s going on around me
“It’s still seat time, and I’m coaching other 911 Cup cars. Granted they might be older models, but the physics and the dynamics of how you drive are the same, so it’s definitely helping me.”
But that doesn’t mean Catania’s development is done. He continues to work on data analysis, something that has grown since he started driver coaching, and his own craft. He knows there are improvements to be made, especially in series known for its competitiveness.
“I think of myself as a poor qualifier,” Catania said. “I just try to hang on close to the front because I believe in the race I tend to shine more. I’m not sure why that is, and that’s something we’re trying to work on, but I love the competition. I have to give it to the Porsche GT3 series, in general. Racing here is awesome; the guys are all fast. We all play nice, but no one is giving you a spot without working for it.”
He knows he must work for every position during the next event June 30-July 2 at Watkins Glen International, a two-hour drive from his house. The event will represent Rounds 7 and 8 for Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama but will also be the second of two combined shows with the series counterpart to the north, Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama.
Catania got his first dose of the combined racing June 10-12 at Circuit Gilles Villenueve in Montreal. After competing on a circuit unknown to most of the USA competitors, Catania is hoping for more of a home-field advantage at Watkins Glen, a beloved track for many American racers.
But racing at The Glen will come with its set of challenges after the circuit was repaved earlier this year. Catania took a few laps on the circuit but has yet to be on it his GT3 Cup car.
“It was really smooth,” Catania said. “They took care of all the concrete patches that were there. But that makes it different. Before you followed those, and it took you right to the apex, and the curbing is different in some areas, which changes your line because it tends to jostle the car around, so in that sense it’s a completely new track. It’s definitely quicker. I drove it in the wet, and it still had really good grip. So I think we’ll see fast times, and it will be cool to put some of the new rubber down on the track and be one of the first new races there.
“It’s going to be nice because we’re were up there on Canadian turf getting stomped around, and it feels good to let them come to us and hopefully return the favor. I think it will be a great event.”
The changes at Watkins Glen are just one of the few alterations Catanial will deal with in the coming months. After Rounds 3 and 4 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in late April, Catania learned he was accepted into University of Colorado-Boulder for a graduate program. The two-year MBA program will start in August. It adds an extra element of balancing more than one of his passions.
“It’s nothing that I’m not already used to, but it’s more of a lifestyle change with moving, going across the country and then adding that extra element of having to balance racing again,” Catania said. “I really value education, and it will give me a lot of options coming out of it. There are really a lot of unknowns are going around here right now. But I know I’m racing, and that’s all I need to know right now.”
Source. LST Marketing