Q&A with the BimmerWorld Drivers – Thoughts on Road America
8/14/08

We checked in with the BimmerWorld drivers a few days after the Road America race to get Clay’s thoughts on his first trip to victory lane, Seth’s predictions for the future, and Nick on what not to order from hotel room service.
Check out their comments below, and be sure to send us any questions you might have. We’ll get the guy’s thoughts, and give you credit!

questions@bimmerworldracing.com

(Clay) You've said that you've driven harder to finish worse than at Road America. What were the one or two key breaks that you got during the race that made it all come together?

[James Clay] That is definitely the case, but it wasn't race breaks that made it work. Really, the whole team was just on it all week. We made a big jump in setup early in testing and the car was just good. I was a little worried when I got hung out on the start and shuffled back to 6th, but having a car that was dialed in, and finally ending up on the positive side of contact in turn 1 at the restart made the run to the front smooth sailing. The fast laps of the top 7 cars were within a couple of tenths, and I wasn't the fastest, but this weekend luck went my way with proper track position.

(Clay) It is often mentioned that certain tracks favor different types of cars. Conventional thinking being that the larger engines of the BMW's have the advantage on the higher speed tracks. Can you elaborate on that and maybe describe the important pros / cons of the BMW at the World Challenge level as compared to a front wheel drive and / or double wishbone setup?

[James Clay] I do think that at this point, we have a slight power advantage, but we are also bigger with more frontal area (increases drag) so it really only shows up when we are in the draft it seems. Our Macpherson strut front suspension isn't as good as an a-arm for racing purposes, but it didn't hurt us as much this time without the fast back and forth transitions. I think the biggest thing that made the cars work this weekend was the brakes - I could consistently brake inside the 4 marker at Canada corner while the rest of the field seemed to be at the 4.5-5 marker. That is just a testament to the Performance Friction brakes and pads on the car more than a particular design-specific attribute.

(Clay) You seemed pretty confident for your first trip to the podium. Obviously anyone at the WC level isn't new to winning as they work their way up, but given the trials and tribulations you guys have all gone through this has to be very special. Has it hit you yet, or is this just the natural culmination of hard work and to be expected?

[James Clay] Not sure if confident is the right word, but I certainly do think the team deserves it, so I am not overwhelmed or surprised. If we didn't think we could win races, we wouldn't be working so hard to do it! Definitely this is good affirmation of all the hard work we have all put in and makes the guys feel better about the late nights fixing the stuff from weekends that didn't go as well.

(Clay) It probably isn't common knowledge but Seth's sister was in a bad wreck this year, and you've recently had a close friend in the hospital. Is it harder to concentrate on racing when things like that are going on away from the track? Does it put any type of perspective on racing for a living?

[James Clay] Certainly as much effort as I put into driving and racing, and as much as I put it in front of other things, the parts of life that are the most important aren't about a piece of metal. It was a busy week for me before this weekend and after with hospital visits, but I wouldn't have missed them for anything. Certainly to be passionate enough about racing to put in the effort required takes making it a priority, but in the end it is a job.

(Clay) You mentioned the important roles of Wayne Yawn your engineer and Jason Marks your crew chief. Can you give us any indication of the impact or changes these guys have made that has allowed you to get to the podium 3 times this year?

[James Clay] Well certainly Jason Marks, as the crew chief and team leader, plus all the other guys that have been with the team for years, make the opportunities so that we can go out and win. Someone pointed out that in our podium picture, Marks and Dave Simpkins (our two longest-term employees) weren't in it - they had continued on with their responsibilities to take the car to impound. That is dedication. Wayne just got lucky (kidding...). Honestly, Wayne has made big strides with the cars this year and they are nothing like what he started with. I also have to thank junior engineer Nick Esayian for pushing us out of the comfort zone and questioning some of our old setup assumptions which is also a big part of why the cars are currently as good as they are.

(Seth) You were right behind Clay's time in qualifying. Do all of you share a race setup, or are you still experimenting up to and including the race? Are there individual 'tweaks' based on driving style for each car?

[Seth Thomas] For the most part our setups are the same. We might differ in setup by some of the shock settings or possibly a slight variation in spring rates. These are our individual tweaks and ones that also suit the slightly different driving styles each of us have.

(Seth) Clay has been your teammate for several years now, is he holding out any speed secrets on you? Seriously a lot has been said about the team's bad luck, but 3 podium finishes for the year isn't too shabby. How do you feel about your chances for the rest of the year? You had a strong race at Road Atlanta going in the wet last year and that is your home track.

[Seth Thomas] This weekend he was holding something out on me. James qualifying ahead of me, and winning - then we definitely know he had some tricks in the bag. For the most part though, we don't have any secrets. The data we get shows us where all the speed is at.

The rest of the year should be awesome for the team and for myself. Mosport is a track that James and I always do very well at. Road Atlanta is my home track where I know all the speed secrets. Plus I owned the track in the wet last year and I look for a repeat this year. So the rest of the year should yield some very memorable finishes for us and include some champagne spraying ceremonies.

(Seth) To follow up on that, has he given you a hard time at all about getting the first victory?

[Seth Thomas] No I think he has been too busy surfing the internet looking at pictures of his smokey victory burnouts. Just kidding! He has actually been busy working on making the cars faster for a short turn around before Mosport.

(Seth) How closely matched are the E46 cars of Sofornas and Martinelli compared to the E90's, do you feel there is a particular area that the E90's enjoy an advantage?

[Seth Thomas] The E46 cars are still great cars in Touring car competition. They are still fast in a straight line and still brake well, since they have the same PFC (Performance Friction) brakes we do. Every year the suspensions get better and better which keeps making the cars faster. The E46 has had 8 years of development which makes it towards the end of its life cycle for development within the rules. The E90 is just beginning and is already faster than these cars in the corners. It is a lot more stable of a car now with all the development BimmerWorld has been doing. So put the PFC brakes, better motor, stiffer chassis, and better suspension and the E90 shines over the E46 cars and still has potential to get even better!

(Nick) You were able to advance several positions and had a solid race. Also it seemed like this race had less contact than we've seen recently. Did the SCCA say anything to the teams, or does Road America have more room than maybe other tracks?

[Nick Esayian] After the fifth time being collected from behind this year I blew a gasket at Mid Ohio in the pit lane after the race. My behavior was probably a bit over the top but I think the TC (touring car) guys collectively were tired of so much contact. Road America is not a place to be cavalier with contact as the Kink, Turn 1, and Canada hold severe consequences if you have an off. We all respect each other enough not to play rough at a place like that.

(Nick) Being the Road America expert would you like to take credit for giving James the tricks he needed to win his first race?

[Nick Esayian] James did a great job all weekend with little or no help from me. The only real advice I gave was related to some reference points to keep the distance driven between turns as short as possible. PD (Peter Cunningham) showed me the tricks almost fifteen years ago so I felt obligated to pass them on.

(Nick) You were slightly behind on qualifying was this a setup issue, or traffic?

[Nick Esayian] I had food poisoning and was in the hotel room sick up until about 20 minutes prior to qualifying. The guys poured me in the car, PD gave me a tow and one of the Mazdas decided to do some blocking which cost us a top six on the grid. This was unfortunate considering how close the top 12 cars were in the race. Starting position was everything. My bad for eating the quesadilla at the hotel. Clay tells me only bagels and pasta at Mosport.

(Nick) Mosport and Road Atlanta would seem to favor the BMW's any predictions or is that bad luck?

[Nick Esayian] I agree. Our cars don’t have the low end torque of the big four cylinders of the Mazdas and Acuras. Once we get up over 100mph the E90’s inline six likes to stretch it’s legs. Fortunately Wayne Yawn, our engineer, has done an unbelievable job of getting these cars to handle. Our crew, under Wayne’s close watch, put a plan together and executed it mid season to get up the cars to where they are now. A tough job to say the least with the schedule the way it was.

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