Road Atlanta Warm Up!

Some more reader submissions and a few questions for the guys on Road Atlanta.

If you're in radio range and can pick up 790AM (The Zone) listen for Seth Thomas and other WC drivers as they are interviewed on Mike Bell's popular program "The Speed Zone". Or if you're near downtown they'll be broadcasting live from Fox Sports Grill.

9/30 at 7:00pm to 9:00pm more info here and here!

Time is running out with the season ending. If you have any remaining questions you want the guys to tackle send to:

On to the questions! If you're local to Atlanta please stop by and watch the guys battle it out at Road Atlanta on Friday. We'll be in the paddock area. You can find the event schedule here. Last year was an amazing race in the wet that had Clay on the podium in third, while Seth led almost the entire way until an unfortunate spin at the end of the back straight took him out of the race. Come see if the guys can end a great season with some great racing at one of their home tracks.

(James) How much (if any) support do you get from BMW, and is there any technology shared with the WTC cars? Reader: Gerry Sparks

[James Clay]The BMW support network is interesting and a little confusing. I can say that we don’t get a check at the beginning of the year to cover our racing budget… Unfortunately, our specs are a bit different that the WTCC cars so we had to do a lot of the development on the cars ourselves and come up with our own racing solutions. On the plus side, we have really engineered this car from the ground up and we are a lot sharper for the time spend in R&D, which is evident when we design parts to sell our customers. A few parts we use are WTCC spec though, and we talk to the BMW engineers when we are having an issue and they can typically point us in the right direction.

(James) Care to comment on the proposed 2009 rules? Do you forsee any positive / negative impacts for the BW team? Reader: Kurt Ristow

[James Clay] I think it is way too early to tell. Certainly with Acura building new cars for 2009 and Mazda for late 2009/2010, things will be shuffled up a bit. Acura will have to contend with the same modern larger chassis that we work with, so we won’t be the only ones crying the blues on frontal area. Mazda will be in a new 3, which is a smaller car, but they will move to a Macpherson strut with this change as well, so that will ding them a little bit. We have been working a lot through the season this year and will continue to do so to make our package stronger, but it will certainly be a dynamic year in 2009.

(James) Do you guys get to talk to each other on the radio during the race? What's the regular chatter like? Who's the most talkative? Reader: Jesse Clark

[James Clay] The general rule is the most talkative is the one being hit. I prefer not to talk a lot and really our whole team follows suit. In the past, we have run separate channels for different drivers that do like to talk, but everyone is on the same one this year, which I prefer for strategy and information sharing. I will tell you though that if you don’t see the problem, you might BE the problem… I have been told that during test sessions, I spend more than my fair share of time discussing handling issues to get the car sorted…

(James) What preparations or work does the team do in the off season to prepare for next year? Is there any time off or does the team go right back at it on Monday after Petit Le Mans?

[James Clay] Everyone has to take a little time off. The guys get some vacation time. We go to the SEMA and PRI shows to meet with sponsors, look for new ones, get ideas, find new products to sell (for BimmerWorld), etc. The cars also undergo a full strip to a bare chassis and then refresh sometime through the winter – everything comes apart, is cleaned and inspected, then reassembled as a fresh car. Testing typically starts for us in January, but every winter is different, depending on the demands of the workload.

(Seth) I know the World Challenge series switched to Toyo R888’s for this season. How has this new tire affected the set up’s over the Toyo Ra1? Also how much are the tires shaved down in order to race on them? Generally what have you learned about these tires over the course of a season in comparison to the RA1's Reader: Mike Carter

[Seth Thomas] We started off the season thinking the R888 was going to be a very similar tire as the RA1 was. It appeared the compound was the same just with a little bit stiffer sidewall. This might be the case but the tires do require a different setup. The cars on the R888s didn’t like the stiffer setup that we had run before that which made them very twitchy. Since then we have done a lot of testing to get setup right with these tires and made a lot of changes to the cars. Basically what we have found with the R888s shaved to 3/32nds is they like a little bit of a softer spring setup and slightly less camber.

(Seth) Do you feel the BMW is easier on the tires than the front drive World Challenge cars? Do you have an advantage later in the race? Reader: Kurt Ristow

[Seth Thomas] I do think so because the FWD cars will burn off their front tires a lot quicker than we do. So later in the race they are having a problem getting the cars pointed where they want entering the turns. I have seen some of the tires on the FWD cars be very close to showing cords after a race. We have our cars setup so they are neutral to begin with and the get a little bit on the loose side later on. This is not a huge factor as the race goes on since they stay predictable and do what they do best throughout the race.

(Seth) Thanks for soliciting questions and comments from those of us over at! World Challenge TC races once featured large, diverse fields. In recent seasons though, only a couple of touring car models have proven competitive (Acura, BMW & Mazda this year) and the majority of racers drive for multi-car efforts. The result has been races like this season's Watkins Glen event, where about 1/3 of the field raced for a single team. Do you see this trend as being beneficial for the series? In what ways do you see the World Challenge evolving to better compete for spectator and sponsor attention? Reader: Ian Trenbeath

[Seth Thomas] You guys are more than welcome. It is fun having a group of BMW guys that a cool to hang out with all over the country. The series having teams with multi-car efforts that make up the majority of the field is a positive for the series. It improves the level of competition and car prep with every team. Look at the results from this year. The qualifying for most of the races is determined by less than 1 second from first to 10th or 15th. The competition doesn’t get any closer. The evolution of World Challenge from here will only be better. The series is doing things to help keep the competition where it is and to make it easier on new competitors coming into the series. They are doing things to help increase our fan base and keeping the series on the front page of fans viewing. A couple of examples are creating a Facebook page with links to all the teams websites, videos from in-car footage, dates and times of driver appearances. This Tuesday Randy Pobst and I are doing a radio interview in Atlanta after we test our cars to help promote the race at the Petit LeMans.

(Seth) We know you spend a lot of time coaching club level drivers. Do you think that with enough time and effort the average racer could make it to the WC ranks, or is there a certain level of talent and ability that can't be taught? What qualities do the top level drivers all share?

[Seth Thomas] Yes I do. I was the average racer once. I started out doing BMWCCA Driver Schools at Road Atlanta and all the tracks in the southeast. So I think I started from the roots and did what it took to get here. I didn’t hire a coach so it took me a little bit longer than if I had but I learned a lot along with way. And I am still learning. I benefit from having James and Nick around. They act as my coaches on race weekends. The advantage to having a driving coach is the future racer will gain knowledge of how to drive faster, do it consistently every lap, and how to handle certain race situations a lot quicker than I did. They can learn without having to experience them first hand, which can be costly.

Every top level driver has one thing in common, the will to win. We all want to win and we all want to do it every time we drive a car on the track. Nobody is faster than me and nobody is going to beat me. We are always looking for ways to be faster than our competitors and when our competitors are faster than us, we keep searching for how we are going to come out on top. The continual search for going faster is what makes us top level drivers. We never become stagnant with where we are. We are always wanting the next tenth of a second even if the data tells them it isn’t there. We want it!

(Nick) Do you ever see the opportunity/possibility for a BMW Club racing event to run as a support race for a WC/TC event? Reader: Jenny Santoso

[Nick Esayian] Anything is possible but right now motor sports is about economics. When you have a televised series you tend to share the weekend with other televised series to share costs. In the past we have shared weekend with Formula BMW so depending on what BMW and BMWCCA have up there sleeve (ala VW Cup) we could see something similar.

(Nick ) What is the paddock atmosphere like? Is it anything like club racing where there’s a friendly, hang out after the race together feel to it? Does the pro-level competition, manufacturer involvement and dollars involved take that away? For example, what’s the best practical joke that’s been played in the paddock by one team on another, or does that just not happen? Reader: Eric Henrich

[Nick Esayian] I think the first few races in the WC paddock are a bit intimidating for a new driver. The WC paddock is pretty tight on and off the track and it takes some time for a new guy to gain the respect of everyone on the track as well as being party to the shenanigans off the track. All the drives and teams are constantly giving each other shit and playing practical jokes. Nothing to serious but when you spend 60 plus days with a group of guys doing what we do, you tend to become a big family, albeit a competitive one. From my experience the camaraderie is the same in pro racing as it is in club racing. Lots of fun and a lot of characters.

(Nick) With a company like Debt Cures and the economy where it is currently at, you're probably doing all right! Thoughts on how this will impact motor sports in the coming months / year, if at all?

[Nick Esayian] We saw the clouds on the horizon in early 2007, wrote the book, hired a host, and produced the infomercial. The government had guaranteed all these home loans via Freddy and Fannie to get people into homes that should not have been. Once that happened the greed ensued and banks, builders, and everyone else saw easy money. Add credit card debt in, 2nd mortgages, and the supply of homes outrunning demand and you have a mess. I blame the government for the “social experiment” which started all this. We have sold over 1,000,000 books and collateral on TV and a few hundred thousand units in retail so we are doing ok. Based on the email we have gotten we have helped a lot of folks. It’s been a life changing success but these things have a finite life cycle so we are already working on the next project.

(Nick) As BimmerWorld approaches the last race of the season on one of their 'home' tracks, how much of an advantage does that local knowledge and experience give? Is it more of an advantage in a pure lap time sense or more in a race craft sense (knowing where passes will work / won't)?

[Nick Esayian] Most of the WC guys have raced on all these tracks multiple times so unless we hit a new venue on the schedule like VIR I don’t think it makes a huge difference. Look at Mosport. The entire TC field was less than .7 second apart on the grid and there were guys in the field that have raced that track literally dozens of times. This group is probably the most competitive in any type of motor sports today. That’s a big claim but it is the truth.

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The Question most fans want to know the answer to!!

As questions from our BimmerWorld fans have come in, one has stood out-

"How did you get here (WC)?"

We've modified several of these reader submissions into a group of all encompassing queries for the guys.

We'll make each give their own account and send everyone a T-shirt that helped us come up with these! Thanks for the great questions and keep them coming. The team is busy prepping for their season finale at Road Atlanta and since that is BW home turf and a fast track with lots of elevation changes. Don't miss it - the final race is sure to be exciting!

Send a question, if we use it we'll pay you back with a T-shirt.

(ALL) Your driver bios on the site give a small glimpse into your background, however it seems that everyone is eager for more information. Specifically can you talk about how you got started, previous series (club or pro) that you've raced in, any autocross experience you may have, and any other experience / training you think has prepared you for racing at the pro levels.

[James Clay] I got my start with the BMW Car Club of America, working up through the ranks of their driving school program. I had a friend that invited me to my first track school and since then, I was hooked. In my first year of driving, I worked up to an instructor in schools and started racing with the BMW CCA, then SCCA the following year. I took a break from racing for about a year after a bit of frustration with mechanicals and so that I could resolve all the problems with my - then private racing effort. When I came back, I had started BimmerWorld and the team that is with us now, the company, and I all grew together through various club racing into World Challenge.

I have autocrossed in the past, but it just wasn't enough time behind the wheel for the effort. I ocassionally do an auto-X event more to hang out with friends, and I am happy to say I have gotten a lot better!

Working through the ladder of development from one series to a more competitive one, and so forth, I have spent a huge amount of time instructing and coaching (invaluable seat time), and of course continually working on physical and mental conditioning to stay sharp. One of the things I figured out early when I was racing jetskis - if you aren't in shape so you are working to keep your head above water, you are wasting your time. Same in a car - if after the intense concentration for a straight hour, plus all the heat and physical work in the car, you get out tired, you need to hit the gym!

[Nick Esayian] Someone posted a flyer at my college for an SCCA autocross in 1989. I showed up as a novice and won the novice class as well as a the F Stock class... This “old guy” PD Cunningham had everyone kissing his a$$. He told me, “Nice job” and when I found out who he was that really got me going.

I’d never even been to a car race and PD Cunningham asked me to bring my street car to use as a pace car at an SCCA National at Blackhawk. After seeing the start I was sold. Got my novice permit and waiver... Won my first eight races, Rookie of the Year in CenDiv, and things started rolling from there.

Among all the club racing, Dodge sponsored the Neon Challenge Series, which really gave me a boost. I did well and there was generous prize money to fund my effort. We used that car to win some NASA pro races and then I realized I really was going to need some help, as I didn’t have the cash to get to the next level. I certainly was on my own financially, so all the help I got along the way from guys like Ralph Porter, Gary Johnson at Dodge, PD, Nathan Bonneau, Acura, Robert Davis, Mazda Motorsports, TRD, Rick Gilhart, Bill Banner, Sandy Silverberg, Al Thom and Autotechnica (really dating myself) made all this possible. Without these guys dotting the timeline of my career I would be at home watching on TV.

[Seth Thomas] When I was in college a couple of my friends had started doing driver’s schools with the local Porsche Club chapter. They kept telling me how I should do it but being a college student my money was being spent in other places. Finally I gave in the day I bought my first BMW M3. I signed up for the local BMW Clubs driver’s school at Road Atlanta. I had always thought I was a pretty decent driver on the street and would be able to hold my own.

At my first school I did a decent job, showed some improvements and potential but I was schooled by my instructor in his E30 325. After this I was hooked and kept doing any school that I could find in the southeast.

From here I hung out with some guys that were building an E30 318 to race in SCCA Club Racing. They wanted me to help drive in some of the enduro races. That is how I started racing and it hasn’t stopped since then. The challenge is to always try to make yourself faster and better driver.

(ALL) What do you feel are the biggest challenges / changes in going from a club race series (BMWCCR, NASA, SCCA) to the professional levels?

[James Clay] It is tough to go from being king of the hill to the back of the bunch. That is all part of developing yourself as a driver or developing a team though - if you are surrounded by a high level of competition and work to meet it, you improve by default. Most drivers in the World Challenge field could go to a club race in any competitive car handed to them and win. The trick is going past that level, with the diminishing returns of everything in life, and figuring out how
to set your car up to get on power earlier - 10' earlier, carry 1 more MPH, etc, or how to do the same as a driver.

[Nick Esayian] Pro Racing, more specifically World Challenge is just way more competitive. At Mosport the entire field was .8 second apart. It’s silly. There are guys that have a better change of winning but the top 15 guys could win a race and no one would be surprised. I used to go to club races and expect to win and come home with a trophy. The level of competition in World Challenge is probably closer than ANY type of auto racing in the US.

[Seth Thomas] Details. In a pro level setting there are a lot of details that help to make the good teams as good as they are. It starts with the car prep and ends with the drivers. Everything makes a difference. If you are 1% off the mark with your setup then you are going to be 10th instead of on the pole or 2nd in qualifying.

The same goes for driving. It is a different level of drivers you are competing against. Instead of always racing the 3 or 4 guys in your class that you are always around it is all the drivers at the track that weekend. Every driver in the race has shot at winning and getting around them in not as easy as driving past them. You have to work on passing them and you have just as tough of a time keeping them behind you. Driving at this level is 100% about consistently driving the car as the maximum level of grip for the entire time.

(ALL) What are your future career goals as it relates to racing?

[James Clay] Excel and win! I have always loved World Challenge and it is really where I want to be. It is hard in road racing to look very long term because it is a fluid landscape. Certainly I keep my eyes open for opportunities, but it isn't in my nature to go to a series just to win more races with less competition. BimmerWorld as a company also thrives on the development of a technical series like World Challenge where engineering is done at a fairly high level.

[Nick Esayian] I love World Challenge. It’s competitive, the cars are cutting edge, and the series is growing, we race with NASCAR/IRL/ALMS, it’s on TV, big crowds, and the standing starts are awesome. If I could run a car in Touring Car and GT at the same time I would be fulfilled. We will see next year. My goal is to win a championship in WC. For that to happen you need to be in the right car during the right year, be consistent, finish all the races, and have a little luck. I’ve put some of those components into each season but I need to be more focused and put them all together.

[Seth Thomas] The number one goal for me is to win the driver’s title in World Challenge. I feel this is certainly possible with the BMW and the BimmerWorld team.

The other goals I have are to drive in the 24 Hours of Daytona and the Petite LeMans. Both of these have been races I have watched for years. They both feature some of the best drivers in the world that I would like to compete against. The Petite LeMans is at my home racetrack where I would definitely like to drive at night.

(James) Everyone is aware of the critical role sponsors play in keeping teams afloat. Without naming specific sponsors, what are some of the specific ways in which they provide support, i.e., cash, materials, research or some combination of these? Reader: Dave Taylor

[James Clay] There really is no set formula. The best sponsor relations are as beneficial or more to the sponsors as they are to the team, and of course it really depends on the nature of the sponsor's business. For example, product sponsors, or sponsors that make a product associated with the car would typically supply more on the parts and engineering side than cash, and in return get race testing of their components for durability or design/tuning as well as the marketing support, etc - and those benefits are also specific to the need. On the other hand, M&Ms likely doesn't supply their NASCAR team with product to use or test - that is more of a straight money deal. Some deals are incredibly convoluted as far as who pays, what benefits are included, etc, but it is all about making sure everyone benefits for the effort. If it sounds confusing and you have some corporate money to spend, my door is always open :)

(Nick) What changes do you have to make to your driving style switching between a front drive and rear drive car? Reader: Kurt Ristow

[Nick Esayian] The laws of physics are the same for front and rear drive cars... The biggest differences are power application and the different setups between the RTR (Real Time Racing) cars and the Bimmerworld cars. In the rear drive cars you get a much better start and coming out of the corners you can go to partial throttle a bit quicker. In the front drive cars you have to wait a bit longer to get on the pipe but when you do you can roll it on faster. The BMW’s were really stiff and low at the beginning of the year and now we have moved away from that a bit.
In the end I think the rear drive platform will ultimately be the fast way around. The front drive guys can pitch it in there and if you get loose you mash the throttle and as long as you are on dry ground you can gather it in. If you start throwing the BMW around, albeit may have similar limits, you are going to experience much more “dramatic” recoveries.

(Seth) Who is your favorite non-Bimmerworld WC driver to race against and why? Reader: Jesse Clark

This is a tough one. Every driver in World Challenge is a great driver who is tough to compete with. Nobody is your favorite to race against because in the best case scenario you are out front not really worrying about racing somebody. I guess though if I was racing a guy in the middle of the race or on a last lap scenario I would prefer Charles Espenlaub.

I think he is a great driver who really drives his car to the limit at all times. One of the things you know with Charles is that he will race you fairly and cleanly. At the same time he will make you earn your position. It is funny because when I see him as my next guy to pass I actually don’t look forward to it. He is one of the toughest guys to pass on the track. At the end of the day when you have battled with him in a race you feel like you earned the spot and results of the race.

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