BimmerWorld Has a Myriad of Reasons to Look Forward to Sebring, Including The Fact Its BMWs Are Well Suited for the Track

March 14th, 2017

BimmerWorld-Has-a-Myriad-of-Reasons-to-Look-Forward-to-Sebring,-Including-The-Fact-Its-BMWs-Are-Well-Suited-for-the-Track

BimmerWorld Racing considers the IMSA Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge series’ annual visit to Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Florida, one of the highlights of the season for five main reasons.

First is the opportunity to compete on a historic track during a historic race weekend, as the series’ two-hour race on Friday afternoon, March 17 supports the following day’s 65th annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida.

The second is that historically the team’s BMWs are well suited for the 3.74-mile road course, taking its long, fast turns and bumpy surface in stride.

The third is that the team has had a great deal of success there, including a pole and a podium finish last year for the entry of team owner James Clay and Tyler Cooke, Greg Liefooghe’s victory and fastest race lap in 2015 in a Porsche, and the fact that Sebring was the site of Cooke’s first victory ever in car racing. Hopes are high that they’ll be able to add to those accomplishments next week.

Fourth, it’s old-home week for several of the team’s drivers, as Cooke grew up in Cooper City, FL; Liefooghe is usually at Sebring ten or more times a year between racing and coaching, and Clay has been racing at Sebring for nearly 20 years.

Finally, the event is a one-of-a-kind spring break party, and the BimmerWorld team enjoys the fact that the fans are definitely part of the show.

The Dublin, VA-based team will field two turbocharged BMW 328is (F30 chassis) in the Street Tuner (ST) class for Friday’s race, which starts at 3:40 p.m. Clay, of Blacksburg, VA, and Cooke, of Matthews, NC, share BimmerWorld’s No. 84 OPTIMA Batteries BMW 328i. Two Californians, Ari Balogh of Menlo Park and Liefooghe, of San Francisco, have switched from the Porsche Cayman they drove in the series last year to the No. 84’s sister car, the No. 81 Powerflex BMW 328i.

There are two practice sessions on the schedule on Thursday, March 16 at 9:50 a.m. and 2:10 p.m. before the following jam-packed day. The action starts early on Friday, March 17 with a 20-minute practice session at 8 a.m. followed by ST qualifying at 8:30 a.m. and Grand Sport qualifying 15 minutes later. The anticipation builds with the open-grid fan walk from 2:50 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. before the green flag drops 10 minutes later.

Live video streaming and live timing and scoring will be available on imsa.com and imsa.tv. The television broadcast will be on FOX Sports 1 on a tape-delayed basis on Sunday, March 26 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. All times are EDT.

James Clay, team owner and driver, No. 84 OPTIMA Batteries BMW 328i (F30 chassis):
Sebring has a vast history of many great drivers from yesteryear. What’s it like racing at such a historic and renown track like Sebring? How many times have you raced at Sebring before?

“I have been racing at Sebring for almost 20 years now. It was one of the tracks I made the long trip for early in my career. We’ve run the 12-Hour weekend on and off since 2003 and being part of that weekend on this incredible, historic track is one of the highlights of my season.”

Hot temperatures can make Sebring a challenge for a turbo engine. You’ve worked hard to improve your cars’ cooling system. Can you speak about some of the steps you’ve taken in this area?
“This turbo BMW just produces so much heat! It’s a constant battle, but one we seem to be winning. We ran successfully for a podium at a very hot Sebring last year, and our cooling package has been tweaked and improved more since then. One day, we’ll detail all the work we have done in this system because it’s been an engineering exercise that was insanely challenging and probably quite interesting if one wasn’t living through the process. But for now, we reap the rewards.”

In a similar vein, brakes are very important at Sebring. Can you speak about your cars’ brake package?
“Performance Friction has been instrumental in helping us continue to develop our brake package. We have one of the heaviest cars in the series, but we have had arguably the best brakes in the field fairly consistently. We’ve been working hard with PFC in this area, and I think they have made us even better now!”

In general, Sebring seems to suit BMWs. In what ways is this true?
“Certainly Sebring has been good for many of our BMWs in years past, and hopefully that holds! I think there are enough longer, fast turns that are our forte, as well as the notorious bumpy surface that the BMW platform handles well. And with some critical braking zones, I think this track flexes BMW’s all-around, good-at-everything muscle.”

Although you didn’t get the results we were looking for, both cars ran very well at the season opener at Daytona. One car led, and the other was in contention for a podium finish until the very end of the race. Does this give you a feeling of confidence heading into Sebring, and/or added determination to get results that are more reflective of your performance?
“Without a doubt, the four-hour opener was a challenge for us, and I didn’t know how we would shake out. We’ve been working on durability, and for both cars to be fully on pace and to finish without an issue, except for a water pump belt, was a success, so we’re excited for the rest of the season.”

At four hours, the race at Daytona was longer than it’s been in the past. Now Sebring begins a string of races that are two hours long rather than the typical 2.5 hours the series has staged in the past. Although it’s the same for everyone, how do you think the loss of that extra 30 minutes will affect the race strategy, if at all?
“I’m hoping these shorter races bode well for our BMWs. We are, due to the rules, the heavier cars in the field, which is brutal on tires and makes us struggle a little at the end. I’m hoping with a shorter race we can use more tire early to keep pace and still have plenty for a strong finish.”

Do you have any favorite memory of Sebring?
“My favorite memory of Sebring was post-race, back in the days that the camping area was wide open with all sorts of vehicles running around with fans cruising. This event is a party, and I love being here.”

Tyler Cooke, driver, No. 84 OPTIMA Batteries BMW 328i (F30 chassis):
Sebring has a vast history of many great drivers from yesteryear. What’s it like racing at such a historic and renown track like Sebring? How many times have you raced at Sebring before?

“Racing at Sebring is a dream come true. When you first walk to pit road and you see all the years and manufacturers on the roof of the garages and read the stories that follow them, you know you’ve walked into a track that has made legends. I’ve raced there many times since 2010 because I grew up in Fort Lauderdale. I set a track record at Sebring with the Skip Barber series and have also scored a few wins there. It’s a track that has a lot of history for me.”

You and James finished third in this race last year. In what ways does that previous success play into the way you prepare for this event?
“We walk into this event with a little confidence, but James and I know there’s a lot of work to be done. It’s a new year with new challenges.”

The fans are definitely part of the show at Sebring. Do you have any interesting stories about this event that you can share?
“The monks [fans dressed in monk costumes] are usually a funny part of the weekend. The fans at Sebring are passionate to come to that race and meet the drivers. That’s what makes it a great race.”

There were only three full-course cautions in this race in 2015 and only one in 2016. Do you think this year’s race will be similar? Why or why not?
“I think it may be more with the GS field growing and Sebring being as tight as it is. Whether a lot of cautions or hardly any, it will be a good race.”

Will you make time to do anything else in the Sebring area when you’re there for the race? If so, what?
“I like to go visit the town a grew up in (Cooper City) and see old friends.”

Where does Sebring International Raceway stand in your list of race tracks, and why?
“It’s in the top five. Yes, it’s flat, but it’s a great challenge because of the bumps and the uneven pavement that really move the car around.”

Do you have any favorite memory of Sebring?
“My first-ever win in a car was there, and Michael Cooper, Tristan Nunez, Luis Rodriguez, and Jonathan Jorge dumped cold water on me to celebrate.”

Greg Liefooghe, driver, No. 81 Powerflex BMW 328i (F30 chassis):
Sebring has a vast history of many great drivers from yesteryear. What’s it like racing at such a historic and renown track like Sebring? How many times have you raced at Sebring before?

“When you walk down to the pits and you look up at the banners on the walls of all the winning team names and manufacturers, you just can’t help but feel the history of the place. Between racing and coaching, I’m usually at Sebring ten or more times a year. It’s a great place for winter training.”

You won this event in 2015 in a Next Level European Porsche Cayman and also set the fastest lap of the race for the ST class. What are the primary differences between the BMW and the Porsche here, and how did that victory affect you?
“One of the feelings that comes from winning at the pro level is validation. It validates that your thoughts on lines, techniques, and driving around that particular track work. The BMWs should be great around Sebring. With the very coarse pavement and the heat, Sebring is very hard on tires, and it’s no secret that we were struggling mainly with extreme tire wear on our Caymans, so I’m really looking forward to going back to Sebring with the more stable BMW platform.”

Although you didn’t get the results you were looking for, both cars ran very well at the season opener at Daytona. One car led, and the other was in contention for a podium finish until the very end of the race. Does this give you a feeling of confidence heading into Sebring, and/or added determination to get results that are more reflective of your performance?
“Absolutely! Although Daytona is a very specific track, it felt like we had a good car in the infield and it bodes well for the rest of the season. We were running at the front of the pack and had a shot at a podium until the last lap. I feel like we can put ourselves in the same position for this race and shoot for a podium position.”

Where does Sebring International Raceway stand in your list of race tracks, and why?
“Sebring is in the top 10 on my list of favorite tracks. Although it’s a very flat track, the flow of the layout just works. It has a great rhythm.”

Do you have any favorite memory of Sebring?
“That’s an easy question! Yes, our win at Sebring was the highlight of all my trips to that place. Everything clicked together. You don’t get to have many perfect weekends during a career, but that was one of them.”

If you were a fan camping there, at what turn would you set up camp, and why?
“I usually like to set up in front of T15 because that’s the place where you can see the most. You can see T1 all the way to T5, and then T13 all the way to T16. It allows you to see the cars’ balance and attitude around the track, and follow a race very well.”

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ABOUT: BimmerWorld is renowned as a leader in BMW aftermarket and tuning expertise and competes in the IMSA Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge series with a pair of BMW 328is (F30), where the Virginia-based outfit has become a routine winner and championship contender.

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