One year ago, BimmerWorld celebrated a win at Barber Motorsports Park after a perfect storm of opportunity, driving talent and strategy vaulted the No. 81 BMW 328i driven by Gregory Liefooghe and David Levine into Victory Lane.
Expecting that perfect storm to strike again during the 2013 race at Barber would have been too much to ask, but that didn’t stop Liefooghe and new teammate Tyler Cooke from doing all they could to overcome a deck that was stacked against the 4-door sedans in GRAND-AM’s Continental Tire Series Street Tuner (ST) division.
With Round 3 of the championship hosted at Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park, a rolling 2.3-mile, 17-turn facility originally created for motorcycle racing, it was no surprise that the bike-sized cars in the ST class held the upper hand all weekend. As they ran away to a 1-2-3-4 finish, the No. 81 battled back to earn informal ‘Best In Class’ honors, taking fifth at the checkered flag.
Not far behind Liefooghe and Cooke, the No. 82 CRC BRAKLEEN® BMW 328i piloted by Seth Thomas and Dan Rogers came home in eighth, giving the BimmerWorld team a mostly positive outcome for the event.
“I am very happy with our team’s execution and result at Barber, said team owner/driver James Clay. “Before the weekend started I had predicted we would be looking for a top 5 with luck, and we knew the MX-5s and 1 Series that is 125 pounds lighter than our cars held a clear advantage still. Ignoring those top 4 cars, we fought it out with the rest of the cars in the series and had a really good result that we are proud of.”
With a winning tradition in the Continental Tire Series, BimmerWorld isn’t wired to accept fifth- and eighth-place finishes without some degree of dissatisfaction, but with the Nos. 81 and 82 adding valuable points to their respective runs towards the 2013 Championship, Clay says he and his group of BMW experts knew a victory at Barber was going to be out of reach with the current ST rules package.
“The series constantly works to balance all the models of car on the track, but the 2300-pound MX-5 and 2700-pound 1 Series are just plain light and nimble,” he explained. “At 2825 pounds, we are the heaviest car in the field and while we work to balance the effects of physics, until those rules change, we will be looking to GRAND-AM to make some adjustments on their end to bring the competition a little closer together.”
For a talented driver like Liefooghe, whatever weight advantages the opposition currently holds is beyond his control, and as usual, he drove as hard as possible at Barber to take fifth with Cooke.
“Even though we were not able to repeat our win from last year, there are a lot of positives coming out of the race. With rain cancelling our qualifying session, we basically unloaded the car off the trailer and went racing. The result shows just how strong our base package has become over the years of development and it makes me very optimistic for the rest of the season.”
Now three races into their collaboration as teammates in the No. 81, Cooke says he and Liefooghe have become a strong package for BimmerWorld.
“Gregory and I have great chemistry and also get along great,” he remarked. “We both know how we like the car and what our driving styles are which makes working with the engineers very productive. He and I will talk about a session for hours and go over data to see what can be done to get better and it’s paying off with strong performances.”
Thomas and Rogers now sit third in points as a result of finishing a hard-fought eighth at Barber.
“Barber is a race where we usually finish well in the mix because of the great BimmerWorld team strategy and great balance of the No. 82 CRC BRAKLEEN® BMW 328i,” said Thomas. “We knew going into the race our nemesis was going to be the weight of the car, but we battled hard to work up to eighth and to maintain the position. Throughout my whole stint in the car I was fighting with another car for position and trying to keep my tires in check for a fight to the end. To come out in eighth with us still in great spot for a fight for the championship was our main goal and we achieved it.”
The third BimmerWorld entry for Greg Strelzoff and Connor Bloum in the No. 80BMW 328i was unable to join the Nos. 81 and 82 inside the top 10 after retiring before the halfway point in the race.
Next up for BimmerWorld is Round 4 at Road Atlanta on April 18-20, so follow the team’s progress as they prepare for the vent at www.BimmerWorldRacing.com
And be sure to catch the Barber race broadcast on April 13th at 2 p.m. ET on SPEED.