BimmerWorld Racing went into last weekend’s GRAND-Am Continental Tire Series race at the historic Watkins Glen road course with high expectations, but after one of the wildest and most disjointed events in series history, the BMW experts were lucky to leave New York with all three cars intact.
A massive downpour fell shortly after the start of the race, followed by a dry period during the middle portion of the 2.5-hour event, which closed with another downpour that had cars skating off the track at speeds below 20 mph.
In between the rivers of water running across the track and extended caution periods to collect damaged cars, oddly-timed pit openings led to multiple instances where the entire 57-car field (rather than the usual procedure where the GS cars pit, followed by the ST field pitting one lap later), a traffic jam ensued in the shared pit spaces.
The parking lot of GS and ST cars caused many entries—including the trio of BimmerWorld BMW 328is—to lose numerous positions while simply waiting for room to pull in for service.
By the time the checkered flag waved, BimmerWorld’s fleet of cars had recovered to take 11th, 13th and 15th in ST, leaving team owner/driver James Clay to shake his head at the unpredictable race that unfolded.
“Weather was constantly changing and we were prepared to deal with it, but with almost 60 cars doing the same thing–and the officials making a bunch of unexpected choices, it was more of a luck-of-the-draw result than anything else,” he said.
“There was green racing in the middle, but if you were in the right place at the right time, and happened to have the pits open and could get in cleanly, you had an advantage. Our BimmerWorld crew did an amazing job to adapt to all the things that were thrown at them, and our drivers did an excellent job too, but you can’t really put the results down to the on-track racing that usually determines the finishing order. It was a strange day for everyone.”
The first car home from BimmerWorld’s trio of BMWs was the No. 81 driven by Gregory Liefooghe and Tyler Cooke. Cooke, a second-year pilot in the Continental Tire Series, put in another excellent drive, securing 11th despite the hurdles.
“It was a pretty intense event, and you had to exercise a lot of patience and really work within the limits of the grip that was available,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that much standing water on a racetrack before, but we dealt with it as best as possible. The BimmerWorld crew was outstanding and all we can do now is move on to the next race and hope for something more normal.”
The No. 82 CRC BRAKLEEN® BMW 328i driven by Seth Thomas and Dan Rogers followed the No. 80 home in 13th, and both cars, as Rogers describes, were on the right tires to finish the race but did not have enough time to capitalize on it.
“During my stint, we started dry and then went to wet conditions, which suits us well,” he said. “The No. 82 CRC BRAKLEEN® car handled well, and we moved up a number of spots, then Seth got in the car an hour into the race, and continued moving toward the front. Towards the end of the race, the crew made a great call to bring Seth in and switch to wet tires as it started to rain. We came out fueled, with the right tires, and good to go to the end. We were ready to stand on the podium!
“Unfortunately, the outcome of the race was affected by an uncharacteristically long yellow that left only one green lap at the end of the race. Rather than Seth being able to race to the front in a 15-minute green session on wet tires, we had to settle for a 13th place finish during a one-lap shootout. Sometimes great pit calls work, and sometimes they don’t. One thing’s for sure, though: the BimmerWorld crew makes more than their share of great decisions in the pits to put us in a position to win.”
Clay, who stepped in to drive the No. 80 entry with Greg Strelzoff when Strelzoff’s teammate Connor Bloum injured his leg prior to the event, had the opposite problem. Stuck on dry tires as the rain fell to close the race, he performed a number of small miracles to keep the BimmerWorld BMW on the tarmac to claim 15th.
“I am glad I was able to get in the car to work with Greg, and personally I enjoyed being back in the pro cars, but certainly I am hoping Connor’s leg heals quickly and we are able to get him back in the car as soon as possible,” he said.
“While I always love driving one of the BimmerWorld cars, this weekend dealt us very challenging track conditions to contend with. I knew we would be terrifically fast in the rain and I was excited to have the opportunity of a wet race, but unfortunately we never got much of a chance to race in the wet conditions or at an opportune time. We’re headed to race at Indianapolis next, a place where we won last year, and hope things go a little more according to plan than they did at Watkins.”
Follow BimmerWorld’s progress as they prepare for Indy at www.BimmerworldRacing.com , and tune in to watch the Watkins Glen round on SPEED at 4 p.m. ET on July 7th.