The BMW experts at BimmerWorld, the Dublin, Virginia based team, win the first-ever GRAND-AM Continental Tire Series race held on the hallowed grounds at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The team finished first and second in the Street Tuner class while extending the German car maker’s hold on the prized manufacturers’ championship.
The win came during a tricky afternoon of competition when heavy rain interrupted the race and a combination of inch-perfect driving and smart race strategy calls were required to reach Victory Lane.
Thankfully, for the veteran road racing team, every mechanical component required to reach the top step of the podium was delivered throughout the race by a flawless team.
In addition to the dream 1-2 finish for the team’s self-built, production-based BMW 328i racecars, the BimmerWorld team added a few other accomplishments to their debut on the 2.5-mile, 13-turn Indianapolis road course.
The victory for Seth Thomas and Dan Rogers in the No. 82 CRC BRAKLEEN® BMW marked BimmerWorld’s second win of the season. First, was the win claimed by Gregory Liefooghe and David Levine at Barber Motorsports Park in the No. 81 entry. This also brings Thomas’ GRAND-AM ST win tally to three since the 2010 season.
For his teammate, Alaska native Dan Rogers, the win was even sweeter. The world’s most famous race track served as host to his first professional victory. It also ranks as the first ST win for CRC BRAKLEEN®, the primary sponsor of the No. 82.
Put it all together, and BimmerWorld delivered an amazing performance on a giant stage. James Clay, team owner and co-driver of the second-place No. 80 credits the 1-2 result to his trusted team of technicians.
“We had really good cars when we tested here two weeks ago, but we didn’t feel like we had winning cars, necessarily,” he remarked. “Between the test and the race, my team probably put in 1000 man hours to try and improve every little area on the car and it paid off. Winning at Indianapolis is just something that you can’t put into words.”
For Thomas, who ranks as one of the best touring car racers in the country, winning at IMS with the BimmerWorld team ranks as the highlight of his career.
“It’s one of those deals where you try not to be superstitious and kiss the brick before the race, and it’s not a ‘me’ that did this but a ‘we’ that won this,” he said. “Having the No. 80 there behind helping me the whole way to the checkered flag was crucial for us. To be the first GRAND-AM ST team to win at Indianapolis in a sports car…it’s amazing.
“And as a boy growing up in Georgia, I guess people figured I should be here driving a stock car, but to win in a BimmerWorld BMW is just so gratifying.”
Thomas’ teammate, Rogers, was just as ecstatic after watching the No. 82 cross the finish line.
“It’s pretty incredible,” said Rogers. “How many people can say they won their first professional race at Indianapolis? Not very many, I’m sure. The guys did a great job on the car; it was transformed since the last few races and our engineer and crew called an amazing race strategy. I figured we had a shot at winning this year, but you never think it’s going to come at a place like Indy.”
Following home the No. 82, John Capestro-Dubets (“JCD”) closed out the race after taking over from Clay and earned the third consecutive podium for the No. 80.
“We had a fantastic car, qualified well, which was a rewarding deal for everyone, and it was again a testament to our team,” said Clay. “In my stint, there was a lot of shuffling, I handed the car over to JCD who worked it up to the front. We pitted early, put JCD in, and used a fuel smart fuel strategy and a lot of talent to bring the car home for our third podium in three races. There’s a lot to be proud of.”
The third BimmerWorld entry of Liefooghe and Levine ran strong and had plenty of pace, but a mid-race issue left the No. 81 out of a possible 1-2-3 finish.
BimmerWorld’s fine day at Indy also had a major impact on the points standings. The Nos. 80, 81 and 82 are now in the top 10 in the teams’ standings, with the surging No. 80 in fifth with two rounds to go.
Clay and JCD also moved to sixth in the hunt for the drivers’ championship. BimmerWorld’s constant representation for BMW has the brand leading the standings ahead of eight other manufacturers.
“We have two more races in the championship, and I want to lock down the manufacturers’ championship for BMW,” said Clay. “BMW is a fantastic road car, a fantastic racecar, we’ve supported the brand for 13 years in our racing and I wouldn’t choose any other marque to go into battle with. To get BMW’s first win at Indianapolis is an honor, and as we’ve scored their main points in seven of eight rounds so far, we want to deliver that title for BMW when the season is done.”
On a day when there was much for BimmerWorld to celebrate, first-time winner Rogers put the race into perspective for himself and the entire team.
“I think it’s going to take a while to hit everyone,” he said. “It’s such a big accomplishment…it’s hard to fathom. To think of all the guys who’ve kissed that yard of bricks, all the winners at Indy over the years. And I just got to do it myself…amazing.”
Follow BimmerWorld as the team prepare for the penultimate round in Monterey in September, and watch the race at Indianapolis when it airs on August 5th at 12 p.m. ET.
Drivers tend to get all of the credit when they win a race, but as the BMW experts at BimmerWorld reminded its rivals on Saturday, it also takes teamwork, strategy, and an incredible amount of talent amongst the pit crew to earn a trip to victory lane.
BimmerWorld’s three-car fleet of BMW 328is not only survived the crash-filled Continental Tire Series race at the sprawling Barber Motorsports Park facility in Leeds, Alabama, but left with the Street Tuner class win, a pair of top 5 finishes, and the lead in the drivers’ and the teams’ points standings.
At the end of the 2.5-hour event, Gregory Liefooghe and David Levine, drivers of the No. 81 BimmerWorld BMW 328i, were celebrating their first series win, the No. 82 CRC BRAKLEEN® BMW 328i driven by Seth Thomas and Dan Rogers secured a solid fifth-place finish while playing the role of tail gunners and the team’s pit crew was credited by team owner/driver James Clay for their peerless efforts.
“Daytona was a solid start to our 2012 season and we knew we had a great program – the win and strong showing at Barber confirms that,” he said. “We have done a lot of development work over the winter to shore up any sagging performance areas of the car and really left no stone unturned for improvement for this season. The guys in the shop have been hard at work perfecting the car we put on the track and I think it is starting to really show.”
Clay also recognized the unique position his team was placed in when a few competitors ahead of the No. 81 fell afoul of the rulebook during a caution period, but knowing those rules paid off for BimmerWorld at Barber.
“This win was made easier for us to some degree by a couple of cars that got caught out with the on-track procedures, and having been on the other side of that in 2010, I know that was a bad deal,” he explained. “But even without the pure speed to win on this tighter track, the full team executed on this performance, from crew to drivers, to race engineers and we were there to take the opportunity that was given.”
For Liefooghe, one of the most respected veterans in the paddock, his breakthrough win was both emotional and long overdue.
“I have to say this win feels like an accomplishment,” he remarked. “There is indeed a lot more involved than it shows in our win today. It was a team effort, where the strategy called by our engineer, Dave Wagener, was an integral part of the result. We managed to stay out of trouble and not make mistakes, and it shows that we have a rock solid program. This win rewards all the efforts made during the off-season and the hard work that has been put in during the whole race. Although the season is just starting, this result puts us in a great spot for the championship and I think it reinforces the fact that David and I are working well together.”
Liefooghe also had a special message for the man who helped get him to where he is today.
“It is my first win in the CTSCC and it is a big stepping-stone,” he continued. “I would like to dedicate it to my father who supported me and pushed me to follow my passion throughout all these years. Dad, this one is for you!”
With so many cautions happening during his opening stint, Levine didn’t get the opportunity to do much wheel-to-wheel racing, but says the chance to spray champagne as a GRAND-AM race winner was everything he thought it would be.
“I cannot describe the feeling of being a winner in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge series in only my third start. The start of the race was quite frustrating as I only got about seven feet of green flag racing before the GS-class crashes started. Putting the frustration aside, spraying champagne as a winner has been a highlight in my life and I hope I can keep doing that for the rest of the season. This win is also the first win in a while for our crew chief, David Wagener, so I made it a point to spray him first. This weekend was truly incredible! Thanks again to the crew and everyone involved.”
The road to fifth was just as exciting for Thomas and Rogers, and when presented with the opportunity to try a high-risk pass for the lead, Thomas says supporting the sister No. 81’s charge to the checkered flag took precedence.
“As a racer, when you see an opening that you think you can squeeze your car into on the last couple of laps you want to take it, but after seeing the No. 81 BimmerWorld BMW in front of me, I had to think about the team and the season’s results. I thought about the points situation of Greg and David during the caution, and the only way I would go for the spot is if Greg made a mistake. He didn’t, and my job was to protect him as much as possible to give BimmerWorld and BMW a shot at winning the championship at the end of the year.”
Rogers also supported the “team first” move by Thomas.
“Seth and I have known all along that the No. 82 will be a regular visitor to the podium; it’s just a matter of when,” he said. “It was going that direction at Daytona until Seth got hit, and on the last lap restart at Barber, we were P2, behind Greg, before we were then shuffled back a bit. A fifth-place finish is great, but it’s just a step to the podium for the No. 82 CRC BRAKLEEN® BMW 328i. Congratulations to David and Greg for a second great finish. Bring on Miami!”
The third BimmerWorld entry, the No. 80 BMW 328i piloted by Clay and John Capestro-Dubets, wasn’t as fortunate in the race, encountering contact which dropped the duo well down the finishing order.
“Our run in the No. 80 car was geared up to be a good one, but there were a lot of cars on track and unfortunately, John was one of many that suffered from the close quarters,” said Clay. “As a driver you are always learning and improving and even bad races teach lessons. I have a lot of faith in our driving team and as the season progresses, we will continue to tweak and improve.”
Clay also recognized the many layers of support that enabled BimmerWorld to return to its winning ways.
“We had some great support this weekend from the folks at CRC BRAKLEEN® and NAPA, and I was happy with our result with our sponsors watching,” he said. “I am also really proud of all the guys on the team who picked up extra responsibility as our crew chief Jason Marks was at home with his wife preparing to have their first baby. They did a great job and produced a strong result.”
With eight races left on the calendar, Clay admitted that he and the team will enjoy their results at Barber in the short-term, but won’t let the victory or their place in the championship distract BimmerWorld from its season-long goals.
“It is great to be leading the Championship at this or any point, but all it means is we have had a couple of good races,” he said. “There is a long season ahead of us and certainly we will put our heads down and continue to produce results. I’ll start getting excited a lot closer to the checker flag at Lime Rock in September.”
Next up for BimmerWorld is Round 3 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on April 27-28. Follow the team’s progress as they prepare for the event at www.BimmerWorldRacing.com, and be sure to watch the No. 81’s win April 8th at 12 p.m. ET on SPEED.