The 2018 BMW Endurance Challenge at Daytona International Speedway will go down as one of the most successful weekends ever for longtime IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge team BimmerWorld Racing.
What makes the weekend’s success even more impressive is that the team’s two-car effort for 2018 has a different look – and lineup – than in years past.
While team owner James Clay and co-driver Tyler Cooke have returned for their third consecutive season together, the duo made the jump from the Street Tuner (ST) class to Grand Sport (GS) with the new No. 82 BMW M4 GT4. The M4 is now part of the GS class, which converted to full GT4 technical specifications beginning in 2018. The new car made its series debut at Daytona two weeks ago.
“We’re not a new team to the series and Tyler and I have had really solid success as a driving pair,” said Clay. “I would say that we’ve seen that a little bit in the ST class with some finishes there, but that’s also, to a fair degree, a factor of the coming-of-age of that ST car.
“At this point, I’m really happy with the GT4 approach to racing. Certainly, our BMW M4 GT4 product is just a fantastic race car and I think that’s what we’re seeing here – equipment that’s well sorted, it comes ready to race from the factory without extensive time and money for development, and then operated by a team with experience in racing and by guys who can drive a car. I think certainly as drivers we like a little bit of credit, and the team as well, but a large amount of that also goes to BMW for having a quality product to put on the racetrack.”
If there’s someone to talk about the development of a BMW race car, it’s Clay and his BimmerWorld organization. The team spent several years working on the BMW 328i in the ST class and as Clay mentioned, found some success since joining the series. However, this could be the year that the hard work finally pays off.
With Clay and Cooke moving up to the GS class, Devin Jones and Nick Galante have joined forces in the No. 81 BMW 328i in ST. After competing with different teams in 2017, the two approached Clay about joining BimmerWorld.
“Both of those guys came to us, were well experienced, they were good capable drivers and I’m thrilled with how well the first weekend went,” Clay said. “You race against guys for whatever period of time – these guys for a couple years – and it’s always that combination of driver and machine and you never really know which piece is the more important factor. I think watching these guys develop in our car, which every car has a personality and it takes a little bit of a different approach, they’ve both come up to speed with the car and the nuances of the car and they’re both very capable.”
While the victory at Daytona was a series first for Jones, Galante brings his own ST championship to the table, which coincidentally lines up with Clay’s goal for 2018.
“My focus through the season is certainly an ST championship,” Clay said. “We’d like to go ahead and knock that down. It’s been the goal for a while and the closest we came was our 2010 inaugural season with the series and we tied for it and lost it in a pretty deep tie breaker. I’d like to see that happen.
“With our ST car and long term technical partners we developed the car with, I’m certainly eager to have the level of results we seem to be on track for this year. The GT4 is a little different and more difficult given that it’s a defined car, but these partners that I have are clearly working with us to make the car better and in some cases, just make our team better.”
While the goal for ST focuses primarily on 2018, Clay’s vision for BimmerWorld’s participation in GS goes beyond this calendar year and is keeping his expectations in check, despite the early success.
“GS has so many competitive cars and to me, there’s just so much going on this year and we’re off to a great start, but no one can predict how that’s going to shake out,” he said. “Really, my goal for the season is to be fully up to speed with that BMW race car and to be the leading BMW competitor as we go in to 2019. You certainly don’t have a good Round 1 and start talking about a championship with the depth of talent and all the variables in the field. Who knows what’s going to happen, but I’m certainly happy with how we started the year.”