Clay ends his season on a high with a podium.
Both Thomas and Esayian pass three cars each during the race.
After an amazing 1-2-3 finish at the penultimate round, matching that performance was going to be tough for the trio from BimmerWorld/GearWrench Racing at the season finale held at the famed Laguna Seca circuit in Monterey, California. Yet team owner/driver James Clay still managed to close the team's amazing year on a high note with yet another podium performance for the BMW specialists.
Clay took third at the checkered flag, followed by teammates Nick Esayian in fourth and Seth Thomas in seventh. Clay also earned the Debaufre Fastest Race Lap award, while Esayian and Thomas showed the competitiveness of their BMW E90s by passing three cars apiece during the race.
After the podium celebrations, Clay reflected on his drive and the conclusion of the championship.
"It was a good day and a great way to end the season. Through this year we have really fine-tuned our E90 cars, our team, and filtered out our pesky reliability issues that come with developing a car this customized without the full factory support our peers enjoy. I was content when the checkered dropped, which is a good feeling to start the off-season with."
Crew Chief Jason Marks led the efforts to make BimmerWorld's cars even more reliable in 2009, which manifested itself in the steady presence of the blue and yellow cars battling for top results at almost every round. With an impressive finishing record to boast, the team also improved the competitiveness of their BMWs.
With contributions from Engineer Wayne Yawn and technical partners like Performance Friction, Moton, Red Line Oils, and a long list of others, BimmerWorld transformed their E90s into racing machines that could excel at every type of track. A win by Thomas to open the season at Sebring, followed by another win in the middle of the year by Thomas at Watkins Glen, and the results at Road Atlanta and Laguna Seca confirmed the car's progress.
"We definitely had the pace, which exceeded my expectations coming into this weekend on what I would generally consider a front- or all-wheel drive track," said Clay. "We are really down to the small little tweaks on this chassis. It has been 4 years since we started development on the then-new 3 Series, and I feel like the 'sweat equity' put forth has been overwhelming at times, but the knowledge we now have on this chassis will continue to serve us well in the future. We are now getting into the period where all our hard work pays off!"
Behind Clay, Nick Esayian put in what is becoming his familiar performance - a storming drive to deep within the top-10.
"I got knocked around a bit at the start but we knew there was going to be some aggressive driving as Mazda and Acura were going for the manufacturer's title. After that I put my head down and just clicked off quick laps. Being consistent and staying out of trouble put me in third and I ran there for a good portion of the race. Unfortunately the gap I had evaporated when we got a full course yellow and I found my mirror full of who else but James Clay! I was running fast laps, but he was on fire. One little bobble with all that gravel on the track at the corkscrew is all it took and James got by me, but I know what I'm now capable of in this series."
After running in the top-3 at the last two rounds, Esayian says he is ready to take the next step. "I'm up to speed in these cars and I think my first win is close. Our guys did a great job this year in developing these BMW's. I've never driven a better race car."
After three wins in 2009, a seventh-place finish for Seth Thomas could be seen as uncharacteristic but as he says, the margin between seventh and first is incredibly narrow.
"I've learned that this series is all about track position, and we tried a few things in qualifying that didn't pan out, so I knew that I'd have my work cut out for me starting in tenth. Touring Car is easily the toughest series to make passes in, but I did everything I could to get to the front."
Getting past three cars was an accomplishment of its own, says Thomas. "On any other day, passing three cars would be a cause to celebrate. I obviously wanted to win, but when it looked like that wasn't going to happen, I knew that James and Nick were on pace to do us proud. With all the work our crew members put in, they deserve at least a podium everywhere we go, and I'm glad that James was able to reward their efforts."
Looking back on the 10-round championship, ending 2009 with three BimmerWorld cars in the top-10 gave Clay more positive results to build on for next season.
"It has been an amazing year for our team. We've been able to win races, to score poles and to earn fastest laps. Laguna Seca was a solid event for us, and I think it showed that we've matured. Even if a win isn't in the cards on the day, we're still able to finish strong. The BimmerWorld/GearWrench team has made great strides this season, and I expect more of the same next year."
Clay's podium finish at Laguna Seca further added to the strong numbers the team amassed in 2009. Driving the #38 BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW E90, Seth Thomas was the breakout performer of the year, taking three wins from ten races (including leading BimmerWorld's 1-2-3 finish at Road Atlanta), one pole position, and making five visits inside the top-4. These efforts earned the Georgia-native fourth in the SPEED Touring Car championship.
Thomas didn't have to reach very far to come up with his personal highlight of the year.
"That's easy! Winning at home in Road Atlanta was something I'd been trying for since my rookie year in Touring Car. I'd come close before, run up front, but up until this year, I'd always gone home without a win and feeling empty. This time, I delivered for my team and got to give my family and friends the show I'd always wanted to put on. It was just a magical day. I wish they were all like that!"
Nick Esayian's work inside the #34 Debt Cures BMW E90 received praise all season long as the World Challenge veteran posted his most competitive effort to date, placing ninth in the final standings. Five finishes inside the top-5 (including a podium at Road Atlanta) and a best starting position of third proved Esayian had become a threat wherever the series ventures.
Reflecting on a year filled with career bests, Esayian also picked Road Atlanta as his greatest achievement of 2009. "The podium sweep at Road Atlanta was unreal. The three of us dominated but the real story was our crew who put three cars on track, and any one of us could have won. Thinking about that day really gives me chills. It was emotional and I couldn't have shared it with two better drivers and friends than James and Seth."
James Clay's season was notable for his pole position at Road Atlanta and four top-6 finishes, closing out the season with second- and third-place performances and the fastest race laps in Atlanta and Laguna on the way to eighth in the championship. Like his teammates, he cites the Road Atlanta weekend as the highlight of his season.
"Without a doubt, it was my first pole and our podium sweep in Atlanta in Round 9. The better we perform, the better I expect to perform, but that weekend was a monumental event."
2009's final tally saw BimmerWorld/GearWrench earn three wins, two poles, and six podiums, but despite the stellar numbers, Clay says his team won't be satisfied with merely repeating those results in 2010.
"We had a great year, but still fell short of a championship. The one absolute truth in racing is that there is always room for improvement and that is what we intend to do. We are now capable of winning championships and that is our goal for 2010. I'm excited to get started right now."
Plans for next season are still forthcoming, but now that Clay's team has tasted success on a regular basis, they'll be working harder than ever to earn their first title.
"We still haven't finalized our 2010 plans, but I expect to announce them later this year. We have great working relationships with our technical partners and sponsors and we will continue with all into next year, as well as a few notable additions. What I can guarantee is that we will be coming out of the box hard in search of that elusive championship next year."