A conversation with BimmerWorld Racing owner James Clay about the new BMW F30 328i racing program.
Nestled in a small town in Virginia lies a shop with racing experience spanning 3 generations of the BMW 3-Series and is now continuing into BMW's latest offering. BimmerWorld Racing, owned and run by James Clay, has debuted the first BMW F30 328i to race professionally in the world. Many in the BMW world have followed along and are well aware of the quality cars that BimmerWorld builds and the level of performance they put onto the track. It all started with the BMW E36s, E46s and E90s in World Challenge that amassed multiple wins and a podium sweep and continues today with the last generation of BMW E90s in Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge where they continue to win and rack up podiums.
BimmerWorld has experience being the first to debut one of BMW's new chassises. They were the first to bring the E90 to the track in North America. However, the F30 brings new challenges. With the F30 BMW has updated their 3-Series to include a turbocharged engine. Most BMW diehards will know this is a departure from the normal formula, a naturally aspirated straight 6 cylinder engine. The new 2013 BMW 328i sedan comes equipped with a N20 2L twin-scroll turbo with a 6-speed manual transmission. I had the pleasure of test driving BimmerWorld's test bed F30 before writing this article, and speaking as a BMW enthusiast I can tell you that I would have never guessed the car was being powered by a 4 cylinder. The power comes on every bit as smoothly as BMWs 6 cylinders while delivering increased fuel economy.
Thank you for taking the time on a busy launch weekend to answer a few questions. How long has the F30 project been underway to make it to this point?
We knew that the F30 was the next step in our race program evolution, and we wanted to be the first to conquer this new platform and begin building the database we will need to make it a winner. When the car was released, we immediately put two cars on order from United BMW of Roswell - a street car and a racecar donor. We have been focused on both building the first race example since about June of last year and getting the spec approved for racing in our chosen Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge arena.
The E90 328i has been and is still very successful in Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge to this point. What prompted the switch?
The E90 328i is an excellent race platform, and we feel it will continue to be - and we expect to continue racing these cars next season. But the automotive industry, and our series alike, are moving to smaller turbo engines, and I think the N20 BMW engine is a better fit for the future of the series. And in racing, whoever does the work first has more data and an advantage, and as a team that is a fixture in BMW racing, this advantage is important to our BimmerWorld business.
Certainly this platform has dished out plenty of challenges. The biggest hurdle has been development of the N20 engine, equipped with a turbo and direct injection, with an aftermarket racing control unit. This is a fantastic BMW engine that is a big step forward in economy and efficiency, but in race trim, it has a very small window in which it functions correctly and runs smoothly. With about half the boost of the stock car allowed for us in race trim, we have developed the control calibrations from scratch, and finding that window of operation hasn't been easy.
Sounds like a fun but challenging build. Was this done all in house at your Virginia facilities?
Our BimmerWorld team has handled all of the chassis and suspension build, as well as designing and producing all race parts involved in these areas. Electronspeed in Atlanta designed and built all the chassis, engine, and data electronics and has been core in making the engine functional and correct. And our other various technical partners helped in their own areas of expertise - Diffsonline, PFC Brakes, and CRD Engines were all key in the build.
I think that as an aftermarket performance company, at BimmerWorld we have no option but to embrace it. This is the way of the industry currently and consumers (and legislators) are demanding greater efficiency, and turbos are the current frontrunning technology to accomplish this. I personally think there are challenges with the electronic and mechanical complexity of today's turbo systems, but I am excited to be at the forefront as we work to make them even better for the performance enthusiast. Our race program is our opportunity to learn and develop parts and technology that we can then apply to street cars, and this is the next natural step for us.
Now that you have been able to run the car at speed on the test day and first day of practice how is the car? Driving and performance wise an easy switch from the E90 from a driver's perspective?
As a team owner who has been involved in the build process, I am amazed by how smoothly this release has gone. We were down to the wire to complete the build and have the full package developed to our level of expectations, and as a result we didn't have true on-track testing before this weekend. Everything has been amazingly smooth and the car has been rock solid so far, which is a true testament to our BimmerWorld team and our technical partners. As a driver, the engine is somewhat different and not at the power level we need currently, but the rest of the car feels like an old friend.
Road America has a special place in the history of BimmerWorld, James Clay as well? Was Road America chosen specifically?
Road America was home to my first pro win, and I wish I could say we timed our launch to fall on the anniversary of that milestone, but the truth is we finished the build, we have a good car to put on the track, and the next step is putting on the miles and developing it, and we wanted to start as soon as we could, so here we are!