James Clay wins his first World Challenge victory. After years of coming close and years of developing their own BMW E90 chassis to race in the SCCA SPEED World Challenge Touring Car series, team owner/driver James Clay scored his maiden win in...
James Clay wins his first World Challenge victory.
After years of coming close and years of developing their own BMW E90 chassis to race in the SCCA SPEED World Challenge Touring Car series, team owner/driver James Clay scored his maiden win in the most competitive road racing series in North America on Sunday. This was BimmerWorld's first win since Joey Hand's victory for the team at Mid-Ohio in 2007.
In a season thus far dominated by factory teams, BimmerWorld's breakthrough at Elkhart Lake was a popular one amongst fans and drivers. "I never knew what to expect after I got my first win the Touring Car, but it seems like the entire paddock-guys like Peter Cunningham, Pierre Kleinubing, and the rest of the guys made a point to congratulate me and the rest of the team. It means a lot. I think they understand how hard we've been working to make this happen."
After heartbreak at Elkhart Lake in 2004 and 2006, Clay wasn't willing to let the likelihood of winning distract him until he dove past the checkered flag. "I've been here before...I've had races I could have won before and have known it was something our team was ready for, but so often something silly would happen and the win would slip away. I wouldn't let myself celebrate until I passed the start finish line."
At a time when most drivers would be jumping up and down in a burst of emotion, Clay took his first win in stride. "I knew we could win all weekend long. I don't mean to sound matter of fact, but this result is what I knew I was capable of and what I knew our car and team was capable of all year long. I'm really happy to have won, but I'm not surprised; if anything, it reaffirms that we have the right ingredients and can win more races."
Clay's elation to claim his first win was measured with appreciation and respect paid to the technicians that build and run all three BimmerWorld BMW E90's. "The biggest thing I have to say is that this wasn't my win today--this was our win. I've been working with some of these guys on the team for almost a decade. Our crew chief Jason Marks and chief mechanic David Simpkins are a part of the foundation BimmerWorld has been built on, and the rest of the team, regardless of how long they've been here, have all paid into our success with long hours and incredible determination. Marks and his crew have helped me to step up the entire BimmerWorld Racing organization, and they deserve a result like this every weekend."
On the long and twisting Wisconsin track, Clay found two of his BMW's performance traits absolutely invaluable. "I was able to get on the power super early leading onto the front straight--the torque of our BMW engine coming up the hill closed the gap a few times," but it was Clay's ability to stop his car later than everyone else that made the biggest difference on Sunday.
"I was catching everybody under brakes--every braking zone I was able to brake 50-75 feet deeper than the Mazdas and Acuras. Performance Friction has been major partner of ours for some time, and without them, I don't know if I could have finished as well as I did. Anytime you can keep accelerating while the car you're chasing is starting to brake you've got a big advantage, and that's just what PFC gives us."
Clay's teammates Seth Thomas and Nick Esayian were pulling for James to take the win, and offered nothing but praise and admiration for the achievement. "Seeing James standing on the top step of the podium is something I thought would've happened a long time ago, but it wasn't for a lack of skill or effort. When I first started driving in World Challenge I thought James would be the first one of us to get a win. Today he proved me right."
With the Clay/Thomas duo so closely associated in SPEED TC for a number of years, the Georgia-native jokingly admitted he'd hoped to have been the first to win for the team. Clay's win is clearly one that means a lot to his dear friend after years of hard work and hard on-track battles. "Am I jealous? Heck yeah I am! But I'm proud of my teammate--James getting the win is almost the same as me getting the win. We both have worked so hard to get here and now one of us has kicked the monkey off our back. James drove the best race of his life. He put himself where he needed to be to win and never thought differently. Awesome job!"
Thomas would finish 7th on Sunday after being engaged in a race-long dogfight. It would also be his 7th top-10 finish in 8 SPEED TC races this year. Seth heads into Mosport 6th in the driver's championship point standings.
New-to-BimmerWorld driver Esayian has had Clay on his radar for years as a potential winner. "Long before I was a member of this team I was a competitor. Seeing James pull it off is simply proof that good guys who try hard do indeed win. PD [Peter Cunningham] and Randy [Pobst] were some of the first guys to come over to congratulate James. C-L-A-Y, clay, Clay, CLAY!"
After being bounced around like a pinball at the last few rounds, Esayian was thankful to get the target off the bumper of his #34 Debt Cures BMW at Elkhart Lake. "There were some real battles out there but my dice with Kuno Wittmer was the best. I bump drafted him passed Charles [Espenlaub] who is tough to pass, and then used the momentum to get by Kuno in turn five. There were things like that all throughout the race. The quality of driving was the best I've seen this year. It was also pleasure not to get crashed out from behind again after five instances of other races ruined by overzealous driving."
Nick's weekend wasn't without drama, as his dinner Friday night would come back to haunt him. "Considering I was nauseous in the car from food poisoning during qualifying, and then got blocked along with PD by Jim Daniels on our hot lap, I was reasonably happy with my finish."
For crew chief Jason Marks, watching James cross the start/finish line was a special moment. "It's a relief. We've known we were capable of it, and now that Clay's won, it's just shown what we've been trying to do all along. This is what we're going after every weekend. It's ironic; James said it was one of the easiest races he's driven; he's worked a lot harder to finish lower. In the grand scheme of things, this was one of our smoothest weekends so far. Now we need to keep doing it!"
Asked if the win was followed by a big celebration, Marks revealed that victory isn't always followed by a big after party. "Everybody asked us if we were out partying it up in Wisconsin Sunday night, but actually, we loaded up the trailer and went back to catch up on some much needed sleep. It's certainly a big relief to win again, but the train doesn't stop moving--we have a few more races to try and get another one. We'll party once the season's over."
All three drivers singled out a strong new presence in the team in 2008, engineer Wayne Yawn, for their leap in competitiveness. "Having Wayne as our engineer has really transformed the E90's handling. It's so driveable--our E90's get better at every race," said Clay. "As I mentioned before, the hard work and expertise of our crew is what allows the drivers to succeed, and Wayne's an important part of that process."
Thomas echoed Clay's assessment of Yawn's impact on the team. "Everything he has touched has made the cars easier to drive and faster on the track. For this to be his first team to work with in Speed World Challenge, and his first ever win engineering a touring car--I would say he's doing a great job."
As the BimmerWorld team now prepares for another long, twisting road course at Mosport, just outside of Toronto, Clay and the rest of his team hope the momentum from Elkhart Lake will carry into Canada. After a driver gets his first win in a major series, it's to be expected for him to want more. James Clay is no different and perfectly summarized his outlook on the rest of the 2008 championship.
"Mission accomplished; let's go get another one."