Team owner James Clay of Blacksburg, Va., did his best to keep the No. 82 OPTIMA Batteries BMW M4 GT4 in contention in the GS division while protecting it so his co-driver, Tyler Cooke of Monticello, NY., could mount a charge at the end. Their strategy worked well. There were 18 GS cars on the lead lap after the four-hour slugfest, and Cooke took the checkered only 7.938 seconds behind the winning Ford Mustang.
Cooke started his stint in tenth. He broke into the top five with 1:15 remaining on lap 73, passed Al Carter for fourth six minutes later and rose to third with 56 minutes remaining when a lot of his rivals pitted. He pitted himself on the following lap with 55 minutes remaining under a full-course caution, and he was fifth for the restart with 45 minutes remaining. While the BMW M4 has air-conditioning, it was primarily turned off fo conserve every last horsepower, making the sealed cockpit even hotter as the track temperatures registered 128 degrees.
After another yellow, Cooke passed Eric Foss for fourth on a restart with 31:20 left. After another battle with Marcelli that saw them side by side for almost a full lap, Cooke wrestled third away from him on lap 90, only to have Marcelli regain the spot with 26 minutes left. Cooke passed Marcelli back on the following lap, however, and with 23 minutes remaining he was 4.5 seconds behind the second-place driver, Owen Trinkler, who ended up fifth at the end. Cooke was able to methodically cut that distance down and he passed Trinkler for second with 16:47 remaining. He set the entry’s fastest lap of the race on lap 99 while trying to catch the eventual winner, Chad McCumbee. That proved impossible, but he was able to hold off Marcelli’s Mustang by 0.912 to finish second with 106 laps completed in the time span.
James Clay, Blacksburg, Va., team owner and driver, No. 82 OPTIMA Batteries BMW M4 GT4:
“Awesome race! We were watching the weather and it was going to be a hot one, and we knew that. The biggest question was ‘Is the car going to stay under us?’ We got dinged a little bit with Balance of Performance [BoP], but we had a BMW and that counts for a lot.
“The heat was brutal. The track temperature was 120 degrees, but our Red Line fluids were up to the challenge. With a turbo engine and all the required coolers for both cars, heat management is critical to keep components from failing, or a car with factory electronics from going into a reduced output mode. Red Line has clearly dropped our temperatures and put us in a safer operational zone.
“I was pretty happy with my drive. Tyler just drove a stellar race. I’m thrilled about this result. To have two of our BimmerWorld BMWs on the podium as a team owner and to have cars that are all together, ready to go to the next round next week is fantastic. We’re one step short, but I’m thrilled!”
Tyler Cooke, Monticello, NY, driver, No. 82 OPTIMA Batteries BMW M4 GT4:
“We had a good race at The Glen. If you had asked me at the beginning of the race if we were going to stand on the podium, I probably wouldn’t have had that answer. The team worked really hard. Our race engineer, Wayne, made some great calls; James drove a great stint, and it was a great points weekend for us. I think we may have tied for the points lead. That was our main focus of the whole weekend, so we’re leaving Watkins Glen happy as we move on to Mosport.
“James and I tend to be pretty good at Mosport. We think we have a good base set up for that, so we’re looking forward to seeing what we can do. It should be quite a bit cooler than we experienced at Watkins Glen, which will be great. I’m ready to go.”