Three seasons of intense development with BMW’s turbocharged F30 (328i) platform by Virginia-based BMW tuning and aftermarket experts BimmerWorld paid off with a thrilling drive to third place in Sebring last weekend.
The accomplishment by BimmerWorld team owner/driver James Clay and his teammate Tyler Cooke, who earned pole position at the legendary Florida road course, marked the first pole and podium for the four-cylinder turbo BMW F30 in worldwide pro racing competition. Those firsts were only made possible by BimmerWorld’s incredible staff of technicians who overcame adversity on two occasions to help make history.
A broken fuel injector triggered a fire during testing on Tuesday with Clay behind the wheel of the No. 84 OPTIMA Batteries BMW 328i, which necessitated a significant amount of repair work before Cooke was able to earn the F30’s maiden pole position.
“I was pulling into pit lane after doing an installation lap and as I lifted off the gas, a lick of flame came out from the hood and I deployed our Lifeline fire system as I pulled it into our pit box to get things under control, and our crew made sure we ended the fire. While I was fine and safe, the car was damaged,” Clay said. “It took a lot of hours to get back to the place where Tyler could go out and show the BimmerWorld F30’s capabilities.”
More drama would emerge after qualifying when it was determined the No. 84 OPTIMA Batteries BMW would require an engine change. Per the rules in IMSA’s Continental Tire Series, the change meant BimmerWorld would surrender its first-place starting position. Cooke faced the incredible challenge of starting last in a field of 36 cars—26 belonging to the Street Tuner class where the 328is compete.
Rewarding the BimmerWorld crew’s tireless efforts was a clear motivation for Cooke who charged from the back of the field to a high of second place in ST before handing the car over to Clay, who fought among the leaders and secured an amazing third to thrust the OPTIMA Batteries BMW onto the podium.
“BimmerWorld has been committed to developing the F30 from the beginning and it was fantastic to have that work rewarded with Tyler’s pole and finishing the race on the podium,” Clay added. “I’m even more proud of our team and everything they did to make this possible. And there’s more to come. We know winning is on the horizon.”
The Sebring event ranks among Cooke’s finest overall performances as a young professional racecar driver on the rise.
“The fire put us behind, but I can’t say enough how proud I am of the team for putting in a lot of hours and a late night to get the car rebuilt,” said Cooke. “Qualifying came on Thursday and it was great to see the team so happy after receiving the pole. It was very unfortunate to have the engine changed, but James and I knew we had a pace to get through the field.
“On the start I looked for any and every gap to make passes, but without putting the car in danger. James got in and had an excellent stint to bring the car home third. The best part about the weekend was the history we made. This platform has never sat on the pole nor gotten a podium in the world and I’m happy James and I could do it. I’m proud of the team for all the hard hours over the years to get us there.”
The sister No. 81 BimmerWorld BMW driven by impressive rookie Jerry Kaufman and Kyle Tilley was also gripped by misfortune in the days leading up to the race. For Kaufman, a rookie in the series, the pre-race problems were mitigated by a strong qualifying performance and a combined effort in the race that saw the car finish 13th.
“I did surprisingly well in qualifying, but it was a very hot race,” Kaufman said. “The heat took some power out of the turbocharged engine and I worked the rear tires too hard early in the race. Once they got hot there was no way to get the tire temps back down, and it became a fight to keep the car on track. Congrats to the 84 car; those guys did an excellent job managing their car, and they got a great result because of it. The BimmerWorld team did an amazing job despite problems thrown at them. This team continues to impress me.”
Added Tilley: “It was a tough week for us in the 81, and Jerry’s effort in qualifying was fantastic giving the challenging circumstances. I was able to drive the car from 23rd to 13th, the crew did a great job of turning our weekend around, and we were able to get some solid points in the bag. Onwards and upwards!”