Birmingham, Alabama. Jack Baldwin, of Marietta, Georgia, secured his fifth…
If there’s been a list of World Challenge drivers who’ve been most overdue for their first win, BimmerWorld’s Seth Thomas has been atop that list for the past few years.
After second place finishes, front row starting spots, and numerous fastest laps, the Georgia native took himself off that ‘most overdue’ list with a commanding win at the 2009 SPEED TC opener at Sebring.
The weekend was capped off by strong finishes by all three BimmerWorld / GearWrench BMW E90s. Nick Esayian drove a spirited race to claim 5th while team owner/driver James Clay secured 6th place.
“Honestly I never expected the first win to be like this one” said an ecstatic Thomas. “Leading from lap one to the final lap is what everyone hopes for and that’s what happened this weekend. For the last 6 years I have been looking for this win and there have been great battles getting here. The only thing that would have made this a better day would have been celebrating the win with my two BimmerWorld / GearWrench teammates on the podium with me. With a win under my belt, I am looking forward to seeing my BMW E90 in victory lane more often!”
After being close on so many occasions, it’s understandable that Thomas wasn’t counting his Sebring win prematurely. “I felt comfortable with my lead, but as the race progresses you always start to imagine noises going on in the car and the rough Sebring surface is notorious for shaking the cars up. I thought, ‘Please don’t fail me now,’ but being behind the wheel of the BimmerWorld/GearWrench BMW, I didn’t have a reason to believe the car would let me down. I knew if I drove my race, it would go my way especially with the final laps counting down.”
Seth’s parents have been a fixture at his World Challenge races and after years of support, they were able to watch their son cross the start/finish line a winner. “My wife and my parents have been the most supportive people of my racing habit. Having all of them here with me today made this day extra special. My family is my life and I would not want to experience my first win without them. And it was great hearing my wife tell me our unborn child was turning flips during the race is very exciting. I can’t think of a better way to start out this new chapter of my life!”
After a rough and tumble 2008 season, Nick Esayian was ecstatic to finish the first race of the year without drama and without body contact. “The guys gave me a great car to drive — that was the first piece to the puzzle. My start was certainly better than last year so the gene pool of people I was around on lap one make better decisions and it was nice to get a clean race in.
“Last year I got hit more times than Muhammad Ali in the ‘Thrilla in Manila.’ After that I just put my head down. Holding onto 4th would have been nice but I had used the tires up early in the race. A 5th place finish was a solid way to get the season started. Our guys have been working hard and I only expect the results to improve.”
If James Clay’s 6th place finish wasn’t as strong as he’d hoped for, the success of his team was a great source of pride. Having spent years assembling the right team and building their unique BMW E90 cars, seeing all three BimmerWorld / GearWrench cars finish in the top-6 validated the team’s place amongst the elite World Challenge entrants.
“It takes years of work and a lot of dedicated guys to get where we are currently. I am proud of my teammates for their drives today and I am proud of the guys in the crew that don’t get their fair share of credit for making it happen for us. They have spent the ‘off’ season rebuilding the cars, working on a long list of developments and testing with us with a pretty hectic schedule. Lots of hours went into this – we had a silky-smooth weekend and their effort leading up to the event provides the platform for the result.”
With BimmerWorld / GearWrench’s best start to a new season in hand, Clay is looking to carry the momentum through out the rest of the season. “It was a strong start for us and I expect more good things to come. We have done a lot of homework this winter, have continuity in our program with returning cars, crew, and drivers, and have a plan set in stone for the season, so I feel like we are a step ahead of the competition right now.”
Nick Esayian echoed Clay’s comments, and came to appreciate the handling of the BMW E90 around the twisty 3.7 mile Sebring circuit. “I could really feel the engine’s air restrictor on the top end. The Acuras and Mazdas have much bigger punch out of the corners so I attribute our handling advantage today to our engineer making some good decisions about our setup.”
1st, 5th and 6th positions at Sebring also have Esayian thinking ‘big picture’ with the rest of the season ahead of the team. “I think all three of us have a shot at the championship. Obviously we need to be fast, consistent and avoid the DNFs whether it be from mechanical issues or crash damage. We are starting the season off with a lead in the Manufacturer’s Championship and Driver’s Championship… 10% down and a challenging 90% to go but I like our chances!”
Thomas’ win also brought great exposure to BimmerWorld’s new partners at GearWrench. “GearWrench brought a contingent for qualifying this weekend and unfortunately couldn’t stay for the race to enjoy the victory with us,” said James Clay. “But certainly the exposure we were able to give them this weekend will make up for missing it in person. We hope they’ll be on hand for more victories this season!”