NÜRBURGRING 2018: James Clay and His Team Return
Imagine zooming down 15.5 miles of track known as one of the most difficult and dangerous in the world—with sweeping curves, dramatic climbs and devastating drops—all day and night, with no intention of stopping.
A nightmare for many, the 24-Hour Nürburgring Race in has tested racers’ skill, endurance and mental stamina since its first competition in 1970. The international race is one of motorsport’s greatest infamies, yet more than 200 other cars will brave the track this year to withstand high winds, torrential rain, fog and even snow.
One of those cars belongs to OPTIMA® PowerPro Ambassador James Clay and drivers from his BimmerWorld Racing Team, who have returned for their second chance at the title after last year’s top-10 finish.
We caught up with James to discuss what’s different about this year as he and his team prepare for another 24 hours of grueling, suspenseful racing.
Are you running the same vehicle this year? What are some of its strengths and weaknesses?
“Yes, we’re running the same BMW M235i factory-built car as every other team in our 20+ car class. Since all the drivers race the same type of car, it all comes down to the driving team’s attitude and the way we approach the track’s set-up. Our performance will also depend on how we overcome any adverse weather conditions.
Considering the sheer amount of stress driving for 24 hours has on the car, I’d say it’s normal to be worried about the reliability of its components. However, the OPTIMA is one aspect setting us apart from other teams. Last year, our alternator failed, but luckily, we were running an OPTIMA and kept going an entire 30 minutes after it broke. Since all the drivers are racing the same car, using an OPTIMA versus another battery alone put us at a huge advantage over competitors. After last year, it is nice to know battery power is one less thing we have to worry about for our second Nürburgring.”
Coming back from last year’s top-10 placement, what’s this year’s goal? Challenges? Ways you’re hoping to improve?
“It’s uncommon to have American drivers competing in the Nürburgring 24 Hour—and we have a team of four this year. Training for this internationally-known race comes with countless challenges, which is part of why it’s so famous. There’s an enormous learning curve for Americans because many of the German drivers have been racing this track for years and have thousands of laps under their belt.Our driverroster including my IMSA co-driver Tyler Cooke and team drivers Cameron Evans and Charlie Postins is rock solid, but we are still facing an uphill battle.
Now, we have a total of 80 laps and clock in a bit under 10 minutes a piece. Overall, the goal is always to win, which takes preparation, good partners and a bit of luck. Preparation was key last year. We planned to build our speed at each of the three events to keep the momentum high and on-pace for a top-10 finish. That planning, along with our partners, was crucial to our performance.
We gained a lot of valuable experience driving in the night last year. Navigating the track at night was almost like having a blindfold on. Knowing what to expect, especially when the sun goes down, will be the biggest game-changer as we enter our second Nürburgring 24.”
How does this year feel different now that you have one Nürburgring 24 under your belt? What did you learn from last year’s race?
“It’s better than going in blind like last year, that’s for sure. Regardless of experience, it’s a long, difficult track that requires an intense level of expertise and commitment. Each lap must clock in under 10 minutes and, like I said, there are no lights at night--aside from the spectator campfires and fireworks. It’s a wild atmosphere and a type of track we don’t experience anywhere else in the world.”
Now with experience finishing the race, how are you feeling mentally vs. last year?
“It’s the most demanding thing I’ve ever done in motorsports, but it’s an awesome experience overall and I couldn’t be more excited. While I’m disappointed in the issues we encountered last year, I can’t wait to get on the track again.”
What advice do you have for anyone looking to compete in the Nürburgring 24 Hour?
“A lot of my friends and people in the industry are interested in this, and all I can say is bring every bit of experience you have because you will need it. As challenging as it is, it’s an experience of a lifetime.”