SPEED!! If it goes fast, Bill Auberlen wants one. And if it's not fast enough, he'll fix it. This versatile driver is the American answer to Europe's racing superstars. Like them, he's driven by a passion for speed. But unlike many, his ...
If it goes fast, Bill Auberlen wants one. And if it's not fast enough, he'll fix it.
This versatile driver is the American answer to Europe's racing superstars. Like them, he's driven by a passion for speed. But unlike many, his passion goes beyond driving fast cars or riding fast bikes. Bill also thrives on building fast machines, on the intricate synergy of technology and human performance.
Born in Redondo Beach, Calif., in 1968, Bill started racing motocross at age four. Blasting through deserts and around motocross tracks, he won 39 per cent of the 200 races he entered. Then he discovered auto racing. His father Gary had excelled in motorcycle racing before moving on to sports cars. Young Bill, working for Gary as a mechanic, wanted to follow him into the driver's seat.
Bill had won a lot of motorcycle races and championships, but all was forgotten the moment he sat in a race car. "Day One, I knew this was it," he recalled. "I really felt like I finally hit home. I listened to the cars going around for so long when I was a kid, that when I sat in the car, it was exactly how I'd envisioned it."
two wheels to four
Bill made his professional auto racing debut in 1987, competing in the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) GTU division. Co- driving with Gary, 18-year-old Bill was the youngest competitor in the series. He soon made his presence known with a second-place finish in the 12 Hours at Sebring (Fla.), one of the most grueling races on the schedule. He followed with a second place in an even tougher race, the 24 Hours of Daytona (Fla.).
He was runner-up in the 1995 IMSA GTS-2 driver championship, with five wins and a still-record seven consecutive pole positions. His victory at Sebring that year was memorable, celebrated on the 10th anniversary of Gary's win in the same race. In 1996, Bill won the Peruvian Formula Three title, set an all-time sports-car lap record at Daytona International Speedway and proved his mettle driving in all three classes of the 12-hour Sebring race.
After years of short-term testing and racing with numerous manufacturers' programs, Bill finally landed a coveted contract in 1997, when he joined the factory supported BMW Team PTG. He won the Professional Sports Car Racing GTS-3 driver championship that year, with five victories and six pole positions.
He followed with seven victories the following season, including two class wins in the same race. More important, he had the opportunity to compete with the BMW factory team in the ultimate sports-car race -- the 24 Hours of Le Mans -- where the team finished fourth.
He also completed a full season of racing in Europe, where he notched a second-place finish in Czech and a third at the Nurburgring in Germany, driving a BMW-powered R&S Mk III. And he gave BMW its first prototype victory, at Laguna Seca Raceway in California.
In 1999, Bill realized every racer's dream. He was offered a full-time "ride" with the Munich-based BMW Motorsport team in the prestigious sports-car prototype class, driving a BMW V12 Le Mans Roadster. He scored three podium positions in the American Le Mans Series and was fifth at Le Mans. He returned to the team for a second season in 2000.
So how does a kid go from riding bikes in the desert to driving with one of the world's best racing teams? With a lot of support and hard work, according to Bill.
He says his father gave him the tenacity to weather the worst. "The support of my dad was everything. He gave me direction before I knew what direction was," he noted.
For three years, Bill worked nine hours a day, then logged six or seven hours in the race shop every night. The experience reinforced his father's insight: "What you need is to never stop," Bill said. "I guarantee when you are going for it and you develop the passion to go for it, in whatever aspect, if you do it eight times, the guy who does it 10 times is more likely to make it. If you quit, the guy who doesn't quit will make it. My whole career has been centered on never stopping when it's been difficult."
Bill says his driving skills came from working with the worst, not the best. "I started out with poor conditions, as opposed to other people who were a little more silver-spooned, where they started out in perfect conditions every time," he explained. "I was able to drive the worst cars, and now it's easier to drive the best cars."
Those early struggles also taught Bill how to provide accurate mechanical feedback to team engineers, an essential skill at the top levels of racing.
"I didn't have the money to fund operations," he said. "I had to do everything in-house -- my own engine-building, my own transmission- building, my own suspension design. I had to learn it out of necessity; otherwise I wouldn't have been racing. Now, when I get an impression of the car, I can be very specific to the point that needs to be addressed."
He spends a lot of time working with his race engineer, trying to find the best set-up to maximize the car's performance through the varied turns and surfaces at each track. "It's so competitive, every bit of information and awareness is critical," he said.
cars to boats
After a high-speed race week, Bill admits it's hard to decompress. And he says it's even more difficult when the season ends.
"The moment I get off the airplane, I have a moment of sadness because I've spent four or five days at a track where I'm 190 miles an hour, and it just stops," he admitted. "A driver goes through the whole year and he has nothing but complete intensity. It starts in February and goes full speed ahead, testing, racing, working together and camaraderie with the team. And then in October, it just stops."
His solution? Find more speed.
After seeing a magazine photo, he contacted Carrera Boats in Corona, Calif. Although he says his goal was to build a unique boat, speed wasn't far behind. With Bill's customized Chevrolet V8 engine aboard, turning a smooth 1100 horsepower, Carrera's open-bow catamaran recently set a Power Boat Magazine world speed record.
"It's just another place to put my energy and my focus and maintain the passion that I have. It's quieter but it is just as focused. This is how I relax," Bill said. "Going to the beach every day or going on vacation, I don't feel productive. I need to be building something."
Although boat-building is Bill's hobby, the Carrera team sees him as more than a casual visitor. "He's definitely like an employee now -- we kid him when he shows up late," said Carrera owner Dennis Winzen, who noted Carrera has presented Bill with two "awards", for employee of the year and best attendance!
Bill says his presence at the Carrera shop reflects his love of designing and building. "I can take a lot of my racing experience and put it into boats," he said. "It's neat to be able to combine my ideas with Carrera's and work with them on sophisticated fuel-management systems or aerodynamics."
"Sometimes I sit back and think I'm really, really fortunate," Bill mused. "The guys I'm driving with are Formula One drivers and I'm the American counterpart. These guys are the best in the world, so it's a privilege to be a part of this whole deal. I didn't dream of this. I never thought I'd be making money racing. That was never my goal. It was about the passion for the sport."
Life at the top is rewarding, but it hasn't diminished that passion. "Hunger makes for victory," Bill explained. "I have three BMW factory teammates who force me to stay hungry. I have to push myself every moment."
Bill's early lessons in perseverance have paid off, as has his never-quit philosophy. But he's not content to rest on past success: There's always more speed to chase . . .
Bill Auberlen (AW bur ln)
born: October 12, 1968, Redondo Beach, Calif. residence: Redondo Beach, Calif. family: single hobbies: offshore boats, bikes, deep-sea fishing, alpine skiing, water-skiing, tennis
1972-86 started racing motocross at age four; won 39 per cent of more than 200 motocross races entered
1987-94 IMSA GTU; five pole positions, three wins, 14 podium finishes including second in 12 Hours at Sebring 1987 and second in 24 Hours of Daytona 1988, 42 top-10 finishes in 54 races, fourth in 1994 driver championship; co-drove with father Gary 1987 to '89; pole position and victory in IMSA East-West Challenge 1993 (Fuji, Japan) and 1994 (Autopolis, Japan)
1995-97 Toyota Atlantic Championship; one front-row start, four top-five finishes in seven races, including second-place in Atlantic debut, at Miami Grand Prix
1995 IMSA GTS-2; second in driver championship, still-record seven-consecutive pole positions, five wins including 12 Hours at Sebring on 10th anniversary of father Gary's Sebring win and 42-second victory at Phoenix International Raceway, eight podium finishes in 11 races, seven fastest race laps
1996 IMSA GTS-2; two pole positions, three podium finishes, sports-car lap record at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway; Peruvian Formula Three driver champion; IMSA WSC test drives with Ferrari; first WSC start, at 24 Hours of Daytona; competed in all three classes of the 12 Hours at Sebring
1997 IMSA GTS-3 driver champion; six pole positions, five wins including 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours at Sebring, three additional podium finishes (BMW Team PTG); three IMSA WSC starts
1998 fourth, 24 Hours of Le Mans (McLaren BMW); test driver, BMW V8 racing engine development program; full season in European ISRS championship with BMW R&S Mk III, first prototype victory for BMW, at Laguna Seca Raceway, second at Bruno, Czech, third at Nurburgring, Germany
SPORTS CAR and USRRC GT2 and GT3; four pole positions including three records, nine wins including 24 Hours of Daytona and two class wins in same race (GT2 and GT3, Las Vegas Motor Speedway), all top-five finishes, four fastest race laps including two records (BMW Team PTG)
1999 fifth, 24 Hours of Le Mans (BMW V12 LM 98) American Le Mans Series, three podium finishes (BMW V12 LMR)
2000 American Le Mans Series (BMW V12 LMR)