Bill Auberlen and BMW celebrated a one-two GT-class finish in the American Le Mans Series season opener, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, on Saturday. Auberlen (USA), Augusto Farfus (Brazil) and Dirk Werner (Germany) drove the No. 55 BMW Team RLL BMW M3 to second place behind their teammates in the No. 56 M3, after a grinding 12 hours on the 3.7-mile Sebring International Raceway road course in Sebring, Fla.
Werner drove the first race stint, starting third on the 19-car GT grid. Auberlen took over at 1h48 and left pit lane first in class following a fast pitstop. He handed off to Farfus just past the three-hour mark, and Farfus also headed the class during his double stint. The trio cycled through again, dropped to sixth after contact with a prototype reduced the car's downforce, then charged back to second place.
"Our car was fast! The front end presented a problem, but the guys went to work on changing tire compounds to compensate for the lack of front grip. By the time we got towards the end of the race, the car was back up to speed again. Between Dunlop and the engineers, all the brain power there, they managed a potentially bad situation and made it really good again," Auberlen said.
After 10 hours, the No. 55 BMW M3 held a 45-second lead over the third-place car. Then a lapped Corvette hit the M3, leaving Farfus to limp to pit lane without his left-rear tire. The team quickly repaired the damage, changed drivers and sent Werner back on track fifth in class. He raced through the field to regain second place just 38 minutes before the checkered flag.
Auberlen credited the extensive work that went into the 2011 car, initiated by BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen.
Bill Auberlen - second at Sebring
"The car came from the top – Mario Theissen allocated the resources to redesign and build this car, then the BMW engineers combined with the Rahal Letterman Lanigan staff and Dunlop Tires to make a fantastic car to drive," he said. "We were at Sebring for a week. We ran from Monday to Saturday and we didn't have one hiccup with that car. We were fast all week, but that's preparation. That's all of the development that went on through last year. We had a pretty well-refined car going into this race."
Auberlen first tasted success at Sebring as an engine-builder for his father's 1985 class-winning car. He earned his first Sebring podium finish in 1987, driving with his father. He has since set 14 pro records en route to eight pole positions, eight wins and 13 podium finishes on the challenging patch of Florida concrete. His success encompasses prototype, grand-touring and touring cars in many series.
"One of my favorite memories was my dad winning in 1985," he recalled. "I was there. I was a kid. I built the motor that won that race. I drove the little truck that we had across the country to get there. That was like hook, line and sinker, Bill Auberlen is now going to race for the rest of his life. That was an amazing moment. Then, 10 years later, in 1995, to win that race myself, was a super-incredible moment. It was like an anniversary for my dad and I to share together. Those are memories that I have forever.
"Last year was amazing, to be battling minute by minute for 12 straight hours. It's how far technology has come. Gone are the days of babying your car to get to the end. It is an all-out, 12-hour sprint. To be going tooth-and-nail with one minute left in the race was really, really fun. And, of course, I'm very happy for the accomplishment of BMW this year, finishing one-two, which is incredible. To start the season so strong, to have first- and second-place points, you can't do much better than that."
In his 25th year of sports-car racing, Auberlen continues to set the pace in multiple series. He leads the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge driver standings, is second in the American Le Mans Series GT championship and fifth in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series GT class, together with his co-drivers in each series. He added another lap record to his career tally earlier this month and also notched a fifth-place overall finish in the 2011 24H Dubai.