Turner Motorsports Kickstarts 2011 With Podium at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., 27 January - Turner Motorsport was back in familiar territory on Friday afternoon as the No. 96 BMW M3 of Paul Dalla Lana and Bill Auberlen raced to a third place finish at Daytona International Speedway in the opening round of the 2011 GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. The podium result was a strong start to the race weekend for Turner Motorsport, and the group will look for even more champagne when the team returns to the famed track on Saturday to take on the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
The team had been well-placed to take an even stronger result as both entries ran in podium position in the late stages of the race, but an issue with a bearing saw the sister No. 97 of 2010 championship contenders Michael Marsal and Joey Hand lose pace in the final stages, fighting to finish 11th at the checkered flag.
Dalla Lana took the green flag for the the 2.5-hour GRAND-AM 200 from eighth on the nearly 80-car field and moved up in the early laps before turning the machine over to Auberlen. The previous Daytona winner fought his way through the pack, put some typically strong Turner pit strategy to good use, and was fighting in the lead pack in the closing laps of the race. But a late-race yellow flag not only helped some of the competition make the fuel stretch to the finish, it also kept him from getting the chance to fight forward and add to his tally of BMW race wins.
"You know a lot of hard work and it's good to finally finish. We had a lot of troubles last year so the team has been doing a great job getting the car ready and of course when you have Bill as your co-driver, it's really nice," said Dalla Lana. "It's really good to start the year with a good result. Now the big show (Rolex 24) is on so it's nice to cast some momentum into that. You know it's going to be a tough race. The Porsches look strong and you know there's a couple other really strong teams so we got our work cut out for us but I think you got the winner here (Matt Plumb) and the third place guy in our car so you know we got guys that can go fast so that's nice."
"Third is a good start, but honestly that's not exactly where we wanted to finish," offered team owner Will Turner after the race. I don't know what happened to the 97 car yet, but I'm glad he held onto 11th. Bill wasn't really talking that much-- he had a pretty good car and it's great to be on the podium for the first race. It's a great way to start off the year. Wish we were up a couple steps on the podium but we got out-fueled by one of the other BMWs, so we had to do that last splash which put us back. But it's good to be on the podium for the first race of the year."
The race was an up and down affair for the field, with yellows and fuel strategy mixing the field on multiple occasions.
"It helped with our strategy--we needed two or three laps on fuel," said Auberlen. "We were nursing it and starting to lean it out and then they said we could run full rich until the end. It helped our competition who for sure would have had to pit. We were able to stay at the front and race at the front. Paul gave me a perfect car, not a scratch on it. We just have some homework, we just need to keep working on the handling. The StopTech brakes were great, I mean everything that was on this car was working great, perfectly."
The No. 97 entry had fought back from an issue in qualifying that prevented Marsal from setting the times that the car was capable of. But some hard work saw the team have the M3 ready to go full speed ahead of the green flag.
"The Turner guys left no stone untouched-they went through everything and the car was great for my opening stint," said Marsal. "We were looking very good until the last stages of the race but this is still a solid way to start the year. Just like Will said, we were hoping for more out of the day, but we ran well, the team executed, and we just didn't have the luck to get back on the podium today."