Bill Auberlen heads to France this week for the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the comfort of knowing he is exactly where he wants to be - in the driver's seats of two great race cars. The Hermosa Beach, Calif., driver wasn't idle for...
Bill Auberlen heads to France this week for the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the comfort of knowing he is exactly where he wants to be - in the driver's seats of two great race cars.
The Hermosa Beach, Calif., driver wasn't idle for long after his BMW team withdrew from sports-car competition in January. Ferrari of Washington quickly signed him for the 24 Hours of Daytona race in February, then extended the contract for the 2002 Rolex Sports Car Series sanctioned by the Grand American Road Racing Association. A month later, Auberlen was at the wheel of a Panoz Motor Sports prototype car in the 12 Hours of Sebring, first race in the 2002 American Le Mans Series, and signed to drive for Panoz at Le Mans.
He capped the season in mid-May, extending his agreement to drive the No. 51 Panoz with fellow Californian Bryan Herta for the rest of the ALMS season. "Once they put me in the car, we all knew it was a good match," Auberlen said.
The pair raced in the top three for most of this year's Sebring classic before a mechanical problem in the final hour derailed hopes of a podium finish. But they returned with a strong performance and third place at Sears Point Raceway in May. Auberlen credits his team owner, Don Panoz, with the vision to make it happen.
"My ideal is to have a prototype ride with a person sitting on top who has a vision of winning, who immediately goes after that vision with whatever it takes, and that is Don Panoz," Auberlen said. "You look at the car - just weeks after I drove it at Sebring, it had a new paddle-shift system and after that it had completely new bodywork, front and rear. This is a guy who wants to win races, this is who you want to be with."
Auberlen knows how to win, too. He has a long history of success in sports-car racing, including dozens of race wins in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. He has won championships on two continents and set numerous qualifying and race records.
His resume includes two top-five finishes in as many starts at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, two wins in the 24 Hours of Daytona and three in the 12 Hours of Sebring. He has competed in three classes during the same race at Sebring and scored wins in two classes in the same race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Teamwork is critical, and Auberlen said the Panoz organization knows how to max results.
"What a team to come into - a group of drivers that accepts you right away and a great feeling on the team; everybody has smiles on their faces," he said. "It's a fantastic atmosphere to go and do your best in. These guys are so professional and so efficient at their job, they know the exact direction with the minimal amount of going the wrong way. They know exactly how to get from A to Z the fastest way."
The Ferrari team is also strong, giving Auberlen the opportunity to add more victories to his resume. And the race cars? "The Panoz car is a joy to drive," Auberlen enthused. "And the Ferrari ... it's a Ferrari!"
The 24 Hours of Le Mans starts on Saturday, June 15.