When it comes to racing BMWs, no driver has more experience and success than Bill Auberlen. The Californian has 528 career races to his credit, with 371 of them at the wheel of a BMW.
With all of that experience racing the Roundel, one may be surprised to learn that he’s facing a new learning experience with BMW Team RLL’s move from a BMW Z4 to an M6 for the 2016 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
“They’re very different cars,” Auberlen explained. “The Z4 is a tiny car, super nimble and not as much power on the torque side. The M6 has tons of torque. It’s a much bigger car, with better aerodynamics. Very different driving styles are needed for both cars. You have to switch your brain and the way you drive to get the most out of it.”
Auberlen and his teammate proved to be quick learners in their new machinery at the recent Roar Before the Rolex 24 test at Daytona International Speedway.
“This is a work in progress, but we’ve been getting better every day,” Auberlen explained. “This move was [BMW Motorsport Director] Jens Marquardt’s idea a year ago, and he’s implemented everything we’ve needed to make it a competitive car. BMW’s 100-percent behind it with all the engineering, Rahal’s here with all their guys, and they’re working tirelessly to make it as good as can be. I think we have a good car. I think we can be competitive.”
Auberlen and co-driver Dirk Werner – who will be joined at the Rolex 24 At Daytona by Augusto Farfus and Bruno Spengler – were third-fastest in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class in the No. 25 IHG Rewards Club BMW M6 GTLM with a best lap of 1:45.120. Team mates Lucas Luhr, John Edwards, Kuno Wittmer and Graham Rahal led the class, with a best lap of 1:45.088 in the No. 100 IHG Rewards Club BMW M6 GTLM.
“When you look at how close it is in GTLM among all the cars, it’s going to be very interesting this year at Daytona,” Auberlen said. “We just have to hope on a brand-new car that we have the reliability for 24 hours. But everybody in the class has elevated their game to a new high we’ve never seen before. If you thought last year was tough, when it went down to the last race, this year is going to be even tougher.”
The learning curve
To be fair to the competition, everyone in the GTLM class faces a learning curve. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing is new to the class with its Ford GT; Ferrari has a new model, the 488 GTE; while Corvette Racing and Porsche North America have all new bodywork.
“If we thought last year was tough with the championship when it went down to the last race, this year looks like it will be even tougher,” Auberlen said. “Wow! It’s going to be a tough year.”
This year is a historic one for The Ultimate Driving Machine as Bavarian Motor Works celebrates its 100th anniversary. To mark the occasion, one of the M6 machines will race with the No. 100. The second M6 will continue to race the No. 25 in honor of BMW Motorsport’s first season racing in the United States in 1975. 2016 is the 40th anniversary of BMW’s first overall victory at the 24 Hours of Daytona.
Two commemorative liveries, one looking at the history of BMW’s racing success in the US and one looking to BMW’s future, will be debuted on January 28 at the Daytona International Speedway as preparation gets underway for the 54th Rolex 24 At Daytona.