Bill Auberlen is one of the most recognizable names in not just racing today, but BMW racing. He has been part of two American Le Mans Series championships with BMW Motorsport, and doesn’t to be ready to stop anytime soon. After prepping and getting the new Rahal-Letterman Racing BMW M3 ALMS racer ready for battle this season, he shot off to Dubai for the 24 hour race that was actually in preparation to racing with Turner Motorsport in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.
So a few hours before he took to the Daytona International Speedway for the 49th running of the Rolex 24, he took some time to talk to us about his great career and why he loves and continues to work with BMW, even after racing for so many other great automakers.
BMWBLOG: Now you’ve raced all over the world, in almost every type of race car. What cars stand out as ones you really enjoyed driving and racing?
Bill Auberlen: The first ones that come to mind first are the handmade ones that come from BMW. The V12 LM which was the predecessor to the V12 LMR was ground breaking. When I saw it first come out it made my heart beat faster. You just knew it was going to be awesome. I remember the first time I saw the LMR. Tom Kristensen was driving it in Austria through the mountains. They made this debut in front of all these people; I thought, ‘man, if I could only drive that’. That same year I was enlisted to drive that car in the American Le Mans Series. Every time I sat in it and heard that twelve cylinder going it was exhilarating! Unbelievable!
Apart from BMW, a Judd Dallara I drove made so much downforce, it tried to rip your head off every time you got into a corner. That was at the peak of the LMP, where the rules let you have giant down force with diffusers, under trays and wings. It was a really neat car, really easy to drive and very fast. I have been really fortunate to be in some of the best cars in the world!
BMWBLOG: In 2000 at Road Atlanta your BMW V12 LMR did an amazing back flip and was, miraculously, able to land on all four tires. What exactly went through your mind at this point? And what did you feel as you it the ground?
Bill Auberlen: This was the year Mercedes had the flips in Le Mans. The cars had this big under floor and if the cars started to get a little bit unstable they would go up in the air. Everybody knew this. BMW told us not to follow anyone too closely. I thought, I got this one, I came out of motorcycle racing and anytime a motorcycle lifts, you just hit the brakes and it would come right back down. With this in my head, if the car ever did it, I would just step on the brakes and bring the nose back down.
At Petit, I was following the Olive Garden car and was setting up a pass. I was trying to pass him when all of a sudden, he decided that wasn’t going to happen. He came right in front of my nose – way too close! I felt a lot of turbulence as the front wheels went up, up and around. All I could think of was ‘man, don’t put your head in the dirt- cause that would be bad.’ The car went all the way around, landed on its wheels, making a horrendous noise. The first thing I saw were the shift lights going across the top of the steering wheel. Not only did I not hit the brakes, but my foot was still flat down on the gas. I never lifted!
It broke some wheels and suspension, but the car was so strong the tub and all of my parts were perfectly intact. That’s one of those times that you walk away and then think a lot. It did make for some very good pictures.
BMWBLOG: Now you actually started out in Motocross, is that correct? How did you make that switch from bikes to cars?
Bill Auberlen: Motocross was an easy transition to cars for me. The normal way is to go from karting to cars. The weird thing is when I made the switch it turned out that I was really good in the rain. Why that’s weird is in California there is no rain, or very little rain. I think it’s because in motocross there is a lot of sliding and losing contact with the ground -I was comfortable with that. The moment I sat in a car it felt normal to slide or take a bounce. So in the rain there is lots of sliding around. 90% of it is mindset, when you are competitive in motocross, skateboarding, biking, I don’t care what sport you come from. If you want to win badly you will figure out a way to gain skills in every discipline of racing. If it’s your dream, you just make it happen.
BMWBLOG: Now that you’ve won another ALMS title, how does it feel to come back and do it again, beating Porsche and Corvette, just like you did in 2002?
Bill Auberlen: Any time you come back to defend a title, there is an extra bit of pressure on your shoulders. BMW knew this. They weren’t going to put the same car back. They brought back a car with aero tweaks, paddle shifts, motor modifications; they’ve really done as much as they could to come back and defend that title. The team is better, the drivers know more, the competition is brutal. If we are racing against Corvettes, racing against Porsche’s, racing against Ferrari and they all want to win too, this racing is as good as it gets -we won it last year. Of course we are proud of our hard work. The team, BMW, drivers, all. The big goal is to come back and do it again. And do it even better!
BMWBLOG: What makes the 2011 ALMS season special for you coming up? Are you ready to defend your crown?
Bill Auberlen: It’s special because we are coming back to defend a hard won title. We are ready to defend. We did a test and they put a lot of new things in this car. We are starting with some unknowns. So immediately BMW schedules a 12 hour test, a 12 hour race so off we go to Sebring we start running it and they will find every little quirk and rectify it immediately. That’s how you get ready for 2011. You know Tommy’s gone. Tommy Milner was a great teammate last year I was happy to co-drive with him. Now I have Dirk Werner, a little bit of an unknown. I raced with him during the endurance races, he was really good. Hopefully he and I will gel as well as Tommy and I did, and Joey the year before. I expect so and that means we will be even better prepared to defend the Championship.
BMWBLOG: You are currently racing at Daytona, and you are there with Turner Motorsport. How’s the car?
Bill Auberlen: We are in Daytona, we are with Turner Motorsports, we have a BMW M3 all new body work, all new aerodynamics- How is the car? If ever you are going to win at Daytona, this is the year because the team is really ready, the car is proven, the driver line up is solid. A week ago in Dubai we ran a 24 hour race to get ready. We are going to exactly replicate what we did there, not a single change. With a little luck at the end of this 24 hour race we will be wearing a Rolex watch. That’s what we are hoping for.
(Editor’s note: Turner Motorsport were running first overall in GT for quite some time, but had unfortunate crankshaft issues that took them out of the race. But they didn’t give up, and kept working on the car even after it was broken, and were able to finish the race in a respectable 17th place in class. They also churned out lap times faster than most of the Porsche GT3 teams)
BMWBLOG: I saw you race last season against your good buddy Joey Hand, and you guys seem to be safe, but competitive. Does it feel good to race against someone you had raced with?
Bill Auberlen: When Joey came on with BMW, he was young, he was green. I saw something in him that I really liked. He was dedicated, he was honest, and he has a lot of talent. I taught him everything I knew. Then all of the sudden. This guy that I raced with is racing against me. So this guy knows a lot of your tricks. Well I know him as well as he knows me, so when we are racing against each other it is very, very difficult to get a leg up on somebody that knows what you are doing and vise versa. When he is behind me he always says I cant pass you- you know every move I make. And vise versa. We know the older guy always keeps a trick in his pocket. This year we will be racing against each other again. It should be great sport, very competitive! We always, always want to be the fastest car, we are ultra competitive. We just raced a race yesterday here in Daytona, in the Grand Am GS class and he and I were side-by-side a number of times and it gets tricky. He’s not going to touch me, if he can avoid it, and I’m never going to touch him, if I can avoid it. But we both want to get to Victory Lane first! I was standing on the podium. Let’s see how the year shakes out, it will be great to watch.
BMWBLOG: What is your personal car?
Bill Auberlen: Luckily, BMW says it only makes sense that we should drive what we race. My personal car is a new 2011 BMW M3. And wow! What a car it is, love it, drive it and trying not to get tickets in it, a goal for 2011.
BMWBLOG: What makes BMW such a special automaker that you continue to drive for them?
Bill Auberlen: I drove for Ferrari, I drove for Chevrolet, I drove for Mazda, I was lucky to get the chance to drive for BMW. Then my new life goal became to never get out of a BMW. BMW and that roundel historically means the same thing as victory; it means champion; it means development; it means technology… it means everything that wins. So as a driver it is amazing to work with the best engineers, on the best teams. So the better question is not why do I continue to drive for them but to acknowledge that I am blessed that they continue to let me drive for them.
BMWBLOG: Have you had any personal involvement in the development of BMW M’s North American road cars? If not, would you like to?
Bill Auberlen: I personally don’t have involvement in the M road cars. I have involvement in the M race cars. The M3 GTR’s that we race in the American Le Mans Series. WE are continually developing every day. That latest technology does transition into the road cars. And now what I would like, no, I would love is to have a more hands on role in the road cars. I would love to be part of the technology and the development of road cars.
BMWBLOG: And lastly, what other accomplishments would you like to achieve?
Bill Auberlen: Luckily I have won Daytona 3 times; won Sebring 3 times. Yes I would love to win Le Mans. I would like to start winning these races more than any other driver, to win Daytona a few more times, to win Sebring 12 hour a few more times. And really put the jewels in the BMW crown.
I’d like to thank Bill Auberlen and BMW NA for making this interview happen. But more so to Mr. Auberlen for taking the time before climbing into his race car to answer our questions. BMWBLOG wishes him and the whole BMW ALMS team the best of luck this year.
Also, tune in to RoundelTable Radio tonight, February 1 at 8 PM ET, where our live guest will be Bill Auberlen!