The streets of Long Beach, California continue to be the favorite stomping grounds of BMW Team RLL as they finished 1-2 in today’s American Le Mans at Long Beach race. In only the second race for the new BMW Z4 GTE, the team beat a very competitive GT class field with excellent strategy set in place during the first hour of the two-hour contest around the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit. BMW Team RLL has finished with at least one car on the Long Beach podium, including a win from the pole in 2011, for five consecutive years. Today’s victory puts BMW in a tie with Chevrolet at the top of the GT Class Manufacturer points. The win was also the first for the new BMW-Michelin partnership.
Bill Auberlen and Maxime Martin, driving the Frozen Black No. 55 Z4 GTE, won the race, finishing 6.578 seconds ahead of the No. 56 Z4 GTE of Joey Hand and Dirk Müller.
Martin started in the No. 55 car from the fourth spot. A spin on lap two dropped him to the rear of the field, but the first of three long caution periods in the first hour of the race gave the 55 crew the chance to reverse their fortune. Pitting Martin after 25 minutes, on lap 16, Auberlen got behind the wheel with a full tank of fuel and new Michelins. During the second caution period Auberlen pitted twice more for fuel only. When the race went green with 44 minutes run, the die was cast for the veteran to not return to the pits for the remainder of the race. A third caution during which the rest of field pitted allowed for a bit more breathing room for fuel conservation and Auberlen to cycle to the second position as the race went green just past the first hour. On lap 66 with 15 minutes left in the race, Auberlen took the lead and drove to his first win at the Long Beach.
The No. 56 Z4 GTE had an equally exciting race. Hand started the car from the seventh starting position. He pitted during the third caution period and handed the car to Müller who began his stint from the third spot as the race went green. Charging for the entire second hour he took over second place with two laps remaining to give BMW Team RLL its first 1-2 finish since the 12 Hours of Sebring in 2011.
“This is a really good one,” said Bobby Rahal. “The 55 car called excellent strategy. We followed a different tact and at the end we put both cars at the front of the field and the Z4 GTE into the history books with a 1-2 finish in only our second race. We were able to run more than one stint on the Michelins and that was crucial to make our strategies work. There is nothing like winning at Long Beach. Sebring is the big one, but Long Beach is not far behind in my book.”
Bill Auberlen, driver No. 55 Z4 GTE – “Today the Z4 GTE took me to the top of the Long Beach podium and that is something I have tried to do for a very long time. Great strategy by the team and the Michelins were an absolute pleasure to drive on all day.”
Maxime Martin, driver No. 55 Z4 GTE – “I had a little mistake in the beginning, but who was to know that it would set the stage for a great strategy call by Jay (O’Connell) and Bruno (Couprie). Today is a fantastic day for Bill and BMW.”
Joey Hand, driver No. 56 Z4 GTE – “After qualifying seventh I was not pleased, but I told the crew that I thought we could win. It wasn’t our win today, but I could not be happier for Bill to get his first win at his home track. Dirk did a great job to bring the car home second.”
Dirk Müller, driver No. 56 Z4 GTE – “Congratulations to Bill for his first win at Long Beach. At the end Bobby was on the radio telling me to push, but to make sure I brought it home. It was not easy to get by Dominick (Farnbacher), but being old teammates I knew he would be fair. I am delighted for the entire BMW Team RLL family.”
The race will be broadcast on ABC television tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. ET. More information on the program can be found at www.bmwusa.com and www.alms.com.
Round Three of the 2013 American Le Mans Series will be held at Laguna Seca Raceway, in Monterey, Calif., on May 11 with the running of the six-hour American Le Mans Monterey race.