Turner Motorsport, BMW Reach 400 Races Together
By Mark Robinson
SEBRING, Fla. – Christina Nielsen and Katherine Legge are delighted to be back in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship paddock fulltime, but it doesn’t stop there. They both want to succeed again – this time together.
Nielsen is a two-time GT Daytona (GTD) champion; Legge was the 2018 GTD runner-up. Each has four career wins, but none as teammates when they drove together in 2019. They have reunited in the No. 88 Team Hardpoint EBM Porsche 911 GT3R for the rest of the 2021 GTD season after sharing the car with team owners Rob Ferriol and Earl Bamber in the Rolex 24 At Daytona to open the season.
“We are just super grateful to be here and trying to build,” Legge said. “It’s a bit of a last-minute deal, just trying to build something meaningful with Hardpoint EBM, trying to scramble and put everything together.”
The COVID-19 pandemic derailed 2020 plans for many drivers, including Legge and Nielsen. Then, Legge sustained a broken leg and wrist in a serious crash while driving a Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) car in the European Le Mans Series. While Legge put her pieces back together physically, she and Nielsen kept working to put together a racing package for 2021. With the aid of sponsors Richard Mille and Champion Porsche, they’ve done it.
“It’s something that Kat and I have consciously worked towards since the season fell apart last year,” said Nielsen, the 2016 and ’17 GTD champ. “So, it’s absolutely a very important target, if not the target, to hit. Next is to do well. But to be back full season is something that we aimed for.
“We love being a part of IMSA, we love the tracks that we get to race in IMSA, we love the format. To be here with Champion and Richard Mille is an absolutely major deal for us and we’re really enjoying it.”
Enjoying it, yes, but they’re also realistic. The Porsche is a much different car to drive than the Acura and Ferrari they won in before. Nielsen qualified the No. 88 in 10th place among the 13 GTD entries for race grid position on Friday, while Legge ran 12th in the points qualifying session. Bia Figueiredo, part of the Heinricher Racing with Meyer Shank team with Legge and Nielsen in 2019, rejoins them as the third driver this weekend.
Legge admitted that a sixth-place class finish in the race would be like a victory.
“I would say top six, I think, is achievable,” she said. “But I would say realistically, if we can execute without making any mistakes and we’re all relatively fast and we’ve got the other car (the No. 99 Team Hardpoint EBM Porsche with drivers Ferriol, Bamber and Trenton Estep) as a yardstick. For example, I can look at Earl’s data, and if I’m within a couple of tenths of him, my out laps are just as good and my traffic management is and everything, then even if we finished 10th, I would see that as a personal victory because of all of his experience.
“So, it’s lots of little goals within the big goal of obviously winning the race. And we’d be lying if we said that we didn’t dream about that, too.”
Turner Motorsport, BMW Celebrate Long Partnership
By John Oreovicz
Competing in 400 races is a major accomplishment for any racing team, but 400 with the same manufacturer partner? That’s almost unheard of. But it’s a milestone that Turner Motorsport just celebrated with BMW.
Turner fields BMW entries in both the WeatherTech Championship GTD category and the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge’s Grand Sport (GS) class. Team owner Will Turner said it started with an E30-generation 325i he entered in BMW CCA (BMW Car Club of America) and SCCA club racing. “I didn’t have plans to race them professionally, or anything,” he said with a laugh.
Turner Motorsport went pro in 1998. Since 2003, the team has claimed seven championships in four different series. A common denominator in much of Turner’s success is driver Bill Auberlen, whose 62 race wins in IMSA competition are a series record. Auberlen has been a part of nearly half of Turner’s 400-plus races.
“When I found this kid in 2002, we won back-to-back championships in 2003 and ’04 and that was a highlight, one of the coolest things in my career,” Turner said. “He knew what it took to build a car, and he also knew how to drive it. He’s stayed loyal to BMW and so have I. When he hasn’t had a factory gig, he’s been in my car.”
Now 52, Auberlen is performing double duty for Turner this weekend. He and co-driver Dillon Machavern finished third in Friday’s Pilot Challenge race, the Alan Jay Automotive Network 120. Auberlen’s WeatherTech Championship co-driver, Robby Foley, will start seventh in GTD in Saturday’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. Aidan Read fills out the driver lineup in the No. 96 this weekend.
Auberlen estimated that 90 percent of his career wins came with BMW and rated his last-lap triumph in the 2019 Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta as the most memorable or rewarding.
“It was the dramatic fashion that we won it,” he recalled. “That tied me with Scott Pruett for the record at the time with 60 wins, and it was like a thousand tons of bricks had been lifted off my shoulders.”
Auberlen exudes the kind of enthusiasm that inspires comparisons to legendary drag racer John Force. He’s convinced that he, Turner and BMW have many more races and wins to look forward to.
“It’s a great team that’s really good at winning races and winning championships,” Auberlen said. “But not only are you going to get a great race car, you’re going to have a lot of fun with this team. That’s different from a lot of other teams where it’s solely focused on performance. With this one, they’ve managed to merge having some fun with racing some really cool cars.”
Van Berlo, Wagner Win IMSA Single-Make Series Friday Races
Kay van Berlo passed Kelly-Moss Road and Race teammate Seb Priaulx on the opening lap and drove away to a 4.338-second victory Friday in the closing race of the Porsche Carrera Cup North America’s debut weekend. Alan Metni (iFLY/Kelly-Moss) won for the second straight day in Pro-Am with Matt Halcome taking the win in Pro-Am 991.
In the second half of the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires Sebring doubleheader weekend, Gresham Wagner (Spark Performance) passed Michael Carter (Carter Racing Enterprises) in the sweeping final turn at Sebring and drove to the win – his second of the 2021 season.