Even a Shakedown Test Has IMSA’s All-Time Winner Excited
By Godwin Kelly
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Turner Motorsport is swapping its successful but antiquated No. 96 BMW M6 GT3 for a spanking new BMW M4 machine, which arrived in this country by air freight from Germany just two days before a shakedown test last month at Daytona International Speedway.
“The crew took it all apart, then put it back together and put different gears in it for Daytona,” said Bill Auberlen, the veteran BMW driver who wheeled the M6 for six years. “We did a soft, gentle, no-pressure rollout and it ran pretty perfectly. The team is very happy with it.”
That bodes well for Auberlen and the Turner Motorsport outfit as they prepare to embark on the 2022 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season in earnest, beginning next week with the Roar Before the Rolex 24 that precedes the Rolex 24 At Daytona by a week. Auberlen is teaming for the full season again in the No. 96 with Robby Foley. Michael Dinan and Jens Klingmann join them for the 24-hour opener.
Getting the chance to turn even a few laps on the Daytona International Speedway road course in the M4 on Dec. 7-8 put the team miles ahead of where they were expected to be.
“We were supposed to get our car in early January,” said Auberlen, IMSA’s all-time winningest driver with 64 victories in the top-tier series. “(Another team) pulled out of getting a car that was going to Dubai, (so) we got ours more than a month in advance.”
“Once that happened, team owner Will Turner told me, ‘I think we can make the Daytona test’ and put us on the roster. It was tight. The car landed in a cargo plane in Orlando on Dec. 5. They trucked it here and everybody on the team is looking at the car like it’s a new Christmas toy – figuring out how to start it.”
Turner Motorsport will again compete in the GT Daytona (GTD) class. BMW Team RLL will use the same M4 GT3 for its two-car effort in the new GTD PRO class.
“We were at Daytona with the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing factory team and we interacted during the test and everything worked real well,” Auberlen said. “This car takes us to a whole new level of precision.”
The M6 served Turner Motorsport well and leaves Auberlen with fond memories. But it’s time to move on.
“We love that car. That car has done us very well,” Auberlen said. “You are always looking for the new kid on the block and the new awesome technology that comes down the road. Now we are in the M4 GT3. The bodywork looks beautiful. When you pull the bodywork off, it’s like looking at a Picasso. It is all new technology. It is beautiful. This comes out of Formula One, IndyCar, anything these BMW engineers could think of, they stuck it in there. It’s amazing.
“When you first drive it, you are almost intimidated by it because you don’t want to be the first person to put a scratch on it. My first impression is it has cured most of the ailments the M6 had: traction and hard on tires. Their objective? Get through a stint and be as fast as you can on the last lap as the first lap. That was the objective. It looks like it will do that.”
Auberlen has been with the BMW brand for 27 consecutive years, which he described as “unheard of” in the racing world.
“I have been racing cars professionally since I was 17,” he said. “I’m 53 now. I’ve won seven championships. (In 2020), I became the winningest sports car driver in history. I love those milestones. Now it’s ‘how many times can we win Daytona? How many times can we win Sebring?’ Records are made to be broken and I’m happy to be the guy to break them.”