Ask anyone about their craziest day at the office, and you’re likely to hear a relatively entertaining story or two. But unlike other professions, the stories race car drivers tell are usually way better, because, well, their office is a race car.
BMW sports car racing legend Bill Auberlen has a million of ’em. One of the most accomplished American drivers of his era, Auberlen has started more races in BMW cars than any driver in the world during his 30-year career. Hailing from southern California, he’s won more than 90 races spanning multiple series, and while the overwhelming majority of his starts have come in BMWs, he began his career in a Mazda RX-7 he and his dad Gard built, with a little help from a Japanese engineer sent over by Mazda to tune the car’s rotary engine.
During a sit down on the eve of the third round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at the 2016 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Auberlen was in good spirits. In only his third qualifying run ever in the brand new BMW M6 GTLM, which has replaced the Z4 GTE he had been campaigning the prior two seasons, he scored the pole position for the second straight race. So far so good with the new car, which has predictably taken some getting used to as it’s bigger and has far more torque than the Z4.
Auberlen lives just up the Pacific Coast Highway from the picturesque waterfront street circuit and considers it his home course. And the home cookin’s been good – prior to this year he had won his class at Long Beach two of the past three seasons. Big parties ensued.
Ask the 47-year-old Auberlen what the favorite car he ever raced was, and he doesn’t hesitate for an instant – the BMW V-12 powered McLaren F1 GTR Longtail he drove during his first ever start at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1998 (the team finished fourth overall). “I absolutely loved that car,” Auberlen said of the McLaren, and he’s kicking himself to this day about it. The car was available after the race for about $240,000. “I said there was no way in the world that car was worth that much,” Auberlen recalled. It’s worth about $10 million today. Whoops.
Le Mans was also the source of another one of Auberlen’s memorable stories, this time in a Panoz Esperante. “It was a closed cockpit car, and it was so hot in there, the hottest I’ve ever been in a car. After seven laps I seriously thought I was going to die,” Auberlen said. “Even the water system I had was so hot I had burn marks around my mouth after.” Mercifully, that car didn’t last long before it was forced to retire.
Heat was the source of another memorable story that he and Will Turner, president of Turner Motorsports, shared. Back when Auberlen was racing for Turner in a BMW M6, the drivers were complaining how hot it was. To prove it, they wrapped up a piece of chicken in foil and set it down in the footwell, and grilled that baby up at 160 degrees. And yes, someone dined on it. Later, they tried it with a hamburger, with the same results. Turner’s corporate overlords at BMW got wind of it and were none too pleased. “You cannot be using the car as a cooking device,” Turner said, in his best German accent.
These days, things have gotten a lot cooler for Auberlen and his No. 25 BMW M6 GTLM. Same for John Edwards, a 25-year-old up and comer who also shared a couple of stories, the most memorable of which was his famous bathroom break during a pit stop – all caught on camera. Edwards is one of the co-drivers of the No. 100 M6 GTLM. Both cars are owned and operated by the BMW factory supported BMW Rahal Letterman Lanigan team.
Things didn’t go so well this year at Long Beach – after leading the first 13 laps, Auberlen and his co-driver Dirk Werner finished fifth, in part after Auberlen was forced to serve a drive-through penalty after making contact with a prototype class car. Edwards and co-driver Lucas Luhr fared worse. Electrical issues plagued the car early, and Edwards, who took over on lap 49, later sustained damage that would eventually lead to him crash out for a 10-place finish.
But given how strong the cars have fared this year in qualifying and with one podium finish already at Sebring, there are sure to be much better days ahead during the season – and no doubt more office stories to share someday.