Bill Auberlen’s record-tying 60th IMSA victory couldn’t have been more dramatic.
It came right down to the last lap of last month’s 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans. After stalking the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) race-leading No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 with Felipe Fraga at the wheel for the final half-hour, Auberlen pounced on an opportunity on the white-flag lap just as Fraga’s car ran out of fuel.
“It was coming down to the wire, and on that last lap, he was running a real blocking line in (Turn) 10, and then he opened up that we could now get aggressive with each other,” Auberlen recalls.
“I gave him a little bump, he ran defensive into 12, I got under him in 1, and we bumped again. Then, if he looks, before he ran out of gas, I was under him in 4.
“So, at that point, I said, ‘Check. Mate.’ Because he can’t turn in anymore and we would have had contact and he would have abandoned left. But at that exact moment, I think he ran out of gas exactly there.
“Terrific. Unbelievable race. Not only that but then you figure out, Holy cow. So many people watched this race on TV. So many fans, because it was such an exciting finish that I was returning emails and phone calls and voicemails for weeks after that.”
At the end of the night, Auberlen found himself tied atop the all-time IMSA race winners list with the legendary Scott Pruett. And now, the Californian’s focused forward, beginning what he has dubbed the “Race to 61.”
He’d like to build a documentary around his chase to become IMSA’s winningest driver.
Of course, if that win were to come in the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 25-26, Auberlen jokes, ‘It might be a short film.’
Returning to the Turner team and the No. 96 BMW alongside co-driver Robby Foley, Auberlen knows the ingredients are in place to get that victory sooner rather than later.
“How it’s going to happen is we’re just going to do the same thing we did,” he said. “Which is, now we have more knowledge, we have more understanding of the M6 and how to make it go fast, the same team, the same driver lineup, I don’t want to change a thing. I want to improve on what we’ve already done, ‘cause it was already really good.”
Auberlen and Foley scored two victories in 2019, at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
Those victories were vital contributors to a runner-up result in the final WeatherTech Championship GTD standings.
He and the team are aiming for one spot better in 2020, although Auberlen realizes that championships are usually won through consistency rather than outright race wins.
“If you’re running for a championship, it’s a much more conservative approach,” he said. “You’re not always duking it out to get that top step of the podium at the end. But I think, with how good the BMW M6 GT3 is and how good my teammates are, a win throughout the year should come.
“Hopefully, on its way, it does. If it doesn’t this next year, maybe the year after or the year after. I’ve got a long way to go.”
Indeed, at the age of 51, Auberlen is showing no signs of slowing down.
“You know what? My happiness with racing has even gone up,” he said. “I’m at a new part of my career where I can still go fast, I can still win races, but I can also understand the gravity of what we’re doing within here. Right?
“In terms of life, we’re a blip on a radar, but in terms of what we do here, for me to be able to understand the level of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it at and the guy I’m going to war with every weekend, I can sit back and I can really enjoy it.
“I love it and appreciate it. That’s where I’m at now.”