Bill Auberlen hailed Saturday’s Michelin GT Challenge as the best win of his career as the veteran BMW driver made history in becoming the winningest driver in IMSA competition.
Auberlen claimed his 61st career victory in the two-hour and 40-minute GT-only contest at Virginia International Raceway, taking top GT Daytona class honors in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 alongside co-driver Robby Foley.
The 51-year-old broke his tie with Scott Pruett as the most successful driver in series’ history, dating back to his first win in 1993 in a joint IMSA-Super GT non-points race at Fuji Speedway in Japan.
“It’s amazing,” Auberlen said post-race. “I said my best win I ever had of my career was Petit Le Mans last year [to tie with Pruett] but I think this one has to top it.
“There were a lot of people who got me here along the way.
“Robby, he drove the majority of this race and he did what he always does, he drove it flawlessly and stayed in the lead.
“It definitely made my job a lot easier.
“I have to thank BMW. They gave me a home. They’ve given me a place to win races in any car they’ve ever given me.
“Whether it started with the E36, the E46, to the Z4, the [V12] LMR, [M6] LM, McLaren [F1 GTR], M6 [GTLM/GTD]. You name it, I’ve driven it and we’ve won in everything.
“To be a part of a company that is so incredible has been an honor for me.
“It is probably the best win of my career and to do it with Turner and Robby, I’m super happy. As you can tell, I have no words!”
Auberlen had to fend off a hard-charging Mario Farnbacher, who nearly took the lead in the final hour but overcooked Turn 1 in his No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo.
“He was getting closer and closer,” Auberlen said. “He had a very fast car. That Acura was super quick. We had our strong points, he had the strong point going into [Turn] 1 and off the back straight, he was going to make a move.
“I had my eyes on him. I broke very late for me, and I knew he was going to make an attack that lap — that was the closest he’d been — and luckily he really shoved it in there and overshot it.
“I was prepared for it. That’s why I didn’t turn in as he was sailing by.
“That gave me a gap to second place and luckily second, third and fourth all had to battle together and that gave me a little bit of a cushion.
“Then I could just put my head down and ran my laps as hard as I could all the way to the end. It went really well.
“Luck was definitely on our side. There were some things with the car that were interesting on the left front wheel that caused a little bit of an issue but we made it.
“This was the most nerve-wracking hour of my life. When I got to about 35 minutes, every little calculated mistake, or whatever I was making, I was just freaking out.
“I was talking to myself, ‘Don’t blow this.’ Normally I just drive blind and let ‘er rip, but this time I was just all in my head, trying not to screw up.
“Now we got this monkey off my back and we can put our head down and focus on this season and try to win this championship.”