Bill Auberlen feels the remaining rounds on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule, including this weekend’s Motul Petit Le Mans which he won last year, can help point Turner Motorsport towards a 2020 title push late in the season.
Auberlen and Robby Foley enter this weekend’s ten-hour enduro less than a week removed from their win in wet conditions at the Charlotte Roval, a victory that has vaulted them to within 18 points of the championship lead with three rounds remaining.
The pair won last year’s Motul Petit Le Mans with Dillon Machavern after a thrilling last-lap battle for the lead, which Auberlen described as “one of the highlights of my career.”
The winningest driver all-time in top-level IMSA competition suggested that the tracks remaining on this year’s schedule line up well for the Turner team to make a late push for the championship.
“My two favorite races on the schedule are Petit Le Mans and Sebring,” he said. “They’re both incredible races on our schedule.
“Earlier this year at Sebring, we finished on the podium there. We had a good car. Petit Le Mans and Sebring, in my opinion, you can sometimes will your way to the front.
“You dig in deeper than you ever have, and you grind for that tenth of a second of lap time, and you race that guy until he falls off the track or makes a mistake.
“You try to get on that podium and gain every point you can. Sometimes, miracles happen.
“When the two lead cars, the Lexus and the Acura, hit each other and go to the back [at Charlotte] you’ve got to look up sometimes and thank the guy above. He’ll help you get there. Now, we’re just a few points out of the lead.”
Auberlen still has vivid memories of last year’s Petit Le Mans GTD fight, which saw the Turner BMW emerge from a race-long tilt with the Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 and Montaplast by Land-Motorsport’s Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo on the final lap.
Auberlen said a confluence of events made that triumph stand out amongst the others in his career.
“I’ve been racing for the better part of my entire life, since I was 17, and I’ve had a lot of great races,” he recalled.
“At Petit Le Mans last year, it was my birthday, we were battling for second in the championship, and we’re battling for the lead of this race. There are so many things that were coming together all at the same time.
“We were battling [Felipe] Fraga [in the Mercedes] and the Audi behind me for hours. This was going down to the wire, and I was right behind the Mercedes at the end when he started getting real tough defending lines.
“We go into Turn 1, Turn 2, Turn 3, and all of a sudden I’m under him. I go: oh, I’m going to get it! This is the last lap of a 10-hour race, if you can imagine that.
“He goes a little wide, he was running out of gas, I slipped by, and right as I slipped by my team strategist comes on the radio and he starts screaming!
“I’m like hold on, there’s still an Audi behind me, we still have five turns to go! We have to go down the back straight, I have a poor run off of Turn 7 so the Audi gets a little run and gets closer.
“Into 10a he makes a dive and doesn’t quite make it, so now I know I’ve got it. When I crossed that finish line it was one of the most exciting moments of my career.
“For Robby, myself, and Dillon to be on the podium for Petit and to finish second in the championship because of it, it was literally one of the highlights of my career.”
Team ‘Re-Energized’ after Unexpected Charlotte Win
Turner Motorsport boss Will Turner added that while his team is currently a GTD title “long shot,” its recent Charlotte victory has re-energized the No. 96 BMW crew.
“Honestly going into Charlotte, I didn’t think we had a shot,” he explained.
“In testing, we learned that it’s a track that is unforgiving without a lot of space to pass. We really just wanted to survive.
“I never would have thought that we’d be only 18 points back after Charlotte, so the success of Charlotte has turned it around a little bit. With just three races left 18 points is a lot to make up, but we’re sniffing around.
“I think it re-energizes the team, not only to try as hard as we can, but to think about things a little bit differently.
“I think we’re a long shot, but we’re going to do what we always do and do our best and hope it shakes out well.”