Bill Auberlen has won just about everything in the sports cars, it seems, but until Sunday, he had never won a race at Long Beach.
That has changed.
Auberlen, from Redondo Beach, made an impressive run in the latter stages of the Tequila Patrón Grand Prix of Long Beach to give victory to BMW Team RLL, otherwise known as the team owned by racing legend Bobby Rahal, television star David Letterman, and businessman Mike Lanigan.
Auberlen and teammate Maxime Martin started fifth in the GT class, and it looked like it was going to be a long day when Martin went off the course in the Turn 1 runoff just two minutes into the race. But the driver change and fuel allowed the new BMW Z4 GTE to pick off the field.
After starting 17th overall and fifth in class, Auberlen—in his 18th year driving a BMW—led the charge to the checkered flag, finishing seventh overall on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile track.
"This thing was a rocket all day," said Auberlen, who replaced Martin and took on fuel and four tires 25 minutes into the race. "We had some bad luck but it turned into good luck. I wanted to win this thing forever and never have."
The weekend is shaping up as a good one for RLL. Not only did Mike Conway, in his return to the IndyCar series—albeit for only one race—qualify in the top five on Sunday, but the team's second GT entry in the American Le Man Series Race finished close behind Auberlen and Martin; Joey Hand and Jorg Muller finished ninth overall and second in class.
The two-hour race was won by the P1 team of Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr. They completed 80 laps, one more than Prototype Challenge winner Colin Braun and Jon Bennett, who took third overall in the Chevrolet-powered ORECA FLM09
Graf did the bulk of the work in a strategic move that worked despite starting the race third. An early pit stop and driver change just 25 minutes into the race set the stage for Graf to move through the field and remain on the course when polesitter Nick Heidfeld and Neel Jani pitted their Lola.
"Unbelievable strategy, great work," Graf said. "Really tough after qualifying but Lucas drove very well in the beginning. Great strategy. A great win."
It was the 42nd win in 88 starts for Luhr, who posted the fast lap of the race, 1 minute 13.662 seconds in the Honda ARX-03a.
Scott Sharp and Guy Cosmo, driving a Honda ARX-03b with the event sponsor for a livery, won P2 and finished sixth overall.
The GT Challenge winner was Henrique Cisneros and Sean Edwards, who finished 75 laps in a Porsche 911.
Indy Lights Qualifying
Carlos Munoz won the pole position for Andretti Autosport for the Firestone Indy Lights race that precedes the IndyCar race on Sunday. Munoz clocked a track record 1 minute 12.9374 seconds and 97.135 mph. Starting outside on the front row is Englishman Jack Hawksworth for Schmidt/Peterson with Curb-Agajanian.
It's the third consecutive pole for the Colombian driver.
Munoz and Hawksworth have each won a race.
Zach Veach of Stockdale Ohio will start third, and the only other American in the lineup, Sage Karam of Nazareth, Pa., will start last in the 10-car field.
SoCal rooting interests
For those looking to get behind the locals in the IndyCar Series, here's a guide to help you choose your rooting interest:
- Charlie Kimball (Car No. 83), who was extremely racy and finished an impressive fourth in the last race, is a diabetic sponsored by a company that deals in diabetic products. It's a match made in marketing heaven. He is from Camarillo.
- Former driver Bryan Herta of Valencia is the team owner of Bryan Herta Autosport, which fields the Barracuda Racing entry of Alex Tagliani (Car No. 98) who is starting 22nd.
- L.A.-based Jay Penske owns Dragon Racing, which fields Sebastien Bourdais (No. 7) and Sebastian Saavedra (No. 6). Bourdais won Long Beach three times while driving for Newman-Haas Racing in the Champ Car World Series; he starts 15th. Saavedra starts 21st.
- Oriol Servia (No. 22) began his big league open wheel career driving for Cal Wells' Precision Preparation Inc., team based out of Rancho Santa Margarita in 2000. One of the few drivers who doesn't live in the Eastern time zone, he lives on the Westside. He is starts 22nd.
- Although not from Southern California but carrying the state flag nevertheless, J.R. Hildebrand (No. 4) is from Sausalito. He starts 12th.
- Another Northern California driver is A.J. Allmendinger (No. 2) of Los Gatos; he starts 14th and is trying to improve on his best finish of eighth back when he raced in Champ Car from 2004-06.