Turner BMW Shines Bright Under ROVAL Lights En Route to GTD Win
It didn’t look easy to start with, but for the second half of Saturday night’s MOTUL 100% Synthetic Grand Prix on a rainy Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 and driver Bill Auberlen were in control of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) race.
Auberlen’s co-driver, Robby Foley, started the race from second on the class grid, but the No. 96 fell victim to the treacherous conditions on the opening lap, when Foley tangled on the frontstretch chicane with the spinning GT Le Mans (GTLM)-class BMW driven by Bruno Spengler. It dropped Foley to second-to-last in the running order, but the No. 96 was plenty fast and he began carving his way forward throughout his stint before turning the car over to Auberlen just over 30 minutes into the 100-minute race.
"I think at the beginning it was sort of about keeping it out of the wall, which was easier said than done at the time," Foley said. "When we started, it was raining really, really hard. There was a lot of standing water, which our cars don’t love so much because when the water gets sort of packed up, the car hydroplanes and you sort of lose control.
"So, I came through NASCAR Turn 4 (of the Charlotte oval), a couple cars did it before me, I managed to hit a puddle and just lost control immediately. Basically, the start was just about trying to sort of maintain pace and not making any mistakes, which I ultimately did. After that I sort of just settled in, tried to pick off one or two cars when I could."
By the time the pit-stop sequence was completed, Auberlen was up to third in the GTD class and closing fast. He made his way around Patrick Long’s No. 16 Porsche and into second place with an hour remaining in the race. With just over 45 minutes left, Auberlen sped past Mario Farnbacher’s No. 86 Acura on an oval portion of the ROVAL to take the lead.
Once he took over the top spot, Auberlen checked out, building an advantage of nearly 20 seconds. But it’s never easy in rainy conditions, and the race’s third and final full-course caution period when Tommy Milner’s No. 4 GTLM Corvette crashed on the frontstretch eliminated Auberlen’s lead.
"It was pretty much a flawless race until the very end, a yellow comes out," Auberlen said. "And I just couldn’t believe it. It’s like your heart falls. We knew we had a good car, and I knew the guy behind me was Pat Long. I’ve raced against him for many years. And he is not afraid to put a tire on your car to get to the front. I’ve had him do it many times. I was hoping he was going to be fairly nice."
The race was restarted with six minutes to go. Long made one attempt in Turn 1 just after the green flag flew, but Auberlen kept him at bay and crossed the finish line 1.497 seconds ahead. It was the second WeatherTech Championship win of the season for Auberlen and Foley – the duo also won August’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIR – and was Auberlen’s 62nd IMSA win, adding to his all-time record total.
"That BMW was running like a missile the whole race," Auberlen said. "It loves that drying condition so as it’s drying a little bit, it just puts the power down so well and makes the grip. And it does everything really right."
Long and co-driver Ryan Hardwick finished a season-best second in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R. It was their third consecutive podium finish after back-to-back third-place outings.
The performance also moved Hardwick and Long into a tie for second in the WeatherTech Championship GTD standings with Aaron Telitz – and just four points behind the leading No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura duo of Farnbacher and Matt McMurry (200-196).
Ian James – who along with Auberlen were the only drivers to compete in IMSA’s last Charlotte Motor Speedway appearance back in 2000 – combined with WeatherTech Championship rookie Roman De Angelis to score a season-best third-place result in the No. 23 Heart Of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
Telitz – who started the race from the pole position in the No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 – and co-driver Jack Hawksworth lost a potential top-five result on the final restart. Hawksworth was called for incident responsibility with Farnbacher, who spun following contact in the frontstretch chicane coming to the final green flag. The No. 86 wound up seventh in class, one spot ahead of the No. 14.
It’s a quick turnaround for the WeatherTech Championship GT machines as they head directly to Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta for next Saturday’s 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans. Live NBCSN television coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET.