DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — It isn’t like he planned it, but Bill Auberlen couldn’t have come up with a more dramatic way to launch his way atop the IMSA record book.
Auberlen scored career victory No. 60 Saturday night to tie Scott Pruett for the most in IMSA history. Driving the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 for the final stint of the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, Auberlen was running second in GT Daytona and hounding class leader Felipe Fraga in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes-AMG GT3.
Precious time was ticking away in the final minutes of the 10-hour endurance race to close the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, but Auberlen couldn’t get past Fraga. Suddenly, on the final lap, the No. 33 went off course as it ran out of fuel. Auberlen roared past and into the lead.
Shortly after, the charismatic Californian who was celebrating his 51st birthday took the checkered flag to move into the tie for most career wins. And the man who got there first couldn’t be any happier.
“Records are meant to be broken and that’s what everybody strives for,” said Pruett, who retired last year after 50 years in racing dating to his karting days. “That’s what I strived for, that’s what he’s striving for, and the guys below him. It’s exciting. When you can be in rare air like we are, with that many wins … it’s exciting.
“I wish him all the best,” Pruett added, “because he’s going to set the mark even higher for the next guy to go after.”
Auberlen’s illustrious IMSA career began in 1987. Along the way, he has captured championships in GTS-3, World Challenge TC and GT classes, along with a pair of wins in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. His victory Saturday marked his fourth in the Motul Petit Le Mans.
“I’ve won this race four times now and it only gets better and better,” he said. “This is (track founder) Don Panoz’s legacy here. To see where it’s gone to and how the fans love this place, it’s unbelievable.
“To do it on your birthday when you’re 51 … you keep fighting as hard as you can and if you can still do it, it’s great fun. I’m so glad BMW still sees I can get it done. And to tie 60 wins with Scott Pruett, it just shows how great of a career BMW has allowed me to have, winning in these BMWs day in and day out. Now to be tied with the most wins in America, basically.”
He’s far from finished, but Auberlen took a minute after the win with co-drivers Robby Foley and Dillon Machavern to reflect on the legacy that he’s already built.
“When you look back and you get to see how many unique wins there have been, and when I look at my trophy case and I get to add this to it, and I look back, all it is a bunch of great memories that I’ll never forget like when I team up with these guys and all the fun we have. And all the joy it brings from the camaraderie.
“Every single weekend you go to battle with a group of guys who would die for you and you would die for them, basically. You come with everything you have, and to get to do that with BMW for 23 years now, its’ been a great road that I wouldn’t trade for anything.”