Bill Auberlen earned his fifth 2011 American Le Mans Series GT podium on Saturday, after a strong leading performance in the 1000-mile, 9.5-hour Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga. Auberlen (Redondo Beach, Calif.), Augusto Farfus (Curitiba, Brazil) and Dirk Werner (Nürtingen, Germany) combined for the third-place finish in the No. 55 BMW Team RLL BMW M3 GT. The trio's finish helped strengthen BMW's lock on the American Le Mans Series 2011 GT manufacturer championship and BMW Team RLL's GT team championship. The team also clinched the class driver championship, and Auberlen and Werner finished third in season points.
Werner drove the first double stint of the Petit Le Mans, starting from second on the 19-car GT grid. He took the class lead on the first lap and held it through his opening stint. Auberlen drove next, leading the class through his double stint. A tire puncture forced an early pitstop and Farfus took the wheel, returning to the track eighth in class. The three drivers then rotated through again, charging back to regain six positions to second place. When a late caution period bunched the field for a three-lap dash to the finish, Werner couldn't hold off a hard-charging Porsche, so relinquished the runner-up position on the last lap.
"This race is so tough," Auberlen said. "For nine straight hours, it is a crazy tooth-and-nail battle. You see the top guys are all still battling for the lead, nine hours later. That gives you an idea of the American Le Mans Series as a whole – it's the most competitive series I've ever been in.
"In the beginning, it was going so our way! We had such a good car – it was so fast, we could run away. Werner gave me the car in the lead and I led two stints. Then the temperature started to drop and the car started to change. It became very pointy, very loose [oversteering]. So we went on different tires and the car came back up to speed again."
Auberlen is proud of the team's triple championship. And he's already setting goals for 2012.
"It was an amazing year," he said. "We won the manufacturer's championship, we won the team championship, our team won the driver's championship, Dirk and I finished third in the championship. We had a lot of podiums – BMW was on the podium every single race this year. It was a great year, but next year I'd like to line up and try to win the driver championship, set our sights a little higher ..."
Bill Auberlen has driven BMW cars in more races than any other driver in the world. He has won six professional auto-racing championships, four with BMW power. He has competed in 442 professional races to date, 286 in BMWs. His results include 83 race victories, 173 podium finishes, 55 pole positions, 75 fastest race laps and 105 records.