New-look BMW looks to keep rolling at Long Beach

April 11, 2018

New-look BMW looks to keep rolling at Long Beach

April 11, 2018

Daytona marked a tough debut for the new BMW M8 GTE, but Sebring provided a welcome bounce back weekend.

At Sebring, Connor De Phillippi took the class pole and Jesse Krohn set the fastest race lap. So in just their second race, BMW Team RLL’s two newest factory drivers delivered in the star-studded IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans class.

BMW finished second with De Phillippi, Alexander Sims and Bill Auberlen sharing the No. 25 BMW at Sebring.

Meanwhile De Phillippi and Krohn also enter this week on the high off a win in the second VLN race of the year, at the Nurburgring in Germany in a ROWE Racing BMW M6 GT3. This marks De Phillippi’s first win as a new BMW factory driver.

Now, for the pair of BMW Team RLL entries, the opportunity to go one position better than Sebring beckons on the streets of Long Beach (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, FOX). It’s a track where the team has done well with its previous generation cars.

BMW has three Long Beach wins, most recently in 2015 with Auberlen and Dirk Werner in a BMW Z4 GTE. Auberlen and Maxime Martin won in 2013, marking the first win for the Z4, while Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand won in the BMW M3 in 2011, to lead to their eventual GT class championship.

The new-look BMW outfit enters this Long Beach without Auberlen (right, with Michelin trackside engineer Robbie Holley) in one of its full-time cars, in what will take some time to digest. Considering he’s driven more than 400 races with BMW, it will be weird to see the Redondo Beach, Calif. native in pure BMW ambassador mode this weekend.

De Phillippi and Sims will share the No. 25 car, with De Phillippi now able to fulfill a lifetime goal of racing on the streets of Long Beach for the first time. The 25-year-old grew up and lived in San Clemente, Calif. until earlier this year. Sims finished fourth in his Long Beach debut last year, co-driving with Auberlen.

Krohn also makes his Long Beach debut this year, and shares the No. 24 BMW with John Edwards. Edwards now takes up the mantle as BMW’s most experienced GTLM driver. The 27-year-old has a best Long Beach finish of second in 2014, co-driving with Mueller (left).

He also raced on the streets as a 16-year-old in the Formula Atlantic series in 2007, finishing fourth.

For BMW Team RLL team principal Bobby Rahal, Long Beach is always a busy weekend. Rahal hosts the annual Road Racing Drivers Club dinner on Thursday night, which this year honors Johnny Rutherford. And Rahal’s two-car IndyCar team is also racing, with drivers Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato.

“We have had good fortune at Long Beach over the years,” Rahal said. “We have won three times and had a number of podiums. In fact, we have had at least one car of the two on the podium every year since 2009 except the past two years and we were a contender in those so overall we have a pretty good track record in Long Beach.

“The BMW M8 GTE certainly seems to have the performance needed to be able to do it again. It’s just a matter of qualifying well and getting through traffic, both of which are key in Long Beach. I have to feel pretty optimistic about our chances.”

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