Rahal and BMW hit the beach
Rahal and BMW hit the beach
The streets of Long Beach and the road to victory lane here and at Indianapolis are familiar territory to Bobby Rahal, team principal at BMW Team RLL.
“My first race here was in 1977,” said Rahal, an IMSA champion team owner and three time IndyCar driver champion. “My dad and I came to the U.S. Grand Prix. Long Beach is always a great event. In Indy Cars, outside of the Indianapolis 500, this is the one everyone wanted to win.”
Now heading a Pennsylvania group of nine new car dealerships, Rahal is building upon the success, experience, and focused team approach that have always been keys to his racing achievements. He will be pulling double-duty this weekend, leading the factory BMW Team RLL’s BMW M6 GTLM entries and his IndyCar team.
“I like the combined doubleheader, having different cars here is a lot of fun,” said Rahal. “It’s great for spectators. Great for BMW. We get a big crowd and we feed off each other.”
Ironically, for all his success as an Indy 500 winning driver and team owner, Rahal has never won an IndyCar race here.
“We were in position to win it once, but I broke a gearbox with eight laps to go” said Rahal, wistfully. “I think I finished second three times (actually four), and (son) Graham has also finished second.”
Thankfully, the BMW Team RLL in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has fared considerably better with three GT victories.
The Recipe for Success at Long Beach
Bill Auberlen, the senior BMW factory driver, has done something that Rahal never did; win at Long Beach. Auberlen, the unofficial “mayor” of nearby Redondo Beach has done it twice in the past three years, winning in 2013 with Maxime Martin, and last year with current co-driver Dirk Werner.
“We’ve been fast. Our cars have been fast, but that isn’t what wins Long Beach,” said Auberlen.
“The guys on the BMW pit stand have been so fast in making the calls, or countering strategies, that they have helped us win here both times.”
“They (BMW Team RLL strategists) do things like have us pit twice for fuel on a long yellow, or pit way early to be out of sequence,” said Auberlen. “Race strategy is one of the strengths of the team. We are always in the fight at the front, even if we are not as quick. It’s the leadership of the team, plus BMW.”
Putting the Pieces together
“The team is very professional. It is what a driver dreams about,” said Auberlen.
“People talk about the driver pairing and combinations, but that is all done by Bobby, the team, and BMW before we ever start,” said Auberlen.
“They go over plans and review drivers and engineers and personalities. Combinations are no longer a deal where you just throw guys in together. They research it.”
That level of detail is critical in the fiercely competitive IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTLM class where factory linked squads from BMW, Corvette, Ferrari, Ford and Porsche do battle.
“I love our new BMW M6 GTLM,” said Auberlen.
“It’s different. It’s bigger and more powerful with the twin turbos. It handles differently, and Michelin has something new this year with tires that are a little different, but it makes a great combination.”
“We qualified 1-2 in just our second race (Sebring),” said Auberlen.
“We are making small tweaks not big ones, and that is a great sign with a new car.”
A second place finish at Sebring together with a fifth in the season opener at Daytona has Auberlen and Werner and the No. 25 BMW currently third in the WeatherTech GTLM standings and poised for success here at Long Beach.
“This is Bill’s hometown race and I know that he would love to have another big hometown victory party,” said Rahal, who also has BMW factory aces John Edwards and former Long Beach overall winner Lucas Luhr in the No.100 BMW sister car.
Calling the Shots
For Auberlen, having Rahal on the pit stand is one of the team’s advantages.
“Most teams have a team manager or engineer who has never driven, but we have Bobby, who is a champion driver,” said Auberlen.
“When you have a team owner who understands where your head is at, he knows what’s going on in the car,” said Auberlen. “He says the right thing to get you focused and to get the most out of everyone.”
And that is the real road to success.