After racing in the two longest events on the calendar at Daytona and Sebring, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has something entirely different coming up next weekend, with the 100-minute sprint race on the streets of Long Beach, California. The Long Beach race is notoriously difficult and hard on cars, but if anyone knows how to win there it’s Bill Auberlen. He won there in 2013 and 2015 and will be looking for another win in the GTD class next weekend, when he’ll drive the Turner Motorsport M4 GT3 with Chandler Hull. IMSA recently hosted a media call that Bill participated in and he provided some great insight into the upcoming race.
IMSA: Long Beach is a big event for you as your home race. What do you expect next week when you get there?
Bill Auberlen: Long Beach is my favorite race. I’ve won there a few times and finished second a few times. When you win there, it’s an amazing experience. The fans are insane, and the parties are incredible. When you win there it’s special. Last year It was a highlight of my career when I got a medallion on the Walk of Fame right there in Long Beach. To get back to the race, it’s 100 minutes of threading the needle through the walls. It’s a lot of work and you’re basically grazing the walls with your car, but when you get it right there’s nothing better.
IMSA: This is your first race back in the GTD class, after competing in the GTD PRO class at both Daytona and Sebring. Does that change your approach at all?
BA: I have a teammate (Chandler Hull) that is kind of new and has never been to a street race before. It’s a challenge for me setting up the car with him getting enough track time to try to learn it. He has a big task ahead of him and it’s not going to be easy. If we can get Chandler up to speed, we may have some success there.
IMSA: Can you talk about the challenges of trying to run a clean race on that street circuit while also trying to be aggressive and get to the front, since it’s such a short race?
BA: Qualifying is a big thing at Long Beach. You have to be toward the front or you’re going to have a very long day ahead of you. Some of it depends on how good your car is. If you have a very precise, good car and you hit your pit stops right and get your tires right, then it’s a bit of an easier job to defend. I’ve had that happen twice with the E92 M3 and the Z4 GT3, which were both sharp, crisp cars. The M4 GT3 is a bit more difficult with the turbos and how it feels with the rear tires. When you get tire degradation, it’s a bit more of a handful and a challenge when other cars may be behind you that have better grip off the corners. You’re driving forward as fast as you can while looking behind you, and you try to place your car in a spot where they can’t get by, but they also won’t bump you and turn you around. It’s a balancing act.
IMSA: Does preparing the car for the bumps at Sebring help you to set up the car for the bumps on the street circuit at Long Beach?
BA: I would say maybe not, because we tend to go with a much softer setup for a street course that you couldn’t run with at Sebring because you’d be bottoming out on the ground. For Long Beach, you need something that is very sharp on the nose on the way in (to corners), with differential settings to rotate the car, and a different spring platform at the rear to get off corners.
IMSA: With where the M4 GT3 is at in its development cycle, do you think it stacks up well to its predecessors?
BA: Just a few months ago, I drove all our vintage cars at something called Targa 66 at Homestead. Some of the historical cars are still incredible. The E92 M3 was amazing, right? If you brought that car back today it would be just about as quick as anything, if you added a little downforce. We’re still learning the M4 GT3 in bits and pieces. You have some challenges when taking a car with a long wheelbase like the M4 GT3 on a street course like Long Beach. It’s at the high-speed tracks like Watkins Glen, VIR and Road America where the longer wheelbase cars shine.
IMSA: Have you noticed any difference with the new hybrid GTP cars with the way they race around you or approach you, compared to the DPi prototypes in previous seasons?
BA: They (GTP cars) are so slow in the corners. I was very surprised. The old cars (DPi) used to corner like they were on rails, and would go around you in the middle of corners and put you in a bad position. Now they (GTP cars) never pass you in corners because they have their hands full as it is. When they’re on a second stint with the tires, they’re slower than us in the corners and hold us up. They go blasting by you on the straights where you want them to pass, but once you get past the brake zone they tuck in behind you and wait until the next straight to blast by you again. It makes them a lot easier to interact with (than previous DPi prototypes).
IMSA: What has it been like racing against Robby Foley this year, where in previous years you were always racing with him?
BA: He knows all my tricks and I know all of his, so it’s a stalemate. What a great kid to put everything I know into. He’s such a good guy and I just hope he has a long and fantastic career.
IMSA: How do you feel about the BoP (balance of performance) on the M4 GT3 going into Long Beach?
BA: Everybody has been talking about BoP and how the prototypes have been pretty close, but the GTD/GTD PRO cars have been pretty far apart. We were 2.5 seconds off in Daytona, just like the Porsche, then we were a second off at Sebring. They gave us some help going into Long Beach with 44 pounds off, but the problem is we have no ballast in the car so we can’t even take one pound out, so I’m not sure how that helps us. All you want to do is be in a position to compete and so far this year we’ve kind of struggled. Even though you saw a BMW one-two [finish] in GTD at Sebring, that was because we did a Hail Mary on a pit stop and ran the cars until the end. It would be nice to be in a position to battle for the win.
Qualifying for the Long Beach race takes place at 8:10 p.m. ET on Friday April 14th, followed by the race on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. Find out more info on the IMSA website. —David Haueter
[Photos by LAT Images]