Autoblog: Motorsports fans are eagerly anticipating the 2009 ALMS season where Ferrari, Porsche, Panoz, Ford, Dodge, Chevrolet and now BMW will be competing for the GT2 title. BMW Motorsport unveiled the new M3 racing program back in February of this year and have been developing the car in Europe since then. They recently handed off the car to Rahal Letterman Racing who tested the car this past week at Road Atlanta and are currently running laps at Sebring International Raceway. BMW also announced the first two drivers for the program, Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand, both of whom have extensive experience driving previous versions of the M3. Auberlen first drove for BMW in 1996 and won titles in 1997 and 2004. The M3 will make its 2009 racing debut at the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 21.
BMW of North America, LLC and Rahal Letterman Racing have named Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand as the first two drivers of the new M3s for BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team in the 2009 American Le Mans Series. In choosing Auberlen and Hand, BMW of North America has picked two of the most successful BMW drivers in the world and two of the most familiar names to M3 racing fans here in North America.
Auberlen, 40, of Redondo Beach, CA first drove for BMW of North America in 1996 when he joined the previous M3 racing program, then in its second year of competition. Auberlen would go on to become the team’s most successful driver, winning driver titles in both 1997 and 2004. When he takes the green flag at Sebring International Raceway for the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 21, Auberlen will have the distinction of having raced every generation of BMW M3 campaigned by BMW of North America.
Hand, 29, of Sacramento, CA joined the previous M3 racing program in 2004 and raced through the 2006 season. Coming from a background in open wheel racing, Hand quickly adapted to the M3 and endurance racing. He drove to five wins and 17 podium finishes for BMW of North America in three seasons, many of those races partnered with Auberlen.
“BMW of North America is very pleased to have Bill and Joey on the team,” said Martin Birkmann, BMW of North America Motorsport Manager. “Their experience with setup, GT racing and their raw speed will support the competitiveness of BMW’s GT2 campaign in the ALMS. I have known both of them for many years, and besides being fast, they’re both a lot of fun to work with. I am looking forward to seeing them pedal our newest BMW M3 racer.”
“My emotions are really high. I feel like I am going back home to my family. To be a part of racing at the level that BMW brings is a dream for any driver,” said Bill Auberlen. “I am really looking forward to being teamed up again with Joey. It’ll be exciting to be on a team headed by a legend and racing icon like Bobby Rahal. I am really looking forward to 2009.”
“I’m very excited to be back in the BMW family and to be driving a BMW M3 again. I built quite a fan base within the BMW community and I can’t wait to put on a show for them again,” added Joey Hand. “I am looking forward to working with a top-notch team such as Rahal Letterman Racing. Bobby helped me earlier in my career so we have a good relationship. I can’t wait to get started!”
Since the program’s announcement in February 2008, the ALMS BMW M3 has been developed and tested by BMW Motorsport in Europe. This month begins the official handoff to BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team with two more tests in the United States.
“If you are going to start a new BMW team in the United States, it is nearly impossible to find a pair of drivers with more success or more experience with BMWs than Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand,” said Rahal Letterman Racing’s Bobby Rahal. “Bill is one of the most successful American sedan drivers of the decade and Joey has more than displayed his ability to run right with him, so we expect this driver pairing to be a strong one for the BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team.”
Four test days are scheduled for November 19-20 at Road Atlanta in Braselton, GA, and Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, FL on Nov. 24-25. The tests will see BMW Motorsport drivers Jorg Muller, Andy Priaulx and Augusto Farfus behind the wheel of the test car.
Birkmann continues, “Key BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team personnel have been involved in the European testing, but now the two November tests will see them take a larger role. BMW of North America is confident that when our complete team and new M3s arrive at the track early next year we will have built a solid foundation for success.”