The curtain goes up on the second round of the American Le Mans Series season this weekend at the Toyota GP of Long Beach, and BMW Team RLL is hopeful of taking another step in the development of its new Z4 GTE at the Southern California street circuit.
The new cars had a promising first race at the season-opening 12 Hours of Sebring in March. Running competitive lap times at the sharp end of the GT field for the first two-thirds of the race, the team ultimately finished fourth and seventh after mechanical problems hindered any chance at challenging for the podium. With some five weeks to integrate the findings from Sebring, the Bobby Rahal-led team is confident the new cars are ready for Long Beach – a race the team has always finished with at least one car on the podium.
“We have had very competitive cars here over the last four years; we have been on the podium every year and won in 2011,” said Rahal. “While I think we are at a top-speed disadvantage currently with the Z4, the car has very good handling and on a street circuit that's probably the most critical part. I suspect we can be competitive again this year even though the car is new. Certainly we are optimistic although, as we saw at Sebring, the competition is extremely tight and there are more players now that actually have a chance of winning the race.”
The temporary street circuit packs 11 turns in only 1.968 miles and includes Shoreline Drive, the city's signature road that runs along the harbor. Despite being the shortest race of the season – at two hours – the Long Beach event challenges the teams on every level – including the schedule. Because the weekend includes IndyCar, track time is limited to an early morning two-hour practice and a 15-minute qualifying session at 5:15 p.m. local time on Friday, April 19. No other track time is available before Saturday's 4:30 p.m. start.
For Bill Auberlen, the race is an especially exciting prospect. “Long Beach is an amazing jewel on the ALMS calendar," he said. "I have never won my home race and enough is enough. I have been all over the podium, but a victory has been very hard to come by. I've driven more than a few BMWs in my career and I know the new BMW Z4 GTE has all the right moves to reach that top step.”
On Thursday evening, BMW of North America, LLC, will co-sponsor the Road Racing Drivers Club Evening with Brian Redman presented by Firestone at the RRDC's fifth annual West Coast banquet. Redman raced for BMW in 1975 and '76, winning the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1975 (with co-drivers Hans Stuck, Sam Posey and Allan Moffat) in a BMW 3.0 CSL on the first year of BMW's official foray into American sports car racing. He also won the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1976 (with Peter Gregg and John Fitzpatrick) also in the BMW 3.0 CSL.
"The BMW CSLs were fabulous machines, and the Sebring and Daytona wins remain the highlights of my career," said Redman, who actually drove eight of the 12 hours to the '75 Sebring victory.