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Endurance and excellence

SEBRING INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY - A teenager at the 1985 12 Hours of Sebring, Bill Auberlen built the engine for the car his father, drove to victory.

He was only 16.

Ten years later, the younger Auberlen won the historic race in the Grand Touring 2 Class while driving a Porsche 911. Hired by BMW in 1996, Auberlen was back in the winner's circle in 1997 and 1998, capturing the GT-3 Class in a BMW M3.

"It was a super proud moment to watch my dad win it in 1985," Auberlen said. "And to come back and win it 10 years later in Sebring. It was amazing."

But Auberlen's success in Sebring isn't limited to the 12 Hours. He's also won the support series races five times.

"This is my favorite track in the world," he said. "I've been fortunate to have had a lot of success here. And that's one thing drivers who have never been here before don't understand, this is an event."

Like most drivers who traverse the bone-shaking course, Auberlen said the physicality of the track is what makes it special.

"I've raced in many endurance races, and the 12 Hours is the toughest one by far. It's even more challenging than some of the 24-hour endurance races."

Auberlen's career it seems, has been one tailor-made for endurance races.

Tuesday morning he was up at 5 a.m. to get ready for testing in the support series practice sessions. Today he'll be out driving in the BMW M3.

"The racing part is usually the easiest," Auberlen said, jokingly. "With all the meetings and transcripts and reports that need to be filled out, that's the busy part. But I'm fortunate to have a lot of people on my teams that are great to work with and are really flexible making the schedules work."

Auberlen, now 45, hasn't let a busy schedule or Father Time catch up to him.

"That's what people don't understand about Bill," said BMW Press Officer Bill Cobb. "He's just as fast now at 45 as he was at 25. And what's really special about him is his mind. He's one of the best engineering minds I know. That's held up just as well as his body."

Endurance races usually require a handful of drivers. The grind of the 12 Hours usually needs three or four bodies just to finish.

But not Auberlen.

In 1998, it was just him and Boris Said who crossed the finish line. Auberlen returns this year with two other drivers, Normandy's Andy Priaulx and fellow California native Joey Hand.

"Having only two drivers definitely makes it harder on your body," Auberlen said. "And it's not like Sebring makes that any easier. But that's what I love about it. It's a living track. It's the one place in the world where you can literally feel the history. It's so abusive to the cars and the drivers, but that's what it's all about. It takes a lot of stamina and I love it."

Driving the No. 55 car in the GT Le Mans class in Saturday's Mobil 1 62nd 12 Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida, Auberlen says he has high hopes for this year's race.

"I look forward to this race every year," Auberlen said. "We came here last year in new cars, which had only gotten 10 days before the race. Now we're coming in cars that are very reliable, with a dream lineup and a crew that's the best in the business. I think one of our two cars are gonna' win it."

"And I can't wait to get started."