Auberlen Rules while Bennett Spins

An expected showdown at the front in the Masters Endurance Legends race here at the Rolex Monterey Motorsport Reunion at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, proved immediately an easy drive in the park for Bill Auberlen, driving the 1999 BMW V12 LMR. A spin and subsequent stall on Lap 1 ended Craig Bennett’s winning hopes.

Weather proved to be the great equalizer as thick fog and misting rain, typical of Monterey coastal, wine country weather, began to lift slightly as the cars rolled off (9:45 am PST) for pace laps — all on slick tires for the drying track. The conditions were a bit treacherous as three of the cars spun on the pace lap. Bennett, who explained, “In qualifying, I had a brake-bias problem. The car wanted to spin every time I got on the brakes. The rears were locking up.” However, on the grid for the race, he was confident the problem was solved.

Auberlen was surprised to find himself completing lap one without Bennett, who spun and stalled on Lap one, in his mirrors. “That was kind of crazy. I didn’t expect that. That Lola Judd is a Rocketship.” For Auberlen, driving the V12 BMW was quite satisfying. “This car is like being reunited with Apollo or the space shuttle. It’s so fast and so amazing to drive — just effortless.”

Despite the difficulties, Bennett still managed third, in the crowded 26-car field of prototypes and GTs, a lap down from Auberlen and runner-up, Spencer Trenery, in the Riley XI Daytona Prototype. All teams must make a mandatory two-minute stationary pit stop during the course of the race. In the second half, Bennett tried to whittle away, but to no avail.

A no-show in qualifying, due to a sensor problem Friday, gave way to a stellar back to front drive from Porsche factory star Patrick Long in the Lola B2K10. Starting 25th on the grid, Long made meticulous work, bringing the Lola to fourth position by lap four of the race. A brilliant drive! After the driver change, during the mandatory pit stop, car-owner Erich Joiner took the wheel and maintained the fourth-place finish.

Travis Engen in the 2005 Audi R8 LMP, Steven Zacchia in 2002 Ferrari 550 GT1 had a race-long scrap for fifth, carving through traffic late in the contest and running nose-to-tail for the entirety. Ultimately Engen prevailed in the entertaining dice.

Sunday’s race should be under significantly different, warm, sunny conditions, as the late afternoon start will actually mark the end of the festivities of the Rolex Monterey Reunion.

Bill Auberlen loves the Rolex Monterey Reunion, “I laid down some massive rubber (on the cool-down lap) in front of the BMW tent! I race here, but I’m a fan too. I hope the fans appreciate BMW bringing these great cars out as much as I do.”