BMW North America has announced that Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand are the first two drivers signed up to compete for the BMW Rahal Letterman Racing team in the 2009 American Le Mans Series.

The pair will join the team as two of the more experienced BMW racer in the United States having previously raced the older-generation M3 in the series in recent years.

"BMW of North America is very pleased to have Bill and Joey on the team," Martin Birkmann, BMW of North America Motorsport Manager, said. "Their experience with setup, GT racing and their raw speed will support the competitiveness of BMW's GT2 campaign in the American Le Mans Series 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."

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Auberlen first drove for BMW of North America in 1996 when he joined the previous M3 racing programme, then in its second year of competition. He went on to be the team's most successful driver, winning championships in both 1997 and 2004.

He also has driven for BMW at both the prototype and GT level in the American Le Mans Series. He scored his first Series victory in 2001 in a BMW M3 GTR at Petit Le Mans with Hans Stuck and Boris Said. Additionally, Auberlen will have the distinction of having raced every generation of BMW M3 campaigned by BMW of North America.

"My emotions are really high," he said. "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. 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."

Hand joined the previous M3 racing programme in 2004 and raced through the 2006 season. He drove to five wins and 13 podium finishes for BMW of North America in three seasons, many of those races partnered with Auberlen.

"I'm very excited to be back in the BMW family and to be driving a BMW M3 again," he said. "I built quite a fan base within the BMW community and I can't wait to put on a show for them again. 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 programme's announcement in February, the racing version of the 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 US at Road Atlanta and Sebring. The tests will see BMW Motorsport drivers J?rg Muller, Andy Priaulx and Augusto Farfus behind the wheel of the test car.

The two-car race entry is then set to debut at the 57th Mobil1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March.

"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," Rahal Letterman Racing's Bobby Rahal said. "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."