Only a late clutch problem stopped United Autosports from taking an almost certain win in the 1000km of Zhuhai, where GT3 spec machinery was entered in the GTC class.
The Anglo-American team, which has contested a full season the GT3 European Championship, entered two Audi R8 LMS, the French pair of Alain Li and Henri Richard sharing one car with Danny Watts, Richard Meins and Frank Yu.
The trio, in the no.96 car, had battled for the lead most of the race started from second.
It was Watts, having taken the car over from Yu in the lead, who had a two lap cushion on the next car in class when trouble struck. The Briton, who won the LMP2 class at this year's Le Mans 24 Hours, came to a grinding halt at turn twelve of the 4.3km circuit with only 26 laps of the race distance remaining.
“I was in full control of the race with almost a full two lap advantage when suddenly the Audi lost drive,” described Watts. “I wasn't pushing and was just looking after the car because at my last pit-stop, the clutch was slipping. Nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of driving the Audi in the GTC category. It's totally different to what I have been used to all year and I felt I adapted quickly. It's a predictable car to drive.”
The late problem saw the KK Performance Audi R8 LMS take class honours and Richard take the final step on the podium after a 33 minute stop to have a wheel bearing replaced earlier in the race had slowed his and Li's progress, ending the race 21 laps down on the 192 completed by the class winners.
“It was a shame that we had the bearing issue but that's racing,” said Richard. “The team nor the drivers gave up, we had great pace and pushed to the end. I was very impressed with United Autosports, especially considering it's the team's first year and they've gelled incredibly quickly in to a great outfit.”
“The repairs to the no.97 cost 33 minutes but then the car ran faultlessly to the end with both Henri and Alain setting exceptionally good times,” said team MD and co-owner Richard Dean. “Our #96 car which was driven beautifully by Danny, Frank and Richard, led for so long then lost all drive. We believe its clutch failure but we're not sure until we carry out a full investigation.”
The team now look ahead to Macau on November 19-21, where United Autosports will make both their (and the Audi R8 LMS') debut at the prestigious annual event on the famous street course.