Despite still being in their debut year of GT3 competition United Autosports are setting their sites high ahead of the 24 Hours of Spa – aiming for class podium with their pair of Audi R8 LMS GT3.
The twice-round-the-clock event marks a significant departure from everything the team have previously come up against, their prior outings in both the FIA European GT3 Championship and British GT Championship limited to hour-long sprint races.
The team will face a battle at the 63rd running of the Belgian event, with over 50 cars expected on the entry list with over half in the GT3 class that the Anglo-American team (co-founded by Zak Brown and Richard Dean) are aiming for a top three in.
Earlier this month the team ran the sixth and ninth fastest laps at the official test day for the event and their official customer relationship with Audi means the team have been able to fit out their cars with several components designed specifically to survive the longer race, from the obvious – lighting, and strengthened suspension and driveshaft – to the less obvious, with new front and rear bumpers the team describes as “24 hour race specification”.
However, if podium places were award on the star power of driving line-ups then the team would be in with a chance, as the endurance nature of the event demands a significant departure from the teams normal two-handed approach for races, Brown and Dean welcoming several new drivers behind the wheel of the red, white and blue liveried machines.
Richard Dean will return to the cockpit for the first time since the team’s opening races of the season, accompanying Brown in the no.68 car. The pair will be joined by two more drivers in the car – four man teams make up the majority of the field – with top level drivers Mark Blundell and Eddie Cheever also due to take stints in the car.
“This drive came about because of my friendship with Zak [Brown],” explained Cheever, the 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner. “I’ve raced there [Spa] almost 10 times but never at night. There is also a history of rain at Spa but that doesn’t bother me. I like driving in the rain, especially here, and I’ve always liked racing in the wet, I honestly hope that I get a wet driving ‘stint’ during the race. A perfect 24 hour race is when you do your ‘stint’, you come in, put in fuel, change driver, change tyres then do it all over again while keeping out of trouble.”
Blundell, perhaps the most experienced racer of the United octet brings proven 24 hours experience, having won at Le Mans in 1992. As far as endurance winners are concerned he will be joined in the team (albeit in the other car by Swede Stefan Johansson who counts a Le Mans win among 18 24 hour starts spread across Le Mans and Daytona.
“I just love the endurance aspect whether you win or not,” he enthuses. “Of course everybody wants to win, the goal has to be to win but when you just finish it is just such a great sense of achievement. For me it’s a case of being re-united with Audi. Working with them [Audi] has been my best experience of any manufacturer that I have worked with in racing. They are just great people, they do everything the right way while there is very much a family ambience within the whole infrastructure.”
He will be joined in the car by Frenchman Alain Li – the 50-year-old Ferrari Challenge veteran the least experienced man in the squad – and Americans Emil Assentato (who claims sharing a car with Johansson will be “a fantastic experience”) and Mark Patterson.
Patterson, one of the team’s regular drivers – Brown the only other regular to be racing for the squad at Spa – is the only man to have run in the 24 Hours of Spa before, finishing 17th last year in a GT3 spec Ferrari 430.
“I’m overwhelmed with the drivers we have onboard for United Autosports’ maiden 24 hour race. Richard [Dean] and I only formed the team over the winter and to have two former winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans plus an ex Indy 500 race winner is simply fantastic,” says Brown.
“I’ve previously raced at Spa on just one occasion, back in 1993. Our aim is to get on to the GT3 podium. The 24 hour race is about reliability, driver ability and not making mistakes on the track or in the pits. The Audi is a fantastic endurance car and we have got a great driver line-up in both cars.”