“Amazing”, “tremendous”, “great” and “fantastic”.
That's how United Autosports drivers Martin Brundle, Mark Blundell, Mark Patterson and Zak Brown described the team's U.S. debut at the Rolex 24 at Daytona ending the race in fourth place – just three seconds behind the overall leader.
The car – in Brundle's hands – entered the final one lap shootout in fourth, and while a “banzai” move from Brundle around the outside of turn one, attempting to take third and/or second, only led to the ex-F1 driver running wide fourth was still a well deserved result at the end of the twice-around the clock race.
The race was far from trouble free for the team. Martin Brundle was one of many, many drivers to bring a car back with flat right-rear tyre – the team's telemetry indicating a slow leak before any damage could be done to the car. The nose of the United Autosport with Michael Shank Racing, Riley chassised car was also replaced – three times – after various incidents, including Brundle running over a large piece of debris on the track.
These delays put the car three laps off the pace, but with strategy the team were able to climb back onto the lead lap, in fifth place in the closing third of the race.
In the remaining stints Blundell and Brundle were part of a three-way battle for the lead with podium finishers Chip Ganassi Racing and Action Express Racing – the three cars following each other round the track often separated by less than a second. Brundle, taking the car to the end of the race would fall to fourth, a recovering no.01 getting past into the chicane on the way to winning the race, but though missing out on a podium the team's performance was still one of the stories of the race.
“We have two retired pros in Mark and I plus two Pro-Am drivers up against car line-ups featuring four current hot shoes,” said Brundle. “I'm kind of disappointed but that is typical me of me – I wanted that podium. My goal was a top-10 on the grid and top-five in the race and we achieved both so I think we covered ourselves with a bit of glory and maybe surprised more than a few people.”
The race also included a few personal milestones and accolades for the drivers. Mark Patterson led a race for the first time in a seven year Daytona Prototype career and Zak Brown – team co-owner with Richard Dean as well as driver – received the Jim Trueman Award for being the top placed Pro-Am driver.
“Fourth place and to be on the lead lap, fighting for a podium with a chance for us winning on our Daytona dÃ©but and our first race in the US, is fantastic,” enthused Brown. “The two Marks and Martin did a great job – I couldn't be happier. Of course it is a little disappointing not to get on the podium when we were a couple of feet away but hey, we'll take a fourth in this field.”
The team has not ruled out further Grand-Am races.