21 years after his appearance in the Rolex 24 at Daytona Martin Brundle put the United Autosports with Michael Shank Racing Ford-Riley ninth fastest in the lone 15 minute qualifying session for the endurance classic.
The result came after the team – Brundle joined by fellow Brit and ex-F1 driver Mark Blundell and Americans Zak Brown and Mark Patterson – had spent the two practice sessions fine tuning their Daytona Prototype.
“The race build-up has been good with the team completely gelling. We've been out in daylight and for night practice,” said Patterson. “All four drivers are comfortable and relaxed in all conditions. We've got ourselves a very stable and 'drivable' car and I'm very optimistic we can achieve a good result come Sunday afternoon.”
Brundle – who won the race in 1988 – took responsibility for qualifying, putting the car – with sponsors including Johnnie Walker and Legends of Motorsport – inside the top ten, accomplishing one of his pre-race aims.
“I was pleased and very satisfied with my qualifying performance,” he said. “We'd targeted a top ten place and I was P9, less than seven-tenths of a second off pole. The top ten is very close and there is more time to come from the car and myself. The guys ahead of me are all regularly competing – either in Grand-Am, other sportscar categories or INDYCAR so I have to be happy. I'm still a little rusty and that was my first ever qualifying run in a DP. I'm very excited about the race. Our car is working very well in race trim and is especially good under braking – we're right on the pace. We've set the car up as a 'raceable' car.”
The team have fitted a new engine – and other components – to the car ahead of what promises to be a demanding race, United Autosports Co-owner expecting a “24 hour sprint race”.
“We just need to do our job and keep the car in one piece,” he continues. “We have a stellar driver line-up but that applies to the entire field. The weather forecast looks good but the track action will definitely be hot. I'm very excited about United Autosports contesting its first 'home' race in the States having last year raced throughout Europe and in Asia in our maiden season.”
“I'm very happy with the way the United Autosports association has worked out,” said Michael Shank, owner of the eponymous race team and veteran of Grand-Am and Rolex 24 campaigns. “It's a great example the way a partnership can work. The field is very, very tight, but the No.23 Riley-Ford has been on the pace and improved its times throughout while Martin qualified superbly.”
The 49th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona begins at 3:30pm local time Saturday January 29.