Already mentioning title aspirations Matt Bell and Michael Guasch began United Autosports' second season with a double podium in the Avon Tyres British GT Championship at Oulton Park.
Bell and Gausch are part of the Anglo-American teams' first full season assault on the British Championship, fielding two Audi R8 LMS in the GT3 class of the championship.
The pair's no.23 car started from the top five for both races and with Guasch starting the first race was involved in a fight with the Jones brothers' Mercedes SLS for third place. After being frustrated by defensive driving for much of the first half of the race Gausch completed the pass, taking advantage of a mistake to dive up the inside at the Knickerbrook chicane shortly before pulling the car in to hand over to Bell in the mandatory pitstop.
Emerging from the pits not only infront of the Mercedes, but in second after pitstop problems for the early leader, Bell tried to make a challenge on the lead, held by Richard Westbrook in the Trackspeed Porsche, but though the Porsche tyres degraded faster than expected under Westbrook, allowing Bell to draw nearer, was unable to get close enough to do anything other than follow the Porsche across the line at the end of the 60 minute race.
“I got my head down and pulled away,” said Bell, “quickly reducing the gap to the lead Porsche. My tires were good in the second half of the race and perhaps with a few more laps, may have seen me challenging for the lead.”
Bell's opening stint in the second races was hampered by a pair of early safety cars, the second of which brought nearly the entire field into pit when the pit window opened. Opting to stay out of a lap compared to the bulk of the field left Guasch in 20th despite staying out of a tightly packed pitlane. The American, who would claim the Sunoco Driver of the Weekend award, battled back up to an astonishing third to put the pair tied for third in the points standing after the first weekend.
The sister R8 LMS, suffered a less illustrious weekend. With both drivers – John Bintcliffe and Jay Palmer returning to racing after considerable time away – the Oulton weekend was always going to be a tough return to the track.
The pair's race one came to a premature end when Bintcliffe was taken out by a lapped car while just outside the points scoring positions.
Fast work by the team got the car repaired in time for the day's second race, Bintcliffe leading two laps after the second safety car before he made his own pitstop, Palmer returning to the track 17th. From there, despite very limited testing he climbed up to 11th by the end of the race.
“Jay has had minimal testing in the Audi and produced a very good performance – in both qualifying and the race,” said United Autosports' MD and co-owner Richard Dean. “Unfortunately John who, like Jay, has been away from racing for a number of years and lacks mileage in the Audi, ran wide on to the grass and unfortunately paid the price. Mike deservedly picked up the Sunoco Driver of the weekend Award – for his two drives – which my fellow United Autosports co-owner Zak Brown collected here at Oulton 12 months ago at our first race meeting. He drove superbly all day ably backed up by Matt while Jay and John did very well to finish just outside of the top-10 with an ill-handling Audi. We've laid the foundations for a good maiden season in BGT with two podiums.”
United Autosports' next British GT race is a Snetterton on May 15, next for the team, however, are the opening rounds of the FIA GT3 European Championship in Portimao on May 7-8.