Running three cars for the first time their 18-month history United Autosports survived the lottery of qualifying for the Total 24 Hours of Spa with their team of Audi R8 LMS cars relatively unscathed after Thursday's on track action.
“Thursday was the worst track conditions I have ever seen,” said Zak Brown. “It had constantly rained – and much of it was very heavy! I completed less that 10 laps throughout the day. We were either getting red flagged, or the session cut short but it's a long race. I just needed to get reacquainted with the Audi around here but the conditions were always tricky. Last year we qualified 16th on the grid and almost won GT3. If race conditions are changeable it could be about being the smartest, not necessarily the fastest driver, out there. We have a lot of experience in all three cars so if we can keep it on the 'island' and stay out of trouble, we could be looking good after 24hours.”
The Spa weather played a large part in the day. Having washed out periods in the early practice sessions wet tyres remained the rubber of choice for the opening two qualifying sessions as conditions kept speeds down around the Belgian track.
However, with the track drying during the third and final qualifying session all three Audis swapped over to slicks for the 35 minutes of the session as times began to tumble on an ever improving dry line.
Former 24 Hours of Le Mans Stefan Johansson – returning for a second attack at the Spa 24 with United Autosports made the no.23 entry the best placed of the team's charges with a start on the fifteenth row of the 62 car field.
The Swede's place as the best UA qualifier may well have gone to Matt Bell had a cluctch problem not struck as times were tumbling late in the session. The Yorkshire driver, taking his first night laps, had replaced Eddie Cheever in the no.11 for the final stint of qualifying.
“I jumped into the car for the final 30mins of the final session, the first ever 'night' laps of my career, and it was pretty tough as our 'used' clutch was not working properly,” explained Bell. “I didn't even know if I would complete the three lap minimum requirement but just pushed on. It was interesting attempting a quick lap and learning to do everything in darkness. I was P3 when the clutch started to 'slip' and so am confident I would have been a lot further up the grid. It's always nice to be further up the grid but in a 24 hour race it's not that important. I'm optimistic for the race.”
Despite posting the third fastest time, competitors improving pushed the no.11, which will be driven by Mark Patterson and Mark Blundell as well as Bell and Cheever in the race down to row 17.
Frenchman Alain Li qualified the no.12 car on row 27, he like Johansson prevented from any further improvement by traffic around the 7km Spa-Francorchamps lap. Li shares the car with Arie Luyendyk, Richard Meins and Henri Richard.
“Our pace is good on 'slicks' but am not convinced we are getting the best out of our wet tires,” said team co-owner Richard Dean who is also part of the no.23 driving line-up with Johansson, Johnny Herbert and Brown, also team co-owner. “Matt [Bell] was unfortunate, I am sure he would have been in the top-10 had his clutch not failed. It would have been nice to qualify higher but it is a long race and, we should not forget, a very competitive one with a highly experienced and competitive field. But we have come from these type of grid positions before and we all experienced enough to know that anything can happen in a 24 hour race.”