Spa 24H: United Autosports preview

United Autosports Target GT3 Class Podium Finish In Maiden 24 Hour Race The American owned United Autosports team, formed only earlier this year, will contest its maiden 24 hour race when a brace of Audi R8 LMS GT3 class sports cars line-up ...

United Autosports Target GT3 Class Podium Finish In Maiden 24 Hour Race

The American owned United Autosports team, formed only earlier this year, will contest its maiden 24 hour race when a brace of Audi R8 LMS GT3 class sports cars line-up resplendent in red, white and blue livery for the 63rd running of the 24 Hours of Spa in Belgium next weekend (July 31-August 1).

The progressive UK-based team switches from this season's normal one-hour FIA GT3 European Championship "sprint" races to the historic twice-around-the-clock encounter at Spa. Its driver and sponsor line-ups have been complimented for this one-off marathon while various "long distance" components have been fitted to its Audi sports cars for the occasion.

Former Le Mans 24 Hour race winners Mark Blundell (GB) and Stefan Johansson (Sw) plus former Indianapolis 500 race winner Eddie Cheever (USA) have been drafted into the United Autosports driver squad as have Emil Assentato (USA) and Alain Li (F) with regular FIA GT3 European Championship drivers, Mark Patterson (USA) and Zak Brown (USA), while Richard Dean (GB), completes the "stellar" line-up. Brown and Dean are Co-Owners of United Autosports -- the only American team entered in the Spa race.

Meanwhile season-long sponsors Remington, Cerruti and LG Electronics are joined by Roger Dubuis Watches, FXDD, Road & Track, Legends of Motorsports and the Singapore Stock Exchange for the Belgian race.

Since the Spa Test Day earlier this month (July 7) in which the United Autosports Audi sports cars set the sixth (2m 26.394s) and ninth (2:27.289) fastest times, various components offered by Audi Sport's customer sport center in Ingolstadt (Germany) have now been fitted necessitating round-the-clock activity at the team's raceshop near Leeds, West Yorkshire (England).

Changes include suspension components, running gear comprising of uprated drive shafts and CV joints, "24 hour race specification" front and rear bumpers, new lighting and tire pressure monitors. The Audi R8 LMS remains in normal FIA GT3 European Championship specification, which recently has seen a weight penalty of 15kg but offset by a small power increase, plus a 100-liter fuel tank for Spa.

A near 50-car field comprising of 26 in the GT3 category, eight of which will be Audi R8 LMS sports cars, is expected to contest the 24 Hours of Spa. Pre-qualifying is staged on Thursday (1400-1530) prior to three qualifying sessions at 1930-2030, 2145-2230 and 2245-2330. A warm-up is staged at 0910-0930 on Saturday (July 31) with the race getting underway at 1600.

An Audi R8 LMS achieved third place overall and winner of the G2 category in last year's corresponding Spa race. Over eight hours of this year's race will be broadcast "live" on Motors TV throughout Europe (Saturday 1540-1700, 1830-2100; Sunday 1030-1200, 1400-1630). Racefans can follow the progress of United Autosports throughout the race via Twitter: @unitedautosport or Facebook: unitedautosports

* Times quoted are "local" Central European Time.

#67 Audi R8 LMS (l-r): Mark Patterson, Emil Assentato, Stefan Johansson and Alain Li

#67 Cerutti / FXDD / Robert Dubuis Watches / Road & Track / Legends of Motorsports / LG Electronics -- Audi R8 LMS

Emil Assentato (USA).

Age: 61. Born: New York City, N.Y., USA. Lives: Locust Valley, N.Y., USA:

Spa 24Hr: Debut. Spa History: None. Other 24Hr races: Daytona (2000 26th, 2001 34th o/a/9th, 2002 28th/10th, 2004 37th/16th, 2005 11th/2nd. 2006 21st/10th. 2007 19th/7th, 2008 13th/5th, 2009 17th/9th, 2010 28th/16th).

"This race marks my first at Spa but I'm not new to 24 hour events having done Daytona a number of times. Spa is very different. It's all about tradition that is so deep and so long, a classic Formula 1 race track. Sharing a car with Stefan will be a fantastic experience."

Stefan Johansson (Sw).

Age: 53. Born: Vaxjo, Sweden. Lives: Los Angeles, California, USA:

Spa 24Hr: Debut. Spa History: Debut August 9 1981 (F2/14th). F1 (1983, 85-91 -- 1986/3rd, 1987/2nd), F2 (1981-2 -- pole-position 1982/F2), GpC (1982-4), 1,000km sports cars (1988/1st). Last race at Spa: August 19 2007 (LMS/Ret). Other 24Hr races: Le Mans (1983/6th, 1984, 1990, 1991/6th, 1992/5th, 1997/1st, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003/3rd, 2006, 2007, 2008). Daytona (2000 23rd, 2002 36th/13th, 2005/4th, 2006/22nd).

"This will be my 19th 24 hour race. I just love the endurance aspect whether you win or not. 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."

Alain Li (F).

Age: 50. Born: Caen, France. Lives: Hong Kong:

Spa 24Hr: Debut. Spa History: Debut 2004, Ferrari Challenge Series (2004-8). Last race at Spa: 2008. Other 24Hr races: None.

"This is my first 24 hour race so I've taken in plenty of advice. I'll be coming in from Hong Kong where I live. I'll need to get over the jet lag as well -- although maybe that won't be a bad thing if I have to do some night stints as I'll be wide awake! I'm a Frenchman and was based in Europe for over 20 years so Spa always featured as one of those mythical tracks that everyone talks about. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me, not just to do the race, but also to be in the car with a driver of Stefan's caliber."

Mark Patterson (USA). Age:58. Born: Port Elizabeth, S Africa. Lives: Bronxville, N.Y., USA:

Spa 24Hr: 2009 17th o/a (Ferrari 430 GT3). Spa History: Debut 2001. Lamborghini Super Trophy (2001). Last race at Spa 2009 (24hrs). Other 24Hr races: Daytona (2004 38th/13th, 2005 23rd/14th, 2006/2nd, 2007/9th, 2008/6th, 2009/41st, 2010/7th)

"I've raced in the 24 Hours of Daytona on numerous occasions and competed at Spa in last year's corresponding 24 Hour race. With the driver line-up that we have I'm very optimistic for success. I think that tire preservation could be the key to success. Having driven for United Autosports in the previous eight FIA GT3 European Championship races, my belief is that the Audi is particularly good in that respect. Additionally it will be a huge honor sharing the Audi with Stefan [Johansson]."

#68 Audi R8 LMS (l-r): Richard Dean, Mark Blundell, Eddie Cheever and Zak Brown

#68 Remington / Singapore Stock Exchange / Road & Track / Legends of Motorsports / LG Electronics -- Audi R8 LMS

Mark Blundell (GB). Age: 44. Born: Barnet, England. Lives: Royston, England:

Spa 24Hr: Debut. Spa History: Debut May 16 1987 (F3000/2nd). F3000 (1987-89 -- 1987/2nd), F1 (1991-95 -- 91 scored first-ever F1 point, 94/5th, 95/5th), sportscars (1989/3rd). Last race at Spa: August 27 1995 F1/5th. Other 24Hr races: Le Mans (1989, 1990, 1992/1st, 1995/4th, 2001, 2002, 2003/2nd).

"I made my Spa debut 23 years ago and scored my first Formula 1 World Championship point there [1991]. I've also raced F3000 and Group C sportscars there. This race marks my first there since 1995 when I was in a McLaren. It's changed in a few places like the 'bus stop' chicane and some new kerbs. The Audi is a great car and is 'user friendly'. We need to be on top of our game and I think experience should pay off."

Zak Brown (USA). Age: 38. Born: Los Angeles, California, USA. Lives: Carmel, Indiana, USA:

Spa 24Hr: Debut. Spa History: Opel Lotus Formula (1993/3rd). Other 24Hr races: BritCar (GB), Daytona (1997/8th, 1999, 2000, 2010/33rd o/a/20th) .

"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. 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."

Eddie Cheever (USA). Age: 52. Born: Phoenix, Arizona, USA. Lives: Indianapolis, USA:

Spa 24Hr: Debut. Spa History: Spa debut May 22 1983 F1/3rd, F1 (1983, 85-89 -- 1983/3rd, 1987/4th, 1988/6th), GpC (1986/5th, 1987/4th. Last race at Spa: 1989/Ret (F1). Other 24Hr races: Le Mans (1980/19th, 1981/8th, 1986/24th, 1987/5th. Daytona (2006/17th, 2007/32nd)

"Spa is a great circuit -- up there with the likes of Monaco, Monza and Indianapolis -- tracks that always require a certain amount of attention because of the history. This drive came about because of my friendship with Zak [Brown]. 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."

Richard Dean (GB). Age: 45. Born & Lives: Leeds, West Yorkshire, England:

Spa 24Hr: Debut. Spa History: Debut August 29 1992/Ret (F3000). F3000 (1992), FIA GT (1997/24th/12th), British GT (1998/6th/2nd 1999/2nd). Last race at Spa: September 26 1999 (British GT). Other 24Hr races: WillHire (GB), BritCar (GB), Nurburgring, Le Mans (2006/15th/1st, 2007/23rd/5th, 2009), Mondello Park (IRL), Daytona (2010/33rd/20th), Dubai

"I'm Co-Owner of United Autosports along with Zak and we're blessed with an amazing driver line-up. I've done a number of 24 hour races but long distance racing was never particularly on my radar. I'll need to adapt my role for Spa, going from team manager/engineer in recent weeks. It's been a busy time back at the workshops since the Test Day making various component changes. We want to get to the finish obviously and I'll personally be very disappointed if we don't get a car on the GT3 podium."

Audi R8 LMS (Sportscar according to Spa 24 Hour race regulations)

V10 5.2-liter engine, 4 valves per cylinder, petrol direct injection, emission control by two racing catalytic converters, rear-wheel-drive, traction control (ASR), sequential pneumatic activated 6-speed sport gearbox with shift-paddles, Audi Space Frame (ASF) made of aluminum with bolted steel roll-cage, carbon-fiber composite/aluminum bodywork, Michelin radial tires. Start weight 1,335kg. Limitation at 8500rpm for every gear. Developed by Audi Sport with cooperation from quattro GmbH. Won FIA GT3 European Championship, ADAC-GT Masters and Belgian GT Championship plus Nurburgring 24 Hours and Spa 24 Hours class victories in debut 2009 season scoring a total 23 victories.

-source: united autosports

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Series Endurance
Drivers Stefan Johansson , Eddie Cheever , Mark Blundell , Emil Assentato , Mark Patterson , Richard Dean , Zak Brown , Alain Li