United Autosports Endures Difficult Weekend at Monza
A packed grid of 57 cars lined up on the grid for the opening round of the Blancpain Endurance Series at Monza on Sunday, the United Autosports Pro Am trio of Mark Patterson (USA), Zak Brown (USA) and Mark Blundell pushing hard to finish the three-hour event 15 places higher than they started.
It was a difficult weekend for the Leeds-based team with numerous technical issues on both cars leaving the Pro Cup #22 car of David Brabham (Australia), Matt Bell (England), and Álvaro Parente (Portugal) in 17th position on the grid and the sister United Autosports McLaren GT even further towards the back of the grid in 48th place.
Brabham and Patterson both took the first stints in such appalling conditions that the first 35 minutes was run under the safety car as there was so much standing water. When the green flag eventually fell, visibility was minimal and even double Le Mans winner Brabham used all of his extensive experience to keep the #22 McLaren on the tarmac and without hitting any other cars or indeed, being hit.
Patterson too, was doing a good job to keep the #23 car going in the right direction and both drivers moved quickly up the placings. After the first hour, Brabham came in to hand over to Bell with the #22 car up three places to 14th and as the 22-year old left the pits, he pushed hard for the next seven laps until it was suddenly smitten by an electrical issue which locked up the wheels and sent him into the gravel. Fortunately, he avoided hitting anything but it was a disappointing end to a promising race.
Meanwhile Brown relieved Patterson in the continuing deluge and the American put in an exceptionally strong performance to put in some good lap times in the #23 McLaren GT.
Former grand prix driver Mark Blundell finally took the wheel for the final stint, the former Le Mans winner exploring the limits of car and track as he reeled in the cars ahead of him whilst setting personal best lap times. Despite a difficult car to drive, Blundell kept intense pressure on the #70 BMW Z4 until he passed it with nine minutes to go, and at the chequered flag, the crew had made up 15 places from the start having endured a torrid weekend.
Matt Bell (UK), Age 22. Born: Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. Lives: Barningham, UK:
“Well obviously my stint was pretty short and it appears an alternator or electronic failure ended our run. I had fun while I was out there, doing a lot of overtaking; I don’t think all of them were for position but it was a pretty disappointing end to the weekend really. It was a problematic and then our race being finished off with another fundamental issue. Going into Lesmo 1 my ABS failed, all four wheels locked up and I had a bit of an excursion into the gravel that I couldn’t avoid. When you hit the brakes with no ABS and no other warning, it can lead to a big accident but luckily it happened in a place where it wasn’t an issue.”
David Brabham (Aus), Age 45. Born: Wimbledon, UK. Lives: Henley-on-Thames, UK:
“At the start the conditions were pretty bad. It was very difficult to see where you were going or whether a car in front was stopping or if there were any spinning cars and at the time you felt the race shouldn’t have been restarted, but after a few laps it started to clear up a bit and it wasn’t too bad. For most of us out there we were trying to find out what were the limits of the car and once I got going I felt pretty comfortable; I was starting to catch all the people in front of me and we were putting in some pretty competitive lap times compared to the leaders. I went off trying to push a little bit too hard, lost a couple of places, got back those places and came in for our pit stop in 14th, so for a first stint I was pretty encouraged by that.
“Obviously it was unfortunate with Matt to have the problem that stopped the car, and though we wouldn’t have won the race, we would have had a competitive showing. We’ve clearly got a lot of work to do for the next race and everyone will be working hard to do that.”
Mark Blundell (UK), Age 45. Born: Barnet, UK. Lives: Royston, UK:
“I think first and foremost all the United Autosports team have done a fantastic job throughout the whole weekend. It’s been quite tough on the guys and unlucky for the #22 car. For the #23 car, we got to the finish; all three of us put in our best efforts behind the wheel but there’s quite a lot of work to be done and we’re not shying away from it; we know what we’ve got to do and we’ve got to move forward. It’s certainly going to be interesting to progress further up the grid. I had a few scraps out there, which included disputing the same piece of wet tarmac with Valentino Rossi, which was all good fun! But in the end we should have been messing around for a position further up the grid and that’s the aim of the team now.”
Zak Brown (USA), Age 40. Born: Los Angeles, California, USA. Lives: Carmel, Indiana, USA:
“I enjoyed the race and I felt I drove well in terrible conditions but I was very disappointed with the finishing result. Clearly there’s a lot of work to be done in a short period of time with the next race is Silverstone at the beginning of June. If you look at where the best McLaren GT finished in 16th, I think everyone will find that pretty unacceptable. Our lead car #22 was good and I think they could have got a result but they had a mechanical failure. Given all the variables, it was an achievement for us but not the type of achievement we regard as successful.”
Mark Patterson (SA), Age 60. Born: Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Lives: Bronxville, NY, USA
“It was an amazing snowstorm to start this race – you could see not a damn thing so it was a little more daunting than I thought. We had to be a little bit careful not to have people running up behind us. I was worried about running into people because you could see nothing and you couldn’t pick a braking zone but it worked out okay when the rain opened up and you could actually start to race properly towards the end. Obviously we’ll be doing our laundry in private this time!”
Richard Dean (GB), Team Owner and Managing Director of United Autosports:
“It was a difficult weekend and everyone’s working incredibly hard for what seems like little or no reward. There’s a lot of work to do and we need a lot more development, the potential’s still there but we need to get the reliability right. I can’t fault the team or drivers; we’re prepared to work hard to get a better result.
“We’ve got more testing planned at Snetterton next month, when we expect to see some development parts come through. On a positive note, I now expect to see the balance of performance changed to give the McLarens more of a fighting chance.”