United Autosports To Enter Three Audi R8 LMS For 24 Hours Of Spa After Achieving Fantastic Podium Finish In Belgian Race Debut
United Autosports returns to the prestigious 24 Hours of Spa (Belgium) this summer (July 30-31) with an expanded three-car Audi R8 LMS entry bidding for GT3 class honors -- which could ultimately include outright victory.
Former Grand Prix drivers Mark Blundell (GB), Eddie Cheever (USA) and Stefan Johansson (Sweden) return to the United Autosports fold for a second consecutive year in the Belgian "marathon".
Mark Patterson (USA), Alain Li (France) plus United Autosports' co-owners Zak Brown (USA) and Richard Dean (GB) also feature in the driver squad as in 2010. The remaining five drivers that will include more "star" names and the final combinations will be finalized in the coming weeks.
Class victory cruelly eluded the British-based team during the closing stages of its maiden twice-around-the-clock event after leading last year's race but nevertheless claimed excellent third and fourth places in the GT3 classification to record the highest-placed finishing positions for Audi.
With the faster GT2 category cars not permitted to compete in this year's race, the Audi R8 LMS GT3 sports cars have a shot of recording an overall victory on this occasion. United Autosports, Britain's only "official" Audi customer team, will also contest the FIA GT3 European and British GT Championships this year.
Mark Blundell (GB). Age: 44. Born: Barnet, England. Lives: Royston, England:
"Racing at Spa last year proved to be a huge amount of fun while I was very impressed with United Autosports. The team turned out superbly prepared racecars and it was fantastic to finish on the GT3 podium. But I believe there is some more to come and that is why I'm returning. I've already finished fourth with the team at Daytona last month and I'm very excited about going back to Spa to compete again in the Audi R8 LMS."
Zak Brown (USA). Age: 39. Born: Los Angeles, California, USA. Lives: Carmel, Indiana, USA:
"I'm looking forward to running three Audi sports cars in this great race. We achieved a tremendous result last year, almost winning our class, but came away with third and fourth positions -- the best placed R8 LMS cars in the race. Mark [Blundell] and Stefan [Johansson] are re-joining us along with Alain who ran with us at Spa and then in Zhuhai while Richard is dusting off his crash helmet again as opposed to overseeing the team from the pit wall. It is a great endorsement for our still young team that these former F1 and IndyCar drivers are coming back to us for a second season."
Eddie Cheever (USA). Age: 53. Born: Phoenix, Arizona, USA. Lives: Indianapolis, USA:
"I'm very pleased to be returning to drive at Spa again in Zak and Richard's team. Having led with only a few hours remaining, last year's race didn't end up quite the way we'd hoped. We were all a little disappointed on the rostrum to have not won but in reality third place, and a fourth for the 'sister' United Autosports Audi, was a great achievement. We go back hoping to close out some unfinished business and for sure the team will return stronger. Personally I hope it rains the entire race . . . there's nothing quite like driving an Audi in the wet at Spa at 3am!"
Richard Dean (GB). Age: 46. Born & Lives: Leeds, West Yorkshire, England:
"I am really looking forward to Spa because we scored a superb result last summer and can go back with confidence. With no GT2 cars in the race, it means that we could be vying for an outright win this time around -- especially with the exciting driver line-up Zak has pulled together. Last year's race hurt and was unbelievably hard with two cars but the outcome was fantastic. We'll be better prepared this time; our team members are going into it for a second year while Audi Sport and quattro GmbH, which is now in charge of sales and technical support for Audi's customer and importer teams worldwide, understands our determination and professionalism after our efforts in 2010."
Stefan Johansson (SE). Age: 54. Born: Vaxjo, Sweden. Lives: Los Angeles, California, USA:
"I am excited to join United Autosports and the Audi family again for the Spa 24 Hours. The experience last year was beyond my expectations. I firmly believe with what we learned the first time around, should put us in a very good position to not only equal but also improve on our 2010 performance. United Autosports has done a remarkable job in such a short period of time to establish themselves as a top level team and I am honored to be part of the team's Spa program again."
Alain Li (F). Age: 50. Born: Caen, France. Lives: Hong Kong:
"I am thrilled to be racing in the Spa 24 Hours again with United Autosports. The team made everyone sit up and take notice in 2010 with its Spa and Zhuhai 1,000km podiums. In both races, the team could have achieved the very top step with a little luck. I believe the team will be even better this year after gelling so well last year. For my part I will also be better prepared having completed two more long distances races last year while I will also be taking part in the 12 Hours of Sebring next month. I can't wait for July and get back into the fabulous Audi R8 LMS."
Mark Patterson (USA). Age:59. Born: Port Elizabeth, S Africa. Lives: Bronxville, N.Y., USA:
"The Spa 24 Hours is one of the great races in the world. It is still the greatest race track ever and by far the most demanding especially if you sprinkle in the weather factor which always comes in to challenge you during the course of the race. We [United Autosports] had a wonderful time looking back a year ago with all of us drivers having a fabulous time and ultimately posting exceptional results considering it was the team's first 24 hour race. I am looking forward to it again big time."
Three-Car, Two-Day Test Successfully Completed At Navarra This Week
United Autosports successfully completed its first test of 2011 earlier this week (February 15-16) which saw its new FIA GT3 European Championship recruit Joe Osborne (GB) make his team debut and complete his first laps in an Audi R8 LMS.
Osborne was joined by his co-driver Mark Patterson (USA) while Matt Bell (GB) also drove at the new Navarra (Spain) facility near Pamplona which hosts rounds five and six of the FIA series in July. Matt's older brother, Rob, was also in attendance as team "driver coach" and had a short run in the Audi.
The team ran all three of its Audi R8 LMS during the "exclusive" two-day test, accumulating over 1,000-miles. British GT Championship newcomers Jay Palmer (GB) and John Bintcliffe are scheduled to complete their first laps in the GT3 category Audi on Silverstone's "National" circuit on March 4.
Richard Dean (GB), Managing Director & Co-Owner of United Autosports:
"The track was wet each morning but we were able to run slicks before lunchtime each day. Matt, Mark and Joe each set good, competitive times while Rob [Bell] did 10-laps at the end of the first day in his role as an official Dunlop 'test' driver. In general, a good test which unfortunately Zak [Brown] couldn't attend due to a prior business commitment but importantly it allowed Joe to get some decent mileage in his first run at the wheel of an Audi."
-source: united autosports