United Autosports Achieves Stunning Fourth Place Finish On Rolex 24 Debut As A Mere 3.752secs Covers Top-Four
* Mark Patterson takes #23 Riley-Ford in to the lead at one-quarter distance
* American team fights back into podium contention after mid-race dramas
* "Stellar" driver line-up cruelly just miss out on top-three finish on "home" soil
The United Autosports with Michael Shank Racing entry began the prestigious annual race yesterday afternoon from ninth place (1min 40.784secs, 127.163mph) in the 48-car field courtesy of Brundle's excellent qualifying performance on Thursday afternoon.
The #23 Riley was up to third place three hours in to the race and despite Brundle suffering a slow right rear punctured tire near the end of his second stint, necessitating a slightly earlier than scheduled pit-stop, Patterson led at one-quarter distance (six hours) -- Mark heading a race in a DP for the very first time in his seven year GRAND-AM career.
Third-placed Brundle was tagged from behind at the re-start following a caution period in the ninth hour costing around 30secs and slipping to eighth. The 1988 Daytona race winner went on to complete almost a full second "stint" -- the team generally opting for single driver "stints" -- but was forced to pit prematurely once again after running over a large piece of debris which damaged the nose section necessitating new front bodywork.
Patterson resumed third but approaching mid-distance was punted in to a spin -- the culprit receiving a drive-thru penalty -- and later pitted for another new front nose section due to splitter damage, a broken "stay" and damaged front brake cooling duct repairs -- a legacy from the Brundle incident.
Blundell resumed 10th but three laps down after a near six minute pit-stop with the Daytona "rookie" subsequently surviving two separate "hits", Mark placing eighth at the halfway mark before pitting for a third front nose change due to these latest contacts.
The front brake pads were changed at the end of Brown's stint with the rear pads changed shortly after Patterson had taken over from Brundle -- the team taking advantage of the race running under yellow caution flags -- ultimately for almost three hours starting shortly before 6am -- due to fog which had reduced visibility.
Clever team strategy during "yellows" plus Patterson and Brown -- the latter getting the #23 Riley back on the lead lap in his final stint and later awarded the Jim Trueman Award for the top-placed Pro-Am driver -- setting consistent and competitive lap times along with their "illustrious" team-mates, allowed Brundle back into fifth place with a little over five hours remaining less than 10secs behind the leader.
With four hours to run Brundle, double "stinting" once more, was third -- 47secs down on the leader -- Blundell taking over from his fellow former Le Mans 24 Hour race winner and was less than one second behind the leader (#02) when #01 was given a time penalty for a pit infringement.
Brundle took over from Blundell and rejoined still third and with 0.75secs covering the top-three with 80mins to run but Martin slipped to fourth place with 65mins remaining, Brundle ultimately taking the checker fourth, a mere 3.752secs behind the winner after 721-laps, 2,563.2-miles -- and just 0.75secs behind the third-placed finisher after a final full course caution in the final seven minutes.
Martin also set the #23 Riley's fastest lap around the 3.56-mile, 12-turn course that utilizes sections of re-surfaced Daytona International Speedway "oval" plus infield section -- a 1min 41.549secs (126.205mph) on lap 413 of the race at 5am this morning.
The race, run throughout in dry weather conditions and warm daytime temperatures, featured 23 full course cautions accounting for 125 laps behind the pace car.
Mark Blundell (GB)
"We got so close to being on the podium and after the excitement of a top-three result being on the cards, finishing fourth, so close to a podium, is a little deflating. But I think we did a tremendous job and it was a great effort by the team. All four drivers contributed in every way. We turned up here saying that if we could get in to the top-six, that would be a good performance -- and we managed fourth, so I guess we should be very happy with ourselves."
Zak Brown (USA)
"Fourth place and to be on the lead lap, fighting for a podium with a chance for us winning on our Daytona debut and our first race in the US, is fantastic. The two Marks and Martin did a great job -- I couldn't be happier. Of course it is a little disappointing not to get on the podium when we were a couple of feet away but hey, we'll take a fourth in this field."
Martin Brundle (GB)
"We all put in some pretty amazing stints. We clawed our way into a podium slot but we didn't quite have enough when it was needed. I made a banzai move at the end but that was more in hope than anything else. I think between us we have done a great job. We have 2 'retired pros' in Mark and I plus 2 Pro-Am drivers up against car line-ups featuring four 'current' hot shoes. I'm kind of disappointed but that is typical me of me -- I wanted that podium. My goal was a top-10 on the grid and top-five in the race and we achieved both so I think we covered ourselves with a bit of glory and maybe surprised more than a few people."
Mark Patterson (USA)
"I had some great stints, particularly the one in the fog, sticking at 60mph for what seemed like an eternity was fantastic fun! The team brought us back in to the race with great strategy. These two Formula 1 drivers in our team really demonstrated their competitiveness and helped Zak and I play our part."
Mike Shank (USA), Team Owner of Michael Shank Racing:
"We had a great time. Martin almost grabbed P2 on that last move. Both he and Mark still have plenty of gas in their tanks while Zak and Mark drove stellar races. If you consider we were down multiple laps and came back in to contention that has to be a pretty cool achievement for the #23 car."
Richard Dean (GB), Managing Director & Co-Owner of United Autosports:
"It was United Autosports' second 24 hour race and I've a similar feeling immediately after this race to how I felt [in our first one] at Spa. I can't help feeling disappointed again. Before the start here we would have taken fourth place for sure but having led and been in contention for a podium for much of the race, it hurts a little. I'm a little fed up of being so close but taking the positives, it's another result for the team to build on. If we keep focused that elusive first race win is bound to happen -- soon!"
United Autosports Switches Focus To Double European Campaign With Audi R8 LMS Sports Cars
While further GRAND-AM race outings are a possibility, United Autosports now switches its attention to preparing for a hectic, closely fought season of GT racing in Europe. A brace of Audi R8 LMS GT3 class sports cars will bid for honors in both the FIA GT3 European and British GT Championships this year.
In addition to the 12 (FIA) and 14 (BGT) races, the England-based team plans to compete in the 24 Hours of Spa (Belgium) and the Macau GT races again -- a program supported by Draper Tools. A concerted test program is scheduled to begin in two weeks time.
British duo Joe Osborne and Matt Bell, both interested spectators at Daytona this weekend, together with Brown and Patterson, will be at Navarra (Spain) over February 15-16 with all three of its Audi R8 LMS cars marking Osborne's first run in an Audi. Meanwhile United Autosports' British GT duo of John Bintcliffe and Jay Palmer will have their first runs in an R8 LMS at Silverstone (England) on March 4.
Joe Osborne (GB)
"It's been three months since I signed to drive for United Autosports and to have the first test just two weeks or so away is a fantastic feeling. It's my first time driving an Audi and first time at Navaara -- I can't wait to get out there -- I'm so, so excited about the season ahead."
Matt Bell (GB)
"I'm very much looking forward to the test especially considering I last drove the Audi in October -- I've never wanted Christmas to come and go so fast in my life! I've a very busy year ahead contesting two championships so it's vital I prepare properly for what is only my second full season of motor racing. My first race is on Easter Monday so we'll be packing in plenty of testing in the next couple of months."