United Autosports Earns Intercontinental Le Mans Cup Debut Rostrum Finish In Prestigious Chinese Race
United Autosports wrote a new chapter in its very short but burgeoning history book when the Anglo-American team achieved a top-three rostrum finish in Asia today (Sunday November 7).
Having contested races in Great Britain and mainland Europe throughout its maiden year in competition, the ambitious outfit made a strong Intercontinental Le Mans Cup race debut with its brace of Audi R8 LMS sports cars at Zhuhai -- a stunning GTC class victory being snatched from the team's grasp in the closing stages.
Alain Li (France) and Henri Richard (France) piloted their #97 Audi in to third place with Richard Meins (England), Danny Watts (England) and Frank Yu (Hong Kong) sharing the #96 Audi that was ultimately unclassified but which looked set for a "LM" GTC category glory.
Watts and Henri Richard had set the second and fourth fastest GTC times in qualifying the previous day -- Danny denied scoring the team's maiden class "pole" in the final minute of the 20-minute session in which the damp track continued to dry throughout.
The organizing ACO handed a 30kg weight ballast to the Audi R8 LMS sports cars for the race which started under hazy but increasingly warm sunshine with Watts pressurizing the similar class pole-starting #98 Audi for the lead for much of the opening hour in the 1,000km race. Danny took the lead when the #98 Audi pitted on 60mins while Meins took over the #96 Audi from Watts four minutes later, rejoining still in the class lead after the #98 Audi endured a lengthy pit-stop.
Richard in the #97 Audi moved up to third in class after 24mins and pitted 25mins later for Li but Alain was back in the pits 10mins later, the United Autosports crew replacing a wheel bearing in just 33mins after a superb effort by the crew in the hot and humid conditions.
Meins lost the lead approaching the two hour mark after a spin but was back ahead again 17mins later when the #98 Audi pitted, the class leading #97 United Autosports Audi pitting for Yu on 2hr 15m -- the Hong Kong driver remaining ahead following another long stop by the rival #98 Audi.
Li handed back the recovering #98 to Henri Richard with almost three hours on the clock, still fourth in class, while Yu gave the lead Audi to Watts 3hr 22mins into the 232-lap race.
But with a near two-lap advantage and with just 26-laps remaining, Watts coasted to a standstill exiting Turn 12 when his Audi lost drive leaving Henri Richard to salvage a third place in the "sister" #97 R8 LMS at the checker.
The team undertook general maintenance on its cars post race and into Monday aiming to clear customs later that afternoon before its freight container embarked on its journey to Macau. Watts and Meins will compete in the GT race at the prestigious annual "street" event (Nov 19-21) -- marking the race debut for United Autosports and the Audi R8 LMS sports car at the world famous venue.
#96 Audi R8 LMS
HOURLY OVERALL/GTC CLASS POSITIONS: Driver rotations DW/RM/FY/DW. Start Pos 13th/2nd (Watts); 1hr 12th/1st; 2hrs 16th/2nd; 3hrs 17th/1st; 4hrs POS/POS; 5hrs 17th/2nd; FINISH Not Classified
Richard Meins (GB). Age: 55. Born: Beckenham, England. Lives: Hong Kong:
"We hadn't done much testing in the dry because of the wet weather the previous days so it took me a couple of laps to get into it. I had a spin at the end of the straight but apart from that, I concentrated on avoiding the quicker traffic while at the same trying to put in consistent laps. It's been a fantastic experience driving the Audi -- it's a fabulous car."
Danny Watts (GB). Age: 30. Lives: Thornborough nr Buckingham, Buckinghamshire, England:
"I was in full control of the race with almost a full two lap advantage when suddenly the Audi lost drive. I wasn't pushing and was just looking after the car because at my last pit-stop, the clutch was slipping. Nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of driving the Audi in the GTC category. It's totally different to what I have been used to all year and I felt I adapted quickly. It's a predictable car to drive. In qualifying, our engineer Alan Mugglestone made a great call and sent me out on cut slick tires on the damp but drying track in qualifying. But the track dried out totally for the final 10mins and I was bumped off class pole right at the end which was disappointing."
Frank Yu (HK). Age: 47. Lives: Hong Kong:
"I thoroughly enjoyed my stint and first race in the Audi apart from the final result of course. I paced myself with the #98 Audi and just maintained the gap. The Audi is really an excellent car. It's so easy to drive and 'friendly'. The best thing about the R8 LMS is that it takes very little time to get accustomed to its characteristics. Within five laps of practice, in wet or dry conditions, I was up to pace."
#97 Comtech Group / Roger Dubuis / WT Microelectronics -- Audi R8 LMS
HOURLY OVERALL/GTC CLASS POSITIONS: Driver rotations HR/AL/HR. Start Pos 22nd/4th (Richard); 1hr 20th/3rd; 2hrs 21st/4th; 3hrs 21st/4th; 4hrs POS/POS; 5hrs 19th/4th; FINISH 17th/3rd
Alain Li (F). Age: 50. Born: Caen, France. Lives: Hong Kong:
"Early in my stint I knew there was something wrong. The team did a great job in repairing it and I quickly got in to a good rhythm. It took a little bit of time to get used to the pace of the LMP cars passing you but then I settled down. In my second stint I just tried to stay consistent. It was another level of experience for me after Spa. Henri did a sterling job and to finish third on the podium is a dream come true for me."
Henri Richard (F). Age: 52. Born: Paris, France. Lives: Los Altos Hills, CA (USA):
"It was a shame that we had the bearing issue but that's racing. The team nor the drivers gave up, we had great pace and pushed to the end. I was very impressed with United Autosports, especially considering it's the team's first year and they've gelled incredibly quickly in to a great outfit. Qualifying was challenging as I'd never driven the car on slick, dry weather tires due to rain throughout the Friday and Saturday morning practice sessions. The Audi R8 LMS is so easy and predictable to drive making it a great car for endurance racing."
Richard Dean (GB), Managing Director & Co-Owner of United Autosports:
"I love Le Mans Series style endurance races so it was great for United Autosports to be involved for the first time. It's been tough for our first 'fly away' race but we coped well. On track activities began on Thursday and we immediately encountered a gearbox problem which is puzzling as the same car finished our last race at Zolder without a problem. We effectively needed to get four out of our five drivers some experience of the Audi but two days of rain set us back. The repairs to the #97 cost 33mins but then the car ran faultlessly to the end with both Henri and Alain setting exceptionally good times. Our #96 car which was driven beautifully by Danny, Frank and Richard, led for so long then lost all drive. We believe its clutch failure but we're not sure until we carry out a full investigation."
-source: united autosports