Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Catching Up Again With Zak Brown -

We last had the opportunity to take time out with United Autosports co-owner and sports marketing powerhouse Zak Brown at the opening race weekend of the FIA GT3 European Championship at Silverstone so when we sat down again at Spa there was plenty to catch up with.

First things first Zak – It’s been a tough first season so far for the team – are you happy with progress?

“On balance I’d say I’m pleased with our progress but perhaps disappointed that our initial expectations were a little unrealistic."

“We probably underestimated the competition and we fell a little foul of the fact that any new team takes time to get so we did suffer a lot of penalties at first – In fact we had a penalty of one sort or another at each of our first four FIA GT3 races!"

“We thought we’d be competing for top ten positions, even the odd podium but the team weren’t ready for that and the Balance of Performance meant that even if we had been the Audis were struggling!"

“That’s changed now and we have some of our power back and we’re racing well now – In fact I think we’ll finish the season where I’d initially hoped we’d start it from, with Top ten finishes."

(Speaking before the Spa 24 Hours)
“I think we’re ready now to take the next step forward and I believe there’s a result here for us – A podium is a real possibility.”
2011 Plans
So what else is on the cards for United?
“Well in 2011 the main programme is still the FIA GT3 Championship but we will do some one-off races at the end of the season (believed by dsc to include the Macao GT Masters race and (subject to an agreement with the ACO) the Asian Le Mans Series race at Zhuhai, both with the team’s Audi R8 LMS."

“For 2011 we will be staying with the Audis, we’re really pleased with them, and we have already signed 3 of the 4 drivers we’ll need for FIA GT3."

“Mark Patterson has re-signed for next year and we are looking for a driver to partner him."

“Beyond that we’re looking at a 2 car entry for a full season of British GT too with the Audi plus the Nurburgring and Spa 24 Hour races (again with the Audis) and the Britcar 24 Hours with the Ginetta for Richard, myself and Matt (Bell).

“We don’t forget either that we are a team with deep US roots and we’d like to take the Audis to do Sebring and PLM in 2011, again though we need to see how IMSA decide on the eligibility of the cars."

Rolex and Le Mans
"Beyond that I own part of Coyote (with Eddie Cheever) and we’re looking to put a programme together for the Rolex 24 with a new car.  I’ve talked to Jeff Gordon and he’s interested."

"I am still interested in racing at Le Mans but with no way in there for the cars that we are running it creates a bit of a challenge about how to do it!"

“It is one of the frustrating parts of the sport – For the race, and a supporting programme, to make sense the rule makers need to pick their rules – and then stick to them – Otherwise it gets expensive and very difficult to maintain. ”

So beyond 2011 where do you now see the team’s direction?

“In 2012 we’ll be in GT1 – definitely and we’ll continue to have a programme in GT3 as well."

“I won’t drive in GT1, I’m simply not good enough to be competitive.  We’ll be looking for a ‘rock-star’ pro, somebody you can get some marketing push behind, to partner Matt Bell.”

Clearly you’re impressed with Matt?

“Very much so – he’s quick, he’s calm and he is clearly a star in the making – The realities of the sport though mean that you have to have an established ‘name’ alongside to make a package work in marketing terms."

“We haven’t made any decision yet on what we’ll run in GT1, it’s too early for that – but we’d certainly consider running a second marque alongside the Audis if necessary.”

GT1 Title Sponsor

Finally Zak – you told us at Silverstone that your company had been retained to source and deliver a title sponsor for the GT1 World Championship – How’s that going?

“It’s going very well – We’re midway through the first season of a new Championship and things are coming together."

“The Bloomberg TV element of the coverage is proving to be very interesting to some big blue chip companies."

“I’m very bullish, very confident about having something done for the start of the 2011 season and that would not be a one year deal – This is the kind of deal where it needs to be a three year programme to make sense.”
The 24 Hours that followed this interview delivered a fine result at Spa for United with a class podium and both cars in the overall top 10.

Open, honest and realistic – The sport needs more like Zak Brown moving and shaking.

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