United Autosports brought the curtain down on its maiden FIA GT3 European Championship season at Zolder (Belgium) today (Sunday October 10).
The American-owned team claimed two, top-10 placings in the two final rounds of the 12-race series which began in May – just two months after the American-owned, British-based outfit was formed – at the historic 2.492-mile track in Heusden-Zolder near Brussels.
United Autosports, which will contest the 2011 FIA GT3 European Championship with two Audi R8 LMS sports cars, finished 12th in the FIA GT3 Teams Championship. In the Audi Manufacturer's Cup, Guasch/Patterson finished third with Bell/Brown seventh.
Race 1 (Sunday)
Qualifying: 8th #22 Patterson, 1m 33.380s; 11th #23 Brown, 1m 33.592s. Weather: Sunny, warm.
Race Result: 10th (#22) +24.951s P1; 17th (#23), -7 laps. Weather: Sunny, cool.
Mark Patterson began the opening one-hour race held under unseasonably warm sunshine, from eighth place on the grid having claimed his personal best qualifying position of the season the previous day, but the sun wasn’t shining on Zak Brown.
Having made a poor start, Brown went in to the tight Turn 1 left-hander aggressively but made side-on contact with a Ford GT40 which spun him in to the gravel trap. Zak lost three laps as his Audi R8 LMS was retrieved and then further time after a cautionary visit to the pits to check for damage, the #23 Audi resuming at the tail of the field in 24th place.
Zak handed over to Matt Bell on 27mins from 21st place with Patterson bringing the fifth-placed #22 Audi in for co-driver Michael Guasch with 26mins remaining in the thick of the mandatory pit-stop action, Michael resuming 13th.
Guasch took the checker placed 10th after a good, consistent drive on the tail of a three-car dice for eighth position. Meanwhile, Bell, set lap times quicker than the top-10 cars in the latter stages.
Race 2 (Sunday)
Qualifying: 13th #23 Bell, 1m 32.909s; 18th #22 Guasch, 1m 33.703s. Weather: Sunny, warm.
Race Result: 9th (#23) +50.301s P1; 12th (#22) +61.6 P1. Weather: Sunny, warm.
Bell slipped a place in the opening laps embroiled in a six-car battle for ninth while Guasch, who had moved up to 17th slipped four places with 20mins run after a spin but handed over to Patterson placed 14th at mid-distance, the #22 Audi resuming in 20th.
The ninth-placed #23 Audi headed to the pits with 26mins remaining, Brown rejoining the race in 14th position. Both United Autosports Audi R8 LMS sports cars spectacularly made up positions in the closing 15mins, despite Brown being pushed off by another car from behind in to a gravel trap at the chicane earlier in his stint. Patterson chased down the race leader, successfully unlapping himself after contact with the lead Ford GT40 – a maneuver deemed completely legal by race officials – to finish 12th.
Brown moved into 10th place on the penultimate lap and then claimed ninth at the flag after an audacious move around the outside of a Corvette in the final series of corners.
#22 Molecule / Cerutti – Audi R8 LMS
Michael Guasch (USA). Lives: Walnut Creek, California, USA:
“I took over from Mark in Race 1 who had done a great job. I got to run with the ‘fast’ group and it felt good – it went very, very well. The Audi was excellent today – an absolute joy to drive and I held my own and got a shot for the top-10.
“I just couldn’t find the speed in qualifying the previous day despite the balance of the Audi being good and so started Race 2 in 18th. I made a clean start and ran a good pace until I overshot a turn, hit the curb which spun me around which was frustrating. It was a dumb mistake but the brakes were fading which caught me out.
“I quickly learned that the championship was a very serious, respectable and competitive series. My low point was Silverstone where we were faced with the harsh reality that we were not as competitive as we’d hoped due to the Audi being ‘neutered’ because of the Balance of Power [BoP] handicap. The high point was Portimão when Mark and I scored a top-10 finish, the first FIA race after our Audi was given some power back.”
Mark Patterson (USA). Lives: Bronxville, New York State, USA:
“Once into a rhythm in the first race I got in some good, fast laps but I didn’t race well enough in the opening stages and lost a couple of positions. I started eighth and Mike brought the Audi home 10th equaling our best race result of the season – Mike gets all the credit for racing so well on ‘old’ tires.
“Mike battled well in what seemed to be pretty much an incident-free opening to Race 2 but when I was driving, there were yellow flags everywhere with lots of things going on and was pretty chaotic. Despite losing time due to not being able to overtake caused by the yellows, I clawed in some places – the pace of the Audi real good at the end again.
“My biggest disappointment this season was the Balance of Power adjustments, or lack of them, but the FIA got there in the end and our fantastic Audi sports car was then able to fight for top-10 placings. I’ve enjoyed racing on some of Europe’s finest tracks, including revisiting the incomparable Spa, and the new, exciting and highly challenging Portimão track. My biggest surprise was how deep the field of driving talent has been – I imagined, and had hoped (!) there would have been more ‘Bronze’ graded drivers. Best moment was for Mike and I to score United Autosports’ first championship point. Meanwhile our Audi has been flawless mechanically all season.”
#23 Remington – Audi R8 LMS
Zak Brown (USA). Lives: Carmel, Indiana, USA:
“My qualifying was a bit sloppy and never got in a good lap then I got a terrible start in the opening race which really sucked which then went from bad to worse at Turn 1. I hit a Ford GT40 being too aggressive and ended up in the ‘kitty litter’ which took an age to get towed out. Although we were able to continue our race was effectively over and I felt terrible for Matt.
“I had a whole lot of fun in the second race and the Audi was just great again in the closing laps. Unfortunately I got hit from behind by a Ford GT40 so that cost me some time and re-take the cars I’d already overtaken. Unfortunately there were a lot of yellows [flags] so I couldn’t pass on half the track. I’m happy to finish the season in the points again – we were strong in our last three races so I’m already looking forward to next year.
“What I’ve learnt in the last five months is that this series is one of the toughest and most competitive racing championships in the world. I’ve been surprised just how difficult the competition has been with the lowest point coming at Silverstone when it became blatantly obvious just how long it was going to take us to become competitive. But it’s been a whole bunch of fun with our rostrum finish at Portimão the obvious highlight.”
Matthew Bell (GB). Lives: Barningham nr Richmond, North Yorkshire, England:
“I struggled a bit in qualifying but sat down with my engineer and looked over the data but Race 1 effectively became another test session after Zak’s first corner incident meant we weren’t really in the race. I made a good start in Race 2 and fought hard. We were all close together but it’s very difficult to overtake as the track is so narrow making it easy to defend.
“It’s been a very tough, full first year for me. The biggest surprise was the level of competition when we arrived for the opening races at Silverstone. After that weekend in early May, I soon realized it was going to be a hard year. But I've also learnt a lot – about the Audi R8 LMS, about the circuits and about the team – which can only help me next year when I will do British GT and the FIA series again. Failing to finish three races were the low points of the season while not surprisingly the podium at Portimão is the obvious stand out moment of the year for me.”
Richard Dean (GB), Managing Director & Co-Owner of United Autosports:
“Qualifying was disappointing – a very average performance – although Mark produced a fine effort. The opening race was short-lived for the #23 Audi when Zak made a slow start at the green light and suffered a collision at the first corner. After that it became a ‘test’ for that car. Mark did a solid job to keep the #22 Audi in touch with the top-10 when he handed over to Mike in what was effectively the fast group of ‘gold’ rated drivers. Mike held his own there and went on to score another championship point and I’m delighted for them both, they did a really good job.
“The #22 Audi spun while the #23 Audi was pushed off the track in Race 2 which cost us places but both finished strongly. Mike and Mark were really strong. Matt did a solid job before Zak got hit pretty hard in to a spin which cost us a top-five but he got himself back into the points.
“We have shown an improvement over the year which is very pleasing. We’ll come back next year bigger and stronger. The biggest thing I’ve learnt this year is that the FIA GT3 series is very, very tough and not to pre-judge our competitiveness before the first official qualifying session of the year – otherwise you can only be disappointed! But we didn’t panic and once the BoP was actually balanced it came together for us.
“I’m very proud of what Zak and my team has achieved it its first season and the hard work they’ve put in while maintaining a good sense of humor and great atmosphere. On-track watching Zak stick the Audi on the front row in Portugal and proving to everyone we finally had found our true pace was a lovely moment. Matt showing he has star quality in the making. But the progress of all four drivers this year and how positive and supportive they have been. And of course Spa, although not part of the FIA series, the end of the 24 Hour race left me with mixed feelings. I was on a high for finishing third and fourth in class in our first ever 24 hour race but also felt a little low knowing we were so close to winning GT3.”
Audi R8 LMS (Sportscar according to latest 2010 FIA GT3 regulations)
V10 5.2-liter engine, 4 valves per cylinder, petrol direct injection, emission control by two racing catalytic converters, rear-wheel-drive, traction control (ASR), sequential pneumatic activated 6-speed sport gearbox with shift-paddles, Audi Space Frame (ASF) made of aluminum with bolted steel roll-cage, carbon-fiber composite/aluminum bodywork, Michelin radial tires. Start weight 1,335kg. Limitation at 8500rpm for every gear. Developed by Audi Sport with cooperation from quattro GmbH. Won FIA GT3 European Championship, ADAC-GT Masters and Belgian GT Championship plus Nürburgring 24 Hours and Spa 24 Hours class victories in début 2009 season scoring a total 23 victories. United Autosports achieved third and fourth places on the team’s 24 hour race début in the 2010 Spa 24 Hours and its first FIA GT3 European Championship top-three finish in Portugal (19 Sep).
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