Monday, March 7, 2011

United Autosports Replicates Strong GRAND-AM Début With Another Solid Result In “Grand Prix of Miami” Despite Unfortunate Setback

  • Blundell unceremoniously barged out of strong second place in opening hour
  • Valiante recovers to place #23 Ford-Riley in the lead with 27mins to checker
  • United Autosports with Michael Shank Racing placed fifth in GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Team Standings*

Mark Blundell (GB) and Michael Valiante (CAN) swept the United Autosports with Michael Shank Racing Ford-Riley home in to sixth position in the “Grand Prix of Miami” at Homestead today (March 5).

The Anglo-Canadian “combo” driving together for the first time, finished 24.012secs behind the winner in the 165mins race which ran 116-laps around the 2.3-mile, 11-turn Homestead-Miami combined speedway/road course and in 80°F ambient weather conditions.

Having qualified eighth fastest the previous day for the second round of the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16, Blundell completed the opening lap in sixth place and was third after 26mins just 12secs behind the leader.

The ex-Formula One & IndyCar driver, contesting only his second career GRAND-AM race, pitted during the race’s opening caution period with the #23 Ford-Riley exiting the pits in second place after stunning work by the pit crew.

Blundell ran a strong second until the #01 unceremoniously barged Blundell off the track with 49mins run. The heavy “side-on-side” contact shoved Blundell wide over the kerbs and onto the grass, Mark rejoining ninth with his assailant Memo Rojas penalized with a drive-thru penalty for the incident. 

Valiante took over on 63mins, resuming 11th one lap down, but by mid-distance was eighth setting lap times comparable with the leaders and importantly back on the lead lap. Having been up to fifth during the pit-stop phase, Michael himself pitted for fuel and tires with an hour to go, rejoining ninth.

When the race went green with 41mins remaining after the race’s third full course caution Michael, fifth in the corresponding 2006 race, lay second – directly behind the Michael Shank Racing #60 – but moments later swept in to the lead before the race went yellow once more.

The #23 Ford-Riley led at the re-start with 27mins remaining with Valiante setting the car’s fastest lap on lap 96. But Michael slipped back to third with 18mins to go as his tires deteriorated, losing another two places on the following lap (lap 102), then to sixth place three laps from home as his car’s tires continued to lose grip.

The United Autosports with Michael Shank Racing #23 Ford-Riley, having recorded fourth place in the Rolex 24 and now sixth at Homestead, is likely to make further outings at the end of the season.

#23 Johnnie Walker / UBS / Legends of Motorsports / Just Marketing International / GAC Logistics / Thunderhead / FXI – Riley-Ford

Mark Blundell (GB). Age: 44. Born: Barnet, England. Lives: Royston, England:
“I was very conscious of looking after the tires at the beginning of the race. The team did a great job on my first pit-stop to get me back out in second place. After the second caution, I didn’t have as much grip as I’d have liked due the tire’s heat cycle and so was under pressure from the #01 car when the race went green. But I believe I defended fairly and he [Rojas] didn’t need to knock me off the track – the incident was totally unnecessary. It cost us time and it cost us a lot of track position. Michael did a very good job but we were out of sync strategy wise [with pit-stops] but we just didn’t have the tire grip in the end. The guys that finished in front of us were just on fresher tires. Overall, still top-six and we’ve come away with a half smile on our faces but we know there’s a lot more to come. It’s only my second GRAND-AM race and I’ve very limited mileage here at Homestead so I’m still learning the Ford-Riley.”

Michael Valiante (CAN). Age: 31. Born: New Westminster, B. Columbia. Lives: Vancouver, Canada:
“It was a great race. We got out of sync on tires early on and we gambled. If we’d been on fresh tires at the end we’d have least got a podium – it’s frustrating. For once it would be nice to have a fairytale ending when we’ve had tough times. But we led. It wasn’t a bad weekend overall. I think it was a good showing for United Autosports and hopefully the speed that we showed and the pace that we had leads to some more races this year.”

Zak Brown (USA). Chairman & Co-Owner of United Autosports:
“I’m very proud of our team today. We weren’t even sure we were going to race until earlier this week.  Mark and Michael both did fantastic jobs behind the wheel. I watched every lap courtesy of SPEED TV and I was on the edge of my seat. Mike Shank and his crew did a great job giving us a fast race car and were great in the pits. It’s a bit of a bummer not to win after leading the race in the closing stages but sixth place isn’t too shabby. We’re now placed fifth in the Teams’ standings* which is incredible so we’ll work like hell to keep the effort going and maybe get to Barber in addition to the other couple of races we will do later in the year.”

Mike Shank (USA), Team Owner of Michael Shank Racing:
“The run-in with the 01 at the beginning hurt our chances and from there on we were off-sequence [with pit-stops] and that really effected the situation late in the race. We just didn't have enough tire, or luck, at the end.”

Riley DP
Roush-Yates prepared V8 Ford 5 liter modular engine, 4 cam, 4 valve, producing over 500hp. Rear-wheel-drive. Continental Tires. Weight: 2275lbs; 5 gears, paddle-shift gearbox. The Riley Technologies MK XXII is the most successful Daytona Prototype of all time.

United Autosports
Co-owned by Zak Brown and Richard Dean, the US-owned, UK-based team was formed in late 2009 and contested the 2010 FIA GT3 European Championship with a brace of Audi R8 LMS sports cars. Also competed in 24 Hours of Spa (finishing third & fourth in GT3 class on team’s 24 race début), Intercontinental Le Mans Cup at Zhuhai, China (third in GTC) and Macau (third GT Cup). Competes in the 2011 FIA GT3 European and Avon Tyres British GT Championships plus 24 Hours of Spa and Macau.

Michael Shank Racing
Since moving full-time to the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, Pataskala, Ohio-based Michael Shank Racing has taken three overall wins and 19 podium results, including second overall in the 2006 Rolex 24 At Daytona as well as monopolizing the front row for the 2008 Rolex 24.

* Daytona Prototype Unofficial Standings

** Comprehensive Blundell & Valiante biographies plus team profiles on United Autosports and Michael Shank Racing are available to download from the United Autosports website

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