- Johansson, Bell & Li set fastest times in qualifying “lottery” for Total 24 Hours of Spa
- Drivers happy with Audi R8 LMS despite inconsistent weather conditions
- Tough race in prospect for ultra-competitive 62-car field
United Autosports starts the Total 24 Hours of Spa (Belgium) on Saturday afternoon (July 30) at 4pm (local) well prepared for its second assault on the famous twice-around-the-clock encounter.
The Anglo-American team has three Audi R8 LMS sports cars on the 62-car grid aiming for honors having achieved third and fourth GT3 class places in last year’s corresponding race – the team’s maiden 24 hour race.
Stefan Johansson (SE), Matt Bell (GB) and Alain Li (F) were ultimately the fastest drivers in the #23, #11 and #12 Audi sports cars. The trio were on “slicks” in their respective cars when track conditions were at their best in Thursday night’s final qualifying session which ended close to midnight in frenetic circumstances – the closing moments all about finding a clear lap on the ever drying track. All on-track activity on Thursday was weather affected. The opening “free practice” morning session began on a wet track with the afternoon’s “pre-qualifying” washed out towards the end. The three UA Audi sports cars remained on full-treaded “wet” tires throughout the opening two qualifying sessions from earlier rain. The third and final time trials began at 10.15pm (local) with the track still damp but all three R8 LMS cars had changed to “slicks” with 35mins remaining as a dry “line” appeared and times tumbled with every lap of the 4.35-mile Spa-Francorchamps track.
The team, which enters a brace of R8 LMS sports cars in the FIA GT3 European and British GT Championships – with UA leading the latter series – spent Thursday achieving a consistent, “comfortable” set-up for its 12-drivers – despite characteristically inconsistent weather conditions.
It is the 63rd running of the 24 Hours of Spa first staged in 1924 and is the third round of the new Blancpain Endurance Series exclusively for GT3 and GT4 cars. United Autosports competes for outright honors as well as a top placing in the GT3 Pro-Am Cup in what is expected to be an ultra-competitive event.
2011 Total 24 Hours of Spa United Autosports – Audi R8 LMS (start drivers and initial driver rotations): #11 Matt Bell (GB) / Mark Patterson (USA) / Eddie Cheever (USA) / Mark Blundell (GB) #12 Alain Li (F) / Richard Meins (GB) / Henri Richard (F) / Arie Luyendyk (NL) #23 Richard Dean (GB) / Zak Brown (USA) / Stefan Johansson (SE) / Johnny Herbert (GB) #11 Audi R8 LMS – Matt Bell / Mark Blundell / Eddie Cheever / Mark Patterson Grid Position: 34th 2min 35.543secs
Matthew Bell (GB). Age: 21. Lives: Barningham nr Richmond, North Yorkshire, England: Spa 24Hr: Début. Spa History: Spa début October 2009 (Ginetta G20). Last race at Spa: July 9-10 2011, British GT Championship (6th/4th). Other 24Hr races: None.
Mark Blundell (GB). Age: 45. Born: Barnet, England. Lives: Royston, England: Spa 24Hr: 2010 9th/3rd (United Autosports Audi R8 LMS). Spa History: Début May 16 1987 (F3000/2nd). F3000 (1987-89 – 1987/2nd), F1 (1991-95 – 91 scored first-ever F1 point, 94/5th, 95/5th), sports cars (1989/3rd). Last race at Spa: July 31-August 1 2010, Spa 24 Hours (9th/3rd). Other 24Hr races: Le Mans (1989, 1990, 1992/1st, 1995/4th, 2001, 2002, 2003/2nd). Daytona (2011/4th [United Autosports Riley-Ford]). Nürburgring (2011).
“Thursday was a long day and unfortunately all of my running was in the wet. We worked on the car collectively between the four drivers and we made progress in qualifying – at one point we were on pole-position. I’m sure Matt would have been in the top-10 without the clutch issue. We have a good, fast race car, especially in dry conditions and the forecast suggests the weather will improve as the weekend goes on.”
Eddie Cheever (USA). Age: 53. Born: Phoenix, Arizona, USA. Lives: Indianapolis, USA: Spa 24Hr: 2010 9th/3rd (United Autosports Audi R8 LMS). Spa History: Spa début May 22 1983 F1/3rd, F1 (1983, 85-89 – 1983/3rd, 1987/4th, 1988/6th), GpC (1986/5th, 1987/4th. Last race at Spa: July 31-August 1 2010, Spa 24 Hours (9th/3rd). Other 24Hr races: Le Mans (1980/19th, 1981/8th, 1986/24th, 1987/5th). Daytona (2006/17th, 2007/32nd).
“Thursday was the first time I’d driven the Audi since this race last year. With four drivers in a car you don’t get too many laps behind the wheel. Qualifying was a little convoluted with the track conditions changing and we are a lot quicker than what the final result sheet shows. We had some issues with the handling in the wet and damp but progressively made the car more manageable which is a good thing to have if we are going to fight for honors .”
Mark Patterson (USA). Age: 59. Born: Port Elizabeth, S Africa. Lives: Bronxville, N.Y., USA: Spa 24Hr: 2009 17th o/a (Ferrari 430 GT3); 2010 10th/4th (United Autosports Audi R8 LMS). Spa History: Début 2001. Lamborghini Super Trophy (2001). Last race at Spa: July 31-August 1 2010, Spa 24 Hours (10th/4th). Other 24Hr races: Daytona (2004 38th/13th, 2005 23rd/14th, 2006/2nd, 2007/9th, 2008/6th, 2009/41st, 2010/7th, 2011/4th [United Autosports Riley-Ford]).
“Thursday was a long day with tricky conditions throughout. We had the opportunity to run in different weather which could be useful for the race. Of course it would have been nice to start inside the top-10 but nevertheless all four of us are feeling good about our times and very comfortable that we can drive the Audi consistently. We are all confident we can have a good race.”
#12 Audi R8 LMS – Alain Li / Arie Luyendyk / Richard Meins / Henri Richard Grid Position: 53rd 2min 44.720secs Alain Li (F).Age: 51. Born: Caen, France. Lives: Hong Kong:
Spa 24Hr: 2010 10th/4th (United Autosports Audi R8 LMS). Spa History: Début 2004, Ferrari Challenge Series (2004-8). Last race at Spa: July 31-August 1 2010, Spa 24 Hours (10th/4th). Other 24Hr races: None.
“It was very difficult to settle on Thursday and get into a decent rhythm due to the changing conditions. My first run of the day was in very wet conditions and then only got a short run later because we needed to rotate all of the drivers through the car. I did quite well in qualifying and the car felt good. The track was drying quickly at the end so people were going quicker and quicker. But it is a 24 Hour race and hopefully we can get a good result.”
Arie Luyendyk (NL). Age: 57. Born: Sommelsdijk, The Netherlands. Lives: Fountain Hills, AZ, USA: Spa 24Hr: Début. Spa History: Début. Other 24Hr races: Daytona (1986/2nd, 1988/89/91/97 (all DNFs), 1998/1st, 1999/8th; Le Mans (1989/DNF).
“I spun out early in the opening session on Thursday morning. It was a really slow, innocent spin but when I hit the wet grass it picked up speed and I hit the Armco with the front, damaging our Audi which also put a dent in my confidence. In honesty I felt I haven’t yet come to grips with the car or the track yet. When I went on to ‘slicks’ in the last session I couldn’t get a clear lap. Hopefully I can put my frustrations behind me during the race and get into a rhythm as I spend longer behind the wheel.”
Richard Meins (GB). Age: 56. Born: Beckenham, Kent, England. Lives: Stanley, Hong Kong: Spa 24Hr: Début. Spa History: Début 1999 (National Saloons). 2006 1st & 3rd Grand Prix Masters (Surtees TS19), 2006 2nd World Sportscar Masters (Lola T70), 2nd (Ford GT40), 2007 4th Grand Prix Masters (McLaren M23), 2008 2nd Masters Sportscars (Lola T70), 5th Historic Motor Racing News U2TC (Mini Cooper). Last race at Spa: September 24-26 2010, 3rd Spa 6Hrs Endurance (Ford GT40). Other 24Hr races: Nürburgring (2004/5/6). BritCar (Silverstone, GB).
“The weather scuppered most of our plans. I needed to dial myself in having not driven the R8 LMS since last November but it’s such an unforgiving car that after a couple of runs I was fine. There is still more time in me but that will come during the race. So long as we can stay clear of issues in the race it doesn’t matter where you qualify in a 24 hour race.”
Henri Richard (F). Age: 53. Born: Paris, France. Lives: Los Altos Hills, California, USA: Spa 24Hr: Début. Spa History: None. Spa début 2011 Spa 24 Hours. Last race at Spa: None. Other 24Hr races: Daytona 24 Hours (2010, 2011).
“I did just five laps in the opening two sessions and was only in a position to push the car in the final session. I’m happy so long as I am faster every time I go out. I went on to ‘slicks’ in the last session but took it relatively easy. It’s my first time here at Spa and it’s certainly a beautiful track – even in the weather we’ve endured so far. I have got a great team, great co drivers and a great, great car – I’d forgotten since the China race last November just how good the Audi was to drive. I can’t wait for the race to start – it should be a whole lot of fun.”
#23 Audi R8 LMS – Zak Brown / Richard Dean / Johnny Herbert / Stefan Johansson Grid Position: 29th 2min 34.216secs Zak Brown (USA). Age: 39. Born: Los Angeles, California, USA. Lives: Carmel, Indiana, USA: Spa 24Hr: 2010 9th/3rd (United Autosports Audi R8 LMS). Spa History: Opel Lotus Formula (1993/3rd). Last race at Spa: July 31-August 1 2010, Spa 24 Hours (9th/3rd). Other 24Hr races: BritCar (Silverstone, GB), Daytona (1997/8th, 1999, 2000, 2010/33rd o/a/20th, 2011/4th [United Autosports Riley-Ford]).
“Thursday was the worst track conditions I have ever seen. It had constantly rained – and much of it was very heavy! I completed less that 10 laps throughout the day. We were either getting red flagged, or the session cut short but it’s a long race. I just needed to get reacquainted with the Audi around here but the conditions were always tricky. Last year we qualified 16th on the grid and almost won GT3. If race conditions are changeable it could be about being the smartest, not necessarily the fastest driver, out there. We have a lot of experience in all three cars so if we can keep it on the ‘island’ and stay out of trouble, we could be looking good after 24hours.”
Richard Dean (GB). Age: 46. Born & Lives: Leeds, West Yorkshire, England: Spa 24Hr: 2010 9th/3rd (United Autosports Audi R8 LMS). Spa History: Début August 29 1992/Ret (F3000). F3000 (1992), FIA GT (1997/24th/12th), British GT (1998/6th/2nd 1999/2nd). Last race at Spa: July 31-August 1 2010, Spa 24 Hours (9th/3rd). Other 24Hr races: WillHire (GB), BritCar (Silverstone, GB) 2006/2nd o/a / 1st in class), Nürburgring, Le Mans (2006/15th/1st, 2007/23rd/5th, 2009), Mondello Park (IRL), Daytona (2010/33rd/20th), Dubai.
“Our pace is good on ‘slicks’ but am not convinced we are getting the best out of our wet tires. Matt [Bell] was unfortunate, I am sure he would have been in the top-10 had his clutch not failed. It would have been nice to qualify higher but it is a long race and, we should not forget, a very competitive one with a highly experienced and competitive field. But we have come from these type of grid positions before and we all experienced enough to know that anything can happen in a 24 hour race.”
Johnny Herbert (GB). Age: 46. Born: Brentwood, Essex, England. Lives: Dorsington nr Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England: Spa 24Hr: Début. Spa History: Début September 13 1986 (F3/8th). F1 (1989, 1991/7th, 1992/13th ret, 1993/5th, 1994/12th, 1995/7th, 1996, 1997/4th, 1998/10th, 1999/11th, 2000/8th), F3 (1986/87). Last race at Spa: September 12 2004 (LMS/1st). Other 24Hr races: Le Mans (1990, 1991/1st, 1992/4th, 2001, 2002/2nd, 2003/2nd, 2004/2nd, 2007/9th). Dubai 24 Hours 2009 (45th/ 8th). Nürburgring (2011).
“Thursday was frustrating because of the weather. It rained, stopped, then rained again so was difficult to get to grips with – but then that’s typical Spa weather! At the end of qualifying the track became quicker. We each needed to get acclimatized with the Audi in the wet because it’s likely we’ll get some rain during the race at some point. It was nice to get out on slicks, it gets you ‘into’ the car and more comfortable. I’m sure we will be okay for the race – especially in the drier conditions which allows our Audi to be a lot more drivable and consistent, which is exactly what you need for a 24 hour race.”
Stefan Johansson (SE). Age: 54. Born: Växjö, Sweden. Lives: Los Angeles, California, USA: Spa 24Hr: 2010 10th/4th (United Autosports Audi R8 LMS). Spa History: Début August 9 1981 (F2/14th). F1 (1983, 85-91 – 1986/3rd, 1987/2nd), F2 (1981-2 – pole-position 1982/F2), GpC (1982-4), 1,000km sports cars (1988/1st). Last race at Spa: July 31-August 1 2010, Spa 24 Hours (10th/4th). Other 24Hr races: Le Mans (1983/6th, 1984, 1990, 1991/6th, 1992/5th, 1997/1st, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003/3rd, 2006, 2007, 2008). Daytona (2000 23rd, 2002 36th/13th, 2005/4th, 2006/22nd).
“Thursday was tough with very little time in the car for everyone combined with the ever-changing weather conditions. We steadily got a ‘handle’ on our car while the last phase of qualifying was interesting. There were so many cars out there in the final minutes. Each lap I came across a slower car in the ‘wrong’ place and needed to slam on the brakes. It would have been nice to be higher up, but it’s a 24 hour race after all so not critical.”
United Autosports Created in 2009, United Autosports is co-owned by American Zak Brown and Briton Richard Dean, both successful entrepreneurs and international race car drivers. The unique Anglo-American racing team fields GT3 class Audi R8 LMS sports cars from its United Kingdom headquarters in Leeds. It also races a fleet of “Legends of Motorsports” historic racing cars from its US facility in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 2011, the team competes in full-seasons of FIA GT3 European Championship, Avon Tyres British GT Championship and the “Legends of Motorsports” series. It will additionally contest selected GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series events, the 24 Hours of Spa (Belgium) and Macau GT Cup race (China).
Audi R8 LMS V10 5.2-liter engine, 4 valves per cylinder, petrol direct injection, 523 PS, 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, Dunlop (for FIA & Spa 24Hr) and Avon (for BGT) radial tires. Minimum start weight 1,295kg. Limitation at 8500rpm for every gear. Developed by Audi Sport with cooperation from quattro GmbH. Won seven championships across Europe in 2009-2010 plus Spa 24 Hours class victory in début 2009 season and Nürburgring 24 Hours class victories in 2009-2010 and scoring a total 64 victories. (ends)
Date of issue: Friday July 29, 2011 Additional information: * Comprehensive driver biographies plus team & car profiles are available on the United Autosports website http://www.unitedautosports.com
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