Sunday, October 2, 2011

United Autosports Pull Off Podium Goal at Petit Le Mans

United Autosports last night scored a stunning runner-up rostrum finish on their Le Mans Prototype race début. Zak Brown (USA), Stefan Johansson (SE) and Mark Patterson (USA) steered their Pescarolo-Judd home into second place in the LMP2 class as the checkered flag dropped on the Petit Le Mans race.

An early race set-back put their #22 car down to 49th overall but a strong car, faultless drives and expert pit stops saw Brown cross the line after 367 laps of the Road Atlanta race track 13th overall and 2nd in class.

With attrition always a large factor of endurance racing, United Autosports survived nine safety car periods and the team made just 13 pit stops to earn victory in the Michelin Green X Challenge.

In typical Petit Le Mans style, the first hour was an action-packed sixty minutes, which included two safety car periods. Johansson, who started the race fifth in class, had moved up to second in just 13 laps going into the first full course caution. But it was the second ‘yellow’ interval that would lose Johansson eight laps.

A slow-paced safety car backed the traffic up enough at the final chicane to cause a car to damage the #22’s rear bodywork, which forced Johansson into the pit lane with a smoking right rear corner. Unfortunately the car had to return to the garage for a replacement rear diffuser.

Great work by the motorsport crew would see Johansson return to the track fifteen minutes later with a full tank of fuel, new set of tyres and a complete new rear body section with a strategy that should pay off later in the race – now being able to run ‘long’.

By the time the race had reached quarter distance, Johansson had progressed to 4th and had weaved his way through the ‘GT’ field into 36th overall.

A fourth full course caution just shy of 3 hours into the event brought about the #22 car’s first driver change as Johansson handed over to Mark Patterson. In his debut Le Mans Prototype race, Patterson’s double-stint progressed #22 up to third in class when he returned to the pits for Brown’s LMP race debut just before half race distance.

It would be mid-way through Brown’s first double stint when the class-leading #26 Oreca 03 Nissan ran into problems, promoting Brown to 2nd spot, which would then remain unchallenged.

Entering into the ‘night’ period, the circuit was in almost complete darkness with just 60 laps of the 1000-mile race remaining. Patterson was knocking on the door of the top ten overall but couldn’t close the gap to the lead #33 car that was maintaining a blistering pace. However, the gap to third was looking safe and well under control.

Drama continued into the closing stages for Brown who found himself in the middle of a ‘GT’ class battle as the final yellow flag period of the race bunched the remaining cars together for a dash to the flag. Brown put all his long distance experience into play achieving his team’s goal of a podium finish at arguably one of the world’s greatest motor races.

Race result for LMP2 class: 1st (6th overall): #33 Level 5 Motorsports; 2nd (13th) United Autosports; 3rd (22nd) Signatech Nissan

#22 – United Autosports Pescarolo-Judd LMP2

Zak Brown (USA). Age: 39. Born: Los Angeles, California, USA. Lives: Carmel, Indiana, USA:

“It was a great debut here, taking second place at Petit Le Mans. Stefan got hit from behind early on which put us down; otherwise we would have had a big fight there for the win. The season’s not over yet but it’s a good way to start wrapping things up and thinking about next year.

“Everyone drove great; we all pulled our weight, nobody made any mistakes and the car was great the entire time. The last five laps were stressful but it was great to take the chequer. I’d love to come back and race these cars again and I bet I will one day.”

Stefan Johansson (SE). Age: 55. Born: Växjö, Sweden. Lives: Los Angeles, California, USA:

“The car was performing great all day, Mark and Zak didn’t make any mistakes and that’s exactly what we set out to do. The team did a fantastic job in the pit stops, and we just kept our nose clean.

“We were doing good lap times and it’s a pity [about the early race contact] but second is better than third. Hopefully we’ll have another try at winning the cake some other time.”

Mark Patterson (USA). Age: 59. Born: Port Elizabeth, SA. Lives: Bronxville, New York State, USA:

“I got an hour and a quarter and an hour and a half stints – one kicked in right as the sun was going down to pitch black and trust me that was a lot of agitate. There are two corners here where there’s no light at all but it’s easier to break late there because you can’t see the danger!

“But the tires were great, the car was great, the mechanics and engineers were first rate and there wasn’t a single mistake by all three drivers over 9.5 hours – that’s pretty unbelievable. We were careful and angry. We got the job done, but didn’t take too much risk. “

Richard Dean (GB), Managing Director & Co-Owner of United Autosports:

"I’ve been to this race three or four times and it’s a tough race to crack and I’m a bit stunned! DAMS are a world-class team in every formula they do so to partner them here was exactly the right thing and I can’t praise them enough. We’ve learned a lot working with them and to get United Autosports on the podium is exactly what was planned.

"I do not expect this to be United Autosports’ one and only foray into LMP racing. Quite when we go into a full-time campaign is something that will no doubt come up in conversation but we have a McLaren season to get through. We’ll be looking at when to make the right move to come full-time I’m sure.”

Upcoming: Final round of the British GT Championship at Silverstone (England) on October 8 . . . final two FIA GT3 European Championship races, Zandvoort (Netherlands), October 15-16 . . . Macau GT Cup (China), November 20 . . .

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