§ Britain’s Danny Watts grabs third despite heavy traffic and red flags
§ Richard Meins brings Audi R8 LMS through to eighth
§ United Autosports gain valuable experience, time and data with the McLaren MP4-12C GT3 development car
Britain’s Danny Watts (Thornborough) débuted the magnificent McLaren MP4-12C GT3 in Macau on Thursday and then drove the GR Asia-backed development car to a fine third overall qualifying position today despite heavy traffic on the tight, twisty circuit and red flags which halted proceedings mid-way.
Fellow Brit, Hong Kong-based Richard Meins brought the United Autosports Audi R8 LMS GT3 through to a confidence-boosting eighth place on the grid, despite a loss of front aerodynamics after a brush with the wall during pre-qualifying on Friday.
On the whole it was a very satisfactory qualifying performance for the Leeds-based Anglo-American team returning to Macau for only its second visit, and the first with the McLaren MP4-12C development car, which was making its attention-grabbing inaugural appearance at the Guia Circuit.
Sponsored by GR Asia, the two cars and drivers – both of whom were racing at Macau for the 10th year - had their first run on an unusually wet track on Thursday in practice but neither driver was pushing too hard in the damp conditions and heavy traffic.
However, the track was dry for yesterday’s pre-qualifying run and both Watts and Meins were running well until the session was red-flagged half way through due to an accident at Mandarin. Meins had good track position, getting out in front of the pack until he spun at the final corner and glanced the barrier with his front bumper. He was able to continue and still managed a creditable seventh fastest time overall.
Watts was less fortunate at the re-start and had to endure heavy traffic leaving the pits and was therefore baulked extensively.
Today’s qualifying session proved to be a major challenge for both United Autosports drivers to get a clean run, and with only 20 minutes to set a time, there was only enough time for one flying lap before the red flags came out for Hong Kong’s Samson Chan in the Ford GT3, who crashed into the wall at Dona Maria Bend.
At this point Watts and Meins were holding third and seventh respectively, but there was only 13 minutes on the clock, and when another spinner brought out the yellow flags, the GR Asia-backed drivers were prevented from making any further progress. A ‘long’ brake pedal in the McLaren hampered Watts further and then a stricken Ginetta G50 spoiled a third potentially quick lap when the yellow flags came out again, at which point, Watts chose to return to the pits with 25 seconds remaining in order to save his tyres.
Meins meanwhile, was also baulked by heavy traffic and thus ended the session bumped down to eighth on the last lap by Japan’s Tomonobu Fujii in an Aston Martin DBRS9.
That leaves it all to play for in tomorrow’s race which starts at 9.00am local time for the Star River-Windsor Arch Macau GT Cup, which will be a 12-lap counter around the 3.8-mile lap circuit.
Provisional Timetable (all times are local):
Sunday 20 November - 09.00 – 10.00 Star River-Windsor Arch Macau GT Cup – Race, 12 Laps
Danny Watts (GB). Age 31. Born: Aylesbury, UK. Lives: Thornborough, nr Buckingham, GB
“I’m not disappointed with third; obviously I wanted to be on pole position for the race, which is the best place to start round here as there’s limited overtaking opportunities. It’s a very tight and twisty circuit, so qualifying is everything, but the biggest thing I’m disappointed with is the size of the gap - it’s over four seconds - to Mortara on pole position! I’m very close to Japan’s Keita Sawa, who is second, and I think he and I will have a good race tomorrow. Mortara is excellent around here anyway; he’s won the Formula 3 race twice and he’s a top quality driver, but certainly not four seconds quicker.
“I think that’s about the maximum I could go with the car without doing anything silly. We’ve got a little bit to find but to be fair the car does feel quite good. I had a long brake pedal towards the end but it’s my favourite circuit and I really enjoyed it. It’s always the same at Macau with crashes so you need to find a clear lap; that is key. There was a red flag in the session and a bit of cement dust down but that was soon cleared up. The pre-qualifying yesterday was good in terms of mileage and developing the car, and for me to dial myself into the McLaren a little bit more. It’s really about the team learning the McLaren as well and we’ve made really good progress this weekend, but let’s just go for it tomorrow in the race.”
Richard Meins (GB). Age 56. Born: Beckenham, UK. Lives: Stanley, Hong Kong.
“I knew what I had to do from yesterday after I spun and touched the wall. The problem was the car was making horrible noises afterwards. Going through the first corner and Mandarin, it was really making lots of noise with bodywork rubbing and scratching on the road. I lost a second and a half or so in sector one, and that would have put me up close to fourth or fifth today, but not to be in the end.
“I finished yesterday’s session seventh, but got bumped down to eighth today but I’m not so worried about that; I’m more interested in my own time. I want to do the best I can and I don’t think I’ve achieved what I could have today, so it’s a little bit frustrating. Thursday’s wet session was interesting and I quite enjoyed it. You don’t often drive here in the wet and I actually like it and I would be really happy for a wet race because it’s a leveller. I’d prefer a wet race but I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Richard Dean (GB), Managing Director & Co-Owner of United Autosports.
“We’ve had no major dramas with our cars but there have been cars in the wall, cars on fire, a busy track, and a huge speed differential this year from the front to back of the grid. The front of the grid’s getting more and more competitive; there are really serious factory-supported cars and quality drivers. Mortara is probably as good as it gets round here in Macau, combined with the factory Audi. Danny’s done a good job. We’re five or six seconds quicker than we were here last year with Danny, so we’re a bit disappointed with P3 because Danny’s very capable of being on the front row but with the usual Macau traffic, potentially the best lap was probably held back for Danny. We’re still very much developing the McLaren, putting more mileage on it and sending more data back to the factory and CRS. I’m sure they’ll be pleased to see the car third on the grid and hopefully have a good race.
“Richard’s gone quicker than he qualified last year against tougher competition and the data says there was a lot more left for him. It wasn’t out of the question for him to be front two or three rows, and as it turned out eighth on the grid is not a bad effort. It was an unfortunate incident yesterday on cold tyres and low tyre pressures when he spun and glanced the wall. You could say unlucky but it was also lucky as we could see the damage was only superficial and we kept him out on track. I think there’s more time to come in Richard, so I’m pleased.
“There’s a lot of racing today, so more rubber’s going down and the track’s getting cleaner and therefore faster, so I expect it to be even faster. I think the top three are under the lap record already so expect the lap record to be broken tomorrow comfortably. We’re third and eighth on the grid, it’s an early race tomorrow, so fingers crossed we can improve positions on both cars; we’ve certainly got the right drivers who know the place really well and who race well here.