· Dynamic performance by Dalziel, Potolicchio and Popow claims team a fantastic third place in Audi R8 LMS
· Suspense-filled race provides drama to the finish after 12 hours
· In one of the closest GT3 races in history United Autosports in the lead battle up to finish line sprint
In one of the tensest finishes to any endurance race, the United Autosports trio of Scot Ryan Dalziel and Venezuelan pair, Enzo Potolicchio and Alex Popow drove an inspired race, leading the inaugural running of the Gulf 12 Hours at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi on yesterday with just 30 minutes to the finish.
With half an hour of the race left, Dalziel had the lead and was heading for certain victory until the safety car negated the team’s hard-earned advantage. Once back under the green flags and right on the tail of the Audi R8 LMS, the two Ferraris of Marco Cioci and Philipp Peter just picked him off on the long straights and a frustrated Dalziel took a valiant third just place 9.884s behind the winner after 299 laps and 12 hours of racing. The top three GT3 cars were covered by just nine seconds at the flag.
Keeping up the momentum from the Dubai 24 Hours, United Autosports campaigned a sole Audi R8 LMS for the Duncan Batteries, Taxand and Soloson-sponsored drivers in Abu Dhabi, Dalziel posting a 2m11.976s best lap time for the Anglo-American squad to start third in the race.
There was plenty of action around the 3.45-mile circuit throughout the 12 hours, which started in daylight and finished in the evening under the infamous Yas Island floodlights. The 12 hour race was split into two parts of six hours duration each with a 90 minute break in between.
Dalziel started the race for United Autosports, maintaining his fourth grid slot at the start and successfully fending off an attack by one of the AF Corse cars. Potolicchio brought the car up to third with Popow getting into the driving seat after 81 laps and taking second place following a rapid pit stop by the crew.
A longer stop to change front brake pads with 1hr 37 minutes remaining dropped the Audi back to third and now it was imperative to stay on the same lap as the two Ferraris ahead. Popow, now in the #5 Audi, locked his front bumper onto the leading Ferrari and with eight minutes to run, forged his way past to finish the first six hours in third place and crucially on the same lap as the Ferraris.
Potolicchio was back at the wheel for the start of the second part of the race and was almost immediately in trouble when the #90 AF Corse Ferrari ran straight into him, losing Enzo about 17 seconds to recover from a resulting spin. When the safety car was deployed again, Enzo made his mandatory pit stop handing the reins to Alex, who began to hone in on the #3 Ferrari. Another change to Dalziel and the Audi needed another set of brake pads, which the team changed in record time, exiting the pits just as the safety car was released onto the circuit yet again.
With just over two hours left, Potolicchio was involved in a do-or-die dogfight with the Kessel Ferrari, the Venezuelan snatching second after a riveting performance. The next pit stop coincided perfectly with another safety car period, this time while Popow was in the car, and he was able to hold station in second place behind the #3 Ferrari, which was a pit stop behind.
However, the final half hour was simply nail-biting as the team willed Dalziel to stay ahead to the finish. When the safety car was deployed with 36 minutes left on the clock, his lead was eroded and as the race went green again, he could no longer hold off the two Ferraris which had the pace on the straights and he brought the Audi home in third for a fine podium finish.
Ryan Dalziel (GB), Age 29. Born: Glasgow, Scotland UK. Lives: Orlando, FL, USA:
“We knew that we were up against the factory Ferrari 458s and United Autosports gave us a really good car. We all drove the wheels off it all day - all the guys did an incredible job. We went a little bit off-strategy, but came out in the lead and everything was going perfectly until the last safety car which was the last thing we wanted.
”It was a difficult race - for sure second was on the cards, but we got a podium; third place is good. We accomplished everything we came out here to do - we wanted to represent North American and South American racing, and we mixed it with some really good guys and great teams so we’re really happy to be part of this. We’re very grateful to United Autosports and between the three of us, thank you to everybody for having us.”
Enzo Potolicchio (VE), Age 43. Lives: Caracas, Venezuela:
“The strategy worked really well - I was able to pass the leading Ferrari and held off the other one coming out of the pits which was really good to lead for a while. We actually pulled out a little bit and I handed the car over in the lead. We did some really good stints and kept the car on the lead lap most of the race. It's unfortunate - we could have had a little bit more luck but unfortunately the luck wasn't there for us.”
Alex Popow (VE), Age 36. Lives: Lecheria, Venezuela:
“This has been a sweet and sour experience; in the beginning we were struggling with trying to go six hours with the brakes and that's one of the things that didn't work for us and we lost some time [changing the pads]. But the car was great. Ryan did a good job; the Ferraris were so fast on the straight but we were faster on the slow parts of the track.
”The best part of the race for me, the moment when I was most inspired was trying to go to the end of the first 6-hours on the limit and it paid off because in the end we were able to keep it on the same lead lap to start the second part of the race on the lead lap, which was crucial to being in contention for the last 15 minutes.”
Richard Dean (GB), Managing Director & Co-Owner of United Autosports:
“It doesn’t get much closer than that; 12 hours racing, three cars covered by nine seconds. I thought we had it there but the safety car that came out with 20 minutes to go cancelled out our lead and putting the three cars together made for quite a race at the end. We had a good strategy on our initial pit stops and it gave us something to play with at the end which put us back into the lead, so credit to all the team on that.
“I couldn’t have been happier to be in the lead after 11 hours and 45 minutes. You just don’t expect it to be a sprint race like that for 12 straight hours. AF Corse, a great team, and Kessel, they’ve all won championships before, so it feels hurtful right now that we’ve got so close and we’re only third but it’s no disgrace to be beaten by class teams like that and it shows how far we’ve come. We didn’t make a mistake and I think we made time up. Unfortunately the Audi’s a little bit heavier on brakes than the Ferrari, so we had to do an extra brake pad change in both races, which the Ferraris didn’t, so I was very pleased to make that time back up in the pit stops again.
"Long distance races are all about team work and strategy but the three drivers, I have to say, were very close, very evenly matched; they didn’t make a mistake and really kept us in with a shout right to the end.”