United Autosports: Blundell, Cheever, Brown & Dean score Spa podium!

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United Autosports scored a terrific top-three finish in last weekends 24 hour race at Spa. The #68 Audi R8 of Mark Blundell (GB), Zak Brown (US), Eddie Cheever (US) and Richard Dean (GB) had fabulous début and teh drivers were thrilled with the performance having started from 16th.

A power steering issue on the #68 Audi of Blundell/Brown/Cheever/Dean, just four hours from the finish with Cheever poised to re-take the class lead, cost them a possible GT3 victory following a lengthy pit-stop for repairs. The Leeds (GB)-based team’s “sister” Audi of Emil Assentato (US), Stefan Johansson (Sw), Alain Li (F) and Mark Patterson (US) added to United Autosports’ superb achievement by finishing fourth in class, the team’s brace of R8 LMS GT3 sports cars claiming ninth and 10th overall in the 40-car field.

Here is a recap of the race:

At one-quarter distance, the #68 and #67 United Autosports cars were placed fifth and 10th in class respectively – the latter surviving two harmless spins. Cheever’s 128min stint saw him remain on “slick” dry weather tires, the American reveling in the treacherously slippery conditions as rain fell in varying degrees of intensity which saw the #68 hovering just outside the top-three.

With 6hr 25m gone Dean, who had qualified 10th in class on Thursday evening and who had begun the race, was up to third in the #68 (9th overall) with Johansson, who qualified the #67 Audi 13th, eighth as heavy rain fell.

The #68 Audi enjoyed a relatively trouble-free night apart from a puncture and lay third (eighth overall) in the 16th hour in contrast to the “sister” #67 Audi which endured a more eventful night. Assentato visited the gravel trap at Les Combes twice, the second resulting in a Safety Car to retrieve the Audi (0115hr), Li suffered a harmless spin, Patterson contacted a backmarker necessitating an 11mins pit-stop for bodywork repairs (0324hr) while Johansson had a puncture (0445). Despite these dramas, Li was sixth (14th overall) at 0800hr.

Blundell swept the #68 into second place (sixth overall) during the pit-stop phase shortly before three-quarter distance (1000hr) prior to his own scheduled stop, with Patterson placed fifth (12th). But the honor of taking the GT3 class lead (fifth overall) for the first time fell appropriately to United Autosports’ Chairman & Co-Owner Brown 19hrs into the race (1100).

With four hours remaining, Cheever and Assentato lay second (sixth overall) and fourth (10th) in class but moments later Cheever in the #68 Audi and poised to re-take the GT3 lead, Cheever controlled a massive “moment” exiting the high speed Eau Rouge, a power steering issue diagnosed after two subsequent pit-stops costing 43mins and dropping the #68 to third in class (ninth overall) – one place ahead of the “sister” car – with three hours remaining.

Mark Blundell said:

“I’m a little disappointed with only third place after leading GT3 and when a win looked realistic but that’s endurance racing. It looked like a win, I had one moment when another car hit me during the race. Double-stinting [approximately 140mins] after seven years out or a racecar has been tough. I must admit I’m tired. The team has done a tremendous job to get onto the winners’ rostrum in its first 24 hour race and I’m personally very happy to be in the best-placed Audi.”

Zak Brown brought the Audi home:

“I’m a little disappointed with only third place after leading GT3 and when a win looked realistic but that’s endurance racing. It looked like a win, I had one moment when another car hit me during the race. Double-stinting [approximately 140mins] after seven years out or a racecar has been tough. I must admit I’m tired. The team has done a tremendous job to get onto the winners’ rostrum in its first 24 hour race and I’m personally very happy to be in the best-placed Audi.”

Edie Cheever was elated with the efforts and results:

“The United Autosports team did everything and more than anyone could have expected in its maiden 24 hours. Our strategy, pit-stops and engineering were all good. My first stint, getting in the car after Richard, Mark and Zak was difficult due to the conditions with the track going from wet, drying, getting wetter again etc etc, but that was the same for everyone. With a track as long as this, you get half good and half bad in terms of track conditions so you may as well suck it up and stay out [on slicks] which is what I did. The Audi R8 LMS was very good in those conditions. It has a lot of electronics that helps the driver to use whatever grip is available. That stint allowed us to put a dent in to the others and put us in the game. I didn’t have any problems in the second stint. Around lunchtime on Sunday, I had a power steering problem coming out of Eau Rouge and I was lucky not to crash.

And finally, Richard Dean was pleased but hated to miss the win. Just fuel for the next race:

“The United Autosports did not exist six months ago. To achieve third and fourth places and be the best placed Audi team with both cars finishing, I have to be proud. That said, it’s tinged with a little disappointment because a win was beckoning for a while. I started and my opening stint was trouble-free, the balance of the car improved as the stint went on. I then did a double stint behind the wheel in the wet which went well apart from near the end when I was on “wets” and the racing line was bone dry. It was looking like a three stint session in the car next time out but I picked up a punctured left front tire bringing my stint to a finish.”

A terrific result for the team and a real achievement for Brown and Dean. Having Cheever and Blundell paid off and I did see a few Tweets from Blundell about this event refueling his desire to drive more…that’s good for everyone.

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