United Autosports scored a stunning top-three GT3 rostrum finish on the American-owned team’s 24 Hour race début when Mark Blundell (GB), Zak Brown (US), Eddie Cheever (US) and Richard Dean (GB) steered their Audi R8 LMS home into third place in the annual and historic Spa 24 Hours this weekend (Jul 31-Aug 1).
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.
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.
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.
After the race Blundell was elated but tired after 7 years away from racing, “..feeling tired and ache all over, now the 8 hour road trip home…. It was a fun weekend but I am paying the price now, yawn!” said Blundell. And it looks like Spa is just the first race in a proper comeback for the ex-F1 star, “..great result on comeback and nearly won our class, but fire ignited to do more racing, watch this space”.
Welcome back Mark.
Photos: United Autosports, Malcolm Griffiths/LAT Photographic.