Unlike his legendary teammates Mark Blundell and Eddie Cheever, up and coming American road racer Mark Patterson is on his second time around at the Spa 24 Hours with the United Autosports Audi team. That doesn't make it any less exciting for him, though.
"I started racing six years ago in the single-seater Skip Barber Series in the States and Formula 1 quickly grabbed my attention, so I immediately became aware of the majestic Spa circuit," Patterson relates. "It then became my ambition to race there and I fulfilled that ambition just last year in the corresponding 24-hour race."
Patterson, who also races in Grand-Am, reckons this event is tougher than the Daytona 24-hour event
"All 24-hour races are a challenge both physically and mentally. Having raced at the 24 Hours of Daytona on seven occasions and then at Spa last year, in my opinion the mental factor is taken up several notches," he says. "The Spa track features many fantastic corners which are a huge challenge and which tax the driver – I think every track designer needs to physically drive the Spa circuit before he puts pen to paper."
Patterson reckons that the Audi R8 LMS that he will share with Johansson, Alain Li and fellow Anericam Emil Assento is well-suited to the challenge Spa presents, however.
"The Audi features various ABS and ASC settings that a driver can choose from in the cockpit. This combination for brakes and traction control will reduce the pressure slightly but, fundamentally, when you know there is the likelihood of changeable weather conditions effecting the race, either totally or partially around the track and in different forms of severity, you must always be 100% focused.
"There are the old, established parts of the track combined these days with the new sections with the ‘older' sections offering the biggest challenge – beautiful, technical sweeping elements. I'm sure that the R8 LMS will be well-suited to Spa – indeed one finished third overall in the corresponding race last year."
Spa challenges have gotten the better of some big names, and Patterson had a birds-eye view of one in last year's race.
"In last year's Spa race, Jacques Villeneuve was caught out in one of those customary heavy showers at the final sweeping corner as we approached the bus-stop chicane," he recalls. "I was following Jacques, visibility was very poor as the rain thrashed down, and we were both on slicks and needing to pit. It was really precarious to keep control and unfortunately for Jacques, he lost it big time. You can never underestimate how tricky Spa can be – especially in those conditions."
The weekend has featured plenty of those conditions thus far, although Friday support series events have run under dry – but threatening – conditions. Patterson and his teammates are counting on the unexpected when the 24 hour race gets underway Saturday afternoon.