It's a 24-hour slog, it's on one of the great road racing stages of the world -- and it's not Le Mans or Daytona. No, we're talking Spa-Francorchamps, home of the Belgian Grand Prix, which this weekend plays host to the FIA GT1 series for the first time, and there's a solidly American angle, too.
United Autosport, the GT3 team co-founded this year by U.S. motorsports marketing maven Zak Brown and Britain's Richard Dean, is making a big splash in its debut at Spa. Brown and Dean have lined an all-star cast of drivers for their pair of Audi R8 LMs, including: Indy 500 winner and sports car/F1 ace Eddie Cheever, fellow F1 vets Mark Blundell and Stefan Johansson, American road racer Mark Patterson and the team co-owners.
For Johansson, its both a return and something new, as this will be his first taste of the epic Ardennes course in GT car.
“I have mostly good memories of Spa," relates Johansson. "I must say, it is a fabulous racetrack so it has always been a pleasure to go there and get to drive. All the races didn't go well, of course, but most of them went OK. I won a six hour race there in a Mercedes Group C sports car in 1988 while finishing third there in the 1986 Grand Prix, second in 1987, with my McLaren teammate Alain Prost in front of me, so it has all been mostly good."
We'll have more details of United Autosports Spa venture throughout the weekend, but ahead of tomorrow's qualifying sprint, team co-owner Dean was understandably enthusiastic.
"We're blessed with an amazing driver lineup – Zak and I have big smiles on our faces," he said. "When I walked in On room with Eddie, Mark and Stefan on the Spa Test Day, everyone stared – and it wasn't at me! That was the precedent for the day as there were a lot of fans around during the day getting their autographs and I'm sure that will continue during the race."
In addition to the bolstered driving lineup, for this one-off marathon (as opposed to the usual one-hour GT3 events), various “long distance” components have been fitted to its Audi sports cars. These include suspension components, running gear comprising of uprated driveshafts and CV joints, endurance-spec front and rear bumpers, new lighting and tire pressure monitors. The Audi R8 LMS remains in normal FIA GT3 European Championship specification, which recently has seen a weight penalty of 15kg but has had that offset by a small power increase, plus a 100-liter fuel tank. A near 50-car field comprising of 26 in the GT3 category, eight of which will be Audi R8 LMS sports cars, is expected to compete.