United Autosports, the American-owned, British-based GT team that made its debut this year in FIA GT racing, is branching out into Grand-Am for 2011 in partnership with Rolex Series veteran Michael Shank Racing. The two teams will join forces for the Rolex 24 At Daytona with a stellar driver lineup for the Jan. 29-30 endurance classic at Daytona International Speedway.
1988 Rolex 24 winner Martin Brundle of England has been drawn back to the ultra-demanding Floridian race along with fellow former 24 Hours of Le Mans race winner and Formula 1 ace Mark Blundell of England, who will be making his Daytona debut. Zak Brown, chairman and co-owner of United Autosports, and fellow American Mark Patterson complete the "United Autosports with Michael Shank Racing" entry, which bids for success with a Ford-powered Riley Daytona Prototype in the 49th running of the event.
United Autosports competed in 17 races this year in Belgium (twice), China, Czech Republic, England (twice), France, Macau, Portugal and Spain. The Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona therefore marks the first race on "home" soil for the American-owned team.
Brundle has become an award-winning Formula 1 commentator on British television since retiring from a Formula 1 career spanning 13 years (1984-'96) and 158 Grand Prix starts resulting in 10 podiums.
Brundle contested the Le Mans 24 Hours four times (1997-'99/'01) after his F1 career having won at Le Mans in 1990. Indeed Brundle has made 67 sports car race starts, including World Sports-Prototype/World Endurance Championships and IMSA events, claiming 34 podiums (including 18 wins) and 11 pole positions.
He has driven Jaguar (ABOVE), BMW Sauber, Red Bull and Williams F1 cars in recent years for media events. In 2005, Martin competed in the Andros Ice Trophy (Renault Megane) and in 2008 drove in the Formula Palmer Audi Championship alongside his son, Alex, who was a series regular. He scored three top-eight finishes from the three races in which he took part.
Brundle raced in two rounds of the Scirocco R-Cup finishing third (Hockenheim) and seventh (Brands Hatch) this year plus three Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo races co-driving with Alex resulting in two top-four finishes.
1992 Le Mans 24 Hour race winner Blundell raced in F1 (1991/1993-'95), making 61 GP starts and three podiums before switching to the CART Indy car series (1996-2000) where he made 81 starts and three wins (Portland, Toronto and Fontana). Daytona "rookie" Blundell, who continues to run 2MB Sports Management which includes handling IndyCar driver Mike Conway, also became an F1 television analyst and raced in major sports car races at Le Mans and Sebring following his single-seater career. Blundell finished third in class in the 24 Hours of Spa this year co-driven by United Autosports co-owners Brown and Richard Dean along with Eddie Cheever, in what was Blundell's first race since finishing second in the 2003 Le Mans 24 Hours.
“My last race in the U.S. was the Sebring 12 Hours in 2003," said Blundell. "Before I raced in the CART World Series, oval courses were alien to me coming from Europe although I enjoyed racing on them and won the Marlboro 500 at Fontana. I've not raced on a banked/infield combination like I'll face at Daytona but I'm looking forward to that challenge. I raced with United Autosports in the 24 Hours of Spa last summer and Daytona is another of those very big races that, for whatever reason, I didn't get a chance to do previously but am very excited to be doing so now.”
Businessman and entrepreneur Brown has concentrated on GT racing in recent years after starting off in karting before spells in Formula 3 and Opel Lotus, Indy Lights and Toyota Atlantics. Zak, who recorded a front row start and podium finish in FIA GT3 European Championship races in Portugal this year, fulfills a personal dream by adding a third continent – his "home" one – to United Autosports' burgeoning profile by contesting the Rolex 24 assisted by regular Grand Am entrant Michael Shank Racing.
"As chairman and co-owner of United Autosports, to have my team name on the entry list at the Daytona International Speedway for the legendary 24 Hour race is awesome," Brown said. "Twelve months ago, our team didn't exist. We made our race debut at the end of April in Britain and in our first season we raced throughout Europe at legendary tracks like Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps and last month in Asia at Zhuhai [China] and Macau as Audi's official “customer” team in the GT3 sports car category. So now to be racing in my native USA, at the world famous speedway venue, in North America's only twice-around-the-clock motor race, makes me extremely proud in what we've accomplished in a very short space of time.
"It's the first time Richard [Dean] and I have partnered with Michael Shank Racing. His team is first class and he'll give us everything we need. Richard [Dean] will be ever present on the pit wall with the Michael Shank Racing boys to learn about Grand Am racing while our driver lineup is about as special as it can get.
Patterson is by far the most experienced of the quartet in terms of Grand-Am racing, boasting 66 starts (GT & DP) comprising six podiums. Mark races in the twice-around-the-clock Daytona race for the eighth time and is looking to go one better after finishing second in 2006 – one of four top-nine finishes Mark has achieved – all with Michael Shank Racing.
Like Brown, Patterson has raced a United Autosports Audi R8 LMS in the FIA GT3 European Championship this year, placing joint second in the Audi Manufacturer's Cup, and claiming fourth in class in the Spa 24 Hours.