United Autosports’ co-owners Zak Brown and Richard Dean have vowed to make a quick return to the Daytona International Speedway after the Anglo-American team made a big impression in the Rolex 24 this weekend (27 - 28 Jan).
The outfit’s brace of Ligier JS P217 LMP2 sports-prototypes both led the race at various times and were inside the top-10 and vying for podiums for the majority of the race. The UK-based team ultimately achieved fourth (#32) overall and 13th (#23) in class on its full Rolex debut, a puncture plus brake and throttle sensor issues afflicting the #23 while a clutch malfunction with just over five hours to run demoted the #32 from third-place. The United entries undoubtedly made a massive impact in the opening round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
The #23 Ligier of Fernando Alonso, Lando Norris & Phil Hanson completed 716 tours (106.316mph) of the 3.6-mile, 12-turn Daytona International Speedway racing against numerous “factory” teams in the top class.
The United Ligiers ran inside the top-nine after two hours while both cars led briefly (Fernando & Paul Di Resta twice) during pitstop phases inside four hours, the #32 leap-frogging the “sister” Ligier at 6pm – the United cars leading the way in LMP2, the highest-placed non DPi cars.
Lando had taken the #23 back ahead of the #32 and into sixth after five-hours just prior to a rain shower – running third – the fastest car on-track in the treacherously slippery conditions – and led prior to pitting for slick tyres. But the #23 running sixth with 2016-17 LMP3 Asian Le Mans Series champion Hanson at the wheel, cruelly collected a right, rear puncture just after 10pm, the flailing rubber necessitating a rear deck and tail change with Fernando resuming 11th but crucially over three laps down on the leader.
The #23 had recovered brilliantly to sixth but at 1am, Fernando suffered a “long” brake pedal rectified by a new brake master cylinder, Lando returning to the race 16th in class and now 25-laps down after garage repairs lasting 40 minutes. The team decided that as the #23 could not gain any further places in the final 75 minutes, a decision was made to park the Ligier until the final laps to save the car from unnecessary additional wear and tear.
Fernando Alonso, driver car #23, United Autosports:
“I have a positive feeling about this weekend’s race and the whole event, I really did enjoy this a lot. I love driving and doing this for 8 or 9 hours in a race is great!
"Unfortunately, we had too many issues that were out of our control, some unlucky situations like the puncture. But despite the issues we had, I have a good taste in my mouth as I learned how to cope with the fatigue, traffic management, full course yellows, night driving, driver change procedures, driving preparation between the stints like how much rest you need to have and the amount of time you need to allow in the garage before taking over the car again.
"So, if and when I ever do another 24hr, I’ll be much more prepared as it’ll be my second time. United Autosports did an amazing job. The mechanics, in spite of the many issues we had in the race, kept focussed and motivated throughout, proving an incredible dedication. Also, the harmony with my team-mates was great, young but impressively mature and prepared.
"I am leaving Daytona with great memories and a lot of things learned.”
Lando Norris, driver car #23, United Autosports:
“It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed it. We had some setbacks but all three of us continued to push to the end. I think we did a good job with the package we had. It was very difficult when it started raining last night.
"Initially I was told it wouldn’t rain for long but then it got heavier making conditions tricky. I made up ground but I had no clue what position I was in, I certainly didn’t think I was near P1. It was a cool stint and very enjoyable. You’re forever overtaking cars, you can’t relax much.”
Zak Brown, Team Owner and Chairman, United Autosports:
“We’ll be back! We’ve had an awesome week at Daytona.
"We were consistently in the top-five and led the race with both cars. All of our drivers excelled and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.”
Richard Dean, Team Owner and Managing Director, United Autosports:
“It’s been a tough week which ultimately turned out okay. It feels strange to be slightly disappointed with a fourth place band miss out on a podium but after the preceding days when we struggled with pace, that’s how I feel.
"In the race both cars were competitive and all seven drivers strong. Fernando was a great influence on the younger drivers. Top speed, handling, drivability and tyre management was all really good.”