Photo courtesy of United Autosports

Rolex 24 newcomer United Autosports are rookies in name only

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To become a champion, you have to start at the beginning as a rookie.

That is so true this weekend for United Autosports. Not only is the Great Britain-based team making its first-ever appearance in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, six of its seven drivers are Rolex rookies, as well.

But that doesn’t mean they’re rookies in total.

The two-car Ligier LMP2 entry features an impressive driver lineup, led by two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso, who has long sought to drive in the Rolex and is finally getting that chance this weekend.

Also on the team is former Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) champion Paul Di Resta, reigning 2017-18 Asian Le Mans Series LMP3 champion Phil Hanson, reigning FIA Formula 3 European Champion Lando Norris, ex-F1 driver Bruno Senna plus Hugo de Sadeleer and Will Owen.

Only Senna, nephew of the late F1 champion Ayrton Senna, has experience in the Rolex, having made his first appearance in the 24-hour endurance last year.

Alonso (from Spain) will spearhead the team in Car No. 23, along with Hanson and Norris (both from Great Britain), while Senna (Brazil)will lead the way in the No. 32 along with Sadeleer, Di Resta and Will Owen.

United Autosports will be making its second appearance in a 24-hour event, having finished fifth overall in the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year, as well as winning the European Le Mans Series LMP3 championship.

While it may be new to Daytona, United Autosports has high goals for the Rolex 24.

“We’re heading to Daytona aiming for a top-five finish,” team owner and chairman Zak Brown said. “It’s a very long and very hard race with a quality 50-car entry.

“Most teams have many years of Rolex and Daytona race experience to help them. We’ll need everything aligned to achieve that kind of result.

“And while we’ve quickly achieved success in Europe, Richard (team owner and Managing Director Richard Dean) and I are under no illusion it’s going to be a very tough weekend.

“But that’s what all of us at United thrive on and we’re all very excited to be racing the Rolex this weekend.”

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.