Rolex 24 newcomer United Autosports are rookies in name only

Photo courtesy of United Autosports
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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.”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10-3 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 7 p.m. to USA Network. Peacock will have flag-to-flag coverage.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III