United Autosports British Gt Team Recover After Brands Hatch Practice Accident

  • Debutant McCullagh unfortunate in practice and race

United Autosports overcame adversity to post a hard-earned and unrepresentative 17th place in the penultimate round of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship at Brands Hatch (31 Aug). The Anglo-American team’s regular driver Matt Bell was partnered by Porsche Club GB Champion John McCullagh for the first time and came from 21st on the 31-car grid to achieve a top-20 place after a heroic effort by the United Autosports crew.

Ex-rally driver McCullagh, makinghis maiden race appearance for UA in the Audi R8 LMS, made a small mistake exiting Druids Hairpin in Free Practice 1.

The resulting contact with the barriers, albeit at low speed, caused significant damage to the left side of the Audi plus suspension and steering damage. The crew repaired the car allowing the combined times of Bell and McCullagh to qualify 21st, with Bell clocking the best overall Sector 2 time.

McCullagh, who had completed just 13 “flying” laps of the Grand Prix circuit before starting the race, made a good start and ran an impressive 16th early on but pitted with eight minutes on the clock believing, incorrectly as it turned out, that the Audi had a steering issue. The team quickly checked and sent him out but he was two laps down.

Bell took over the Audi with 55mins remaining, McCullagh having recovered well to 14th before making his mandatory pit-stop. Bell, who had set the eighth quickest time in the morning warm-up, immediately set laps times similar to the top-six, enroute to an unrepresentative 17th place finish.

#23 INLEC / Henderson– Audi R8 LMS Ultra

Matt Bell (GB)

Age: 25. Born: Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tyne & Wear, England. Lives: Barningham nr Richmond, North Yorkshire, England.

“It’s been a tough weekend – symptomatic of the entire year. Missing the second half of the opening practice session and all of the second, understandably made qualifying difficult for us. The guys made minor changes to the Audi overnight which further improved it. I settled in to a decent pace in my stint.”

John McCullagh (GB)

Age: 50. Born: Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire. Lives: Northallerton, North Yorkshire.

“Qualifying was a difficult challenge and basically a glorified practice session after my accident. Exiting Druids I made a small but costly mistake, the impact with the barriers causing a lot of damage despite the relatively low-speed of the impact. The United Autosports team did an amazing job repairing the Audi. I made a good start in the race getting past at least four cars by Surtees [Corner] but was contacted by the Bentley at Druids and so I pitted as a precaution. Unfortunately this dropped us down the order. I was satisfied with my race pace and only sorry that I wasn’t able to hand the car over to Matt inside the top-ten as we had planned.”

Richard Dean, Team Owner and Managing Director, United Autosports:

“All year we’ve been on the pace with the Audi but unfortunately when you encounter an issue losing time and laps, it’s impossible to recover. Inexperience with the R8 caught John out in practice and we were playing catch up from that moment after missing valuable track time. Unfortunately losing two laps when John pitted cost us any chance of claiming a top-10 place. Matt’s pace in his stint was top-six and top-three at times. It’s disappointing but it’s been our story in BGT this year. Hopefully we can at least finish the season on a high at Donington.”

August 30-31 Brands Hatch (one two-hour race)

Rd 9 Qualifying: 21st (combined), 2m 57.682s. Weather: Cloudy/dry.

Race: 17th, -2 laps. Weather: Cloudy/dry.