After an action-packed four hours of racing at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, United Autosports’ #3 crew of Garett Grist, Tony Wells and Matt Bell scored a hard-fought third place finish in the ELMS’ hotly-contested LMP3 class. It was a roller-coaster of a race for the Anglo-American outfit, with all four of its entries ending up in the running for podium places, before three of them suffered poor luck in the closing stages of the race.
10th and 11th place finishes for the team’s Ligier JS P217s came as a major disappointment, after both cars ran fast and without any issues throughout the four-hour race, sitting 1-2 in the class standings in the second half. Bad luck struck the team at the end, both its cars having to take a splash of fuel in the closing stages after a gamble on strategy, costing both cars valuable time, and potential podium places.
The #22 JS P217 of Phil Hanson and Filipe Albuquerque – in his first ELMS race of the season after missing the opener – shone early on. Hanson started the race fourth and had a clean run through the opening laps. From there, he climbed the order to second in class by lap 15 after the team opted not to pit during the first of four safety car periods in the first half of the race. Hanson was calm and collected throughout and kept up with the leading pack throughout the interruptions caused by various incidents, eventually putting himself in position to take the lead of the race early in the third hour, before handing the car over to Albuquerque in third with 80 minutes remaining.
Due to the variation in strategies up and down the order in LMP2 though, Albuquerque fell away after battling in the top three spots early in the fourth hour. He ended up running fourth after the final round of scheduled stops, after being forced to save fuel through what was a remarkably clean second half to the race. To make matters worse, his chances of fighting for a podium were then effectively ended after he received a drive-through penalty for a minor collision with an LMP3 runner. The penalty, in addition to a late stop for a splash of fuel, dropped him to 10th, where he would finish.
It was a similar story for Will Owen, Wayne Boyd and Hugo de Sadeleer in the #32. In the opening hours of the race, the car was in the hunt and sat as high as second overall, before fading late on, when Boyd was forced to save fuel in the final hour. Like the #22 crew though, the #32 also had to pit late for a splash of fuel, which dropped Boyd and the team to 11th in the closing moments of the race.
In LMP3 United Autosports’ two Ligier JS P3s started the race third (#2) and 12th (#3), and enjoyed a near faultless first half of the race, the #3 eventually leaving with a third place finish after late drama for two of the top four runners promoted the it from fifth to third in the final few laps. The #2 of John Falb and Sean Rayhall though, was one of the teams that suffered misfortune at the end.
Rayhall took the start, and fought his way up the order in the second hour after slipping to fourth after the first stop of the race. The American made three important overtakes, his final one to take the lead of the race off another JS P3 coming on the run down to Ascari on Lap 47, in the closing stages of the second hour, before handing over the car to his teammate. Falb then drove faultlessly under pressure from behind throughout the second half of the race, but got hit by an LMP2 car with 10 minutes remaining at turn one, causing a right-rear puncture. After limping back to the pits, the car was repaired, but dropped down to fifth when he rejoined the race.
That drama promoted the #3 crew to third at the very end, handing Matt Bell, Garett Grist and Tony Wells an unexpected podium finish. It had however already been a strong race already for the team. Bell took the start and stormed from 12th place to seventh going into turn one on the opening lap, staying out of trouble through the melee. Then, Grist took the wheel in sixth at the start of the second hour and continued the team’s forward momentum, climbing to P3 before Wells climbed aboard for the run to the flag at the halfway mark.
Unfortunately, Wells re-joined the race seventh after the team lost time in the pits. After regrouping, Wells rose to sixth and later fifth after a dice with another Ligier with just over an hour remaining. Following the final round of stops, Wells sat fourth, before dropping to fifth in what turned out to be a hard-fought final 30 minutes of racing. But, with a car ahead forced to make a splash and dash, and the #2 crew suffering a puncture, Wells inherited third place in the final few laps and as a result, scored his first podium as a United Autosports driver.
Next up for the European Le Mans Series is a trip to the Red Bull Ring for the third four-hour race of the season on July 22nd. But next on United Autosports’ calendar is the Spa Classic next weekend, followed by the Le Mans 24 Hours official test on 3 June.
Phil Hanson (GB), driver #22, United Autosports:
Born: Berkshire, UK. Lives: London. Age: 18
“It was just one of those races unfortunately. Filipe got penalised for contact with a P3 car which harmed neither car, but meant that we served a drive-through. I question the call of the stewards when there wasn’t a call for the same incident when an LMP2 hit, spun, and caused a puncture to the P3 leader [Falb] later in the race. On my side I was happy with my performance today, I was leading at one point and until the end where a gamble on strategy and the drive-through meant we lost the progress we had been making up to the last hour. I can leave confident with my pace and performance before Le Mans though, which to me is the most important race on my calendar.”
Filipe Albuquerque (POR), driver #22, United Autosports:
Born/Lives: Coimbra, Portugal. Age: 32
“With so many safety cars, it didn’t help the type of line-up we have. Phil is a very good silver and makes the difference compared to others but it didn’t work out. Then in my stint we got a drive-through and I don’t understand why, it was a racing incident. It happens all the time and nobody gets penalised. The worst that could have happened is that it damaged my car. It was a shame in such a tight race. I don’t agree, but it’s the race director’s decision. We also missed out on fuel, two more extra laps under safety car and we would have been fine. But instead we had to pit for a splash and dash at the end. We were clearly in contention for a podium, but the race didn’t come to us.”
Will Owen (US), driver #32, United Autosports:
Born: Plano, Texas. Lives: Denver, Colorado. Age: 23
“It was a tough race. Really complicated, tough on strategy. Generally our pace was ok, but it wasn’t where it needed to be. We need to work together to help each other get better as drivers and we need to make the car better. The car felt good to me, but clearly we were lacking something. There’s tons of lessons to learn. We made good strategy calls, it just didn’t go our way and we had to make a quick splash at the end.”
Hugo de Sadeleer (CH), driver #32, United Autosports:
Born: Lausanne, Switzerland. Lives: Monaco. Age: 20
“The race was hectic, very unexpected. I haven’t had a race in ELMS with that many safety cars before. I was conservative on the start and was happy to gain two places. Then I decided to not push and conserve tyres. I stayed with the lead group, on pace, it wasn’t that bad. I had to manage it, we were running really well. We just had bad luck, it was a good effort, but we need to learn and progress.”
Wayne Boyd (GB), driver #32, United Autosports:
Born: Belfast, Northern Ireland. Lives: Templepatrick, Northern Ireland. Age: 27
“It wasn’t where we wanted to finish, 10th and 11th wasn’t very good, the other had a drive through and we both had to make a splash. We struggled a bit for overall pace with the ORECAs and Dallaras, but we need to be better than that, we need to find time. That wasn’t good enough.”
John Falb (US), driver #2, United Autosports:
Born: Dallas, Texas. Lives: Las Vegas, Nevada. Age: 46
“Sean brought the car in in a great position, and I got in and the guys in the pits got me more track position. I had to dig as hard as I could to maintain the lead I had, and with 10 minutes to go, the IDEC Ligier LMP2 driver thought he was clear, but he wasn’t beside me at all going into Turn 1. I looked in my mirrors, he wasn’t there, then I turned in, and he hit the right rear and punctured the tyre. We got back out there though, and finished fifth. That’s two fifth places now this season.”
Sean Rayhall (US), driver #2, United Autosports:
Born/Lives: Atlanta, Georgia. Age: 23
“The main point of today is that the highs in racing are really high, and the lows are really low. We were able to force people into making mistakes, make up track position, our guys were ace in the pits too. It was a perfect race from a team point of view. John also did an amazing job in one of the most pressured stints of his life. It’s just really unfortunate that we didn’t get the win. We’ll remember this one next time we win, and it will feel even better.”
Matt Bell (GB), driver #3, United Autosports:
Born: Newcastle, UK. Lives: Stamford, UK. Age: 28
“The whole race was crazy. It was a mega, mega race start to finish. It was a proper ELMS race. At the start I managed to really get us into contention, as there was a big gap, a lane opened up on the left, I sent it down the outside into Turn 1, and went from 12th to seventh. After the initial melee, it wasn’t too bad. Garett then went out in a very hard part of the race. Track position was key, he caught the cars ahead and brought it in fourth. Then Tony was in and his pace was bang on. We got a podium, but we never like to see our teammates hit bad luck.”
Tony Wells (GB), driver #3, United Autosports:
Born: Middlesbrough, UK Lives: Northumberland, UK Age: 53
“I had green flag running for two hours. The car was good, there was a bit of understeer and oversteer, but it was easy to be consistent with. We had a mess up in the pits which ended our chances of fighting a bit further forward. But we were there to pick up the pieces when others ran out of fuel. Was great to get on the podium though, and get my first ELMS podium for United Autosports.”
Garett Grist (CAN), driver #3, United Autosports:
Born: St. Catherine’s, Canada. Lives: Grimsby, Canada. Age: 22
“My stint was fine. I got in second, pace wise I was really good, maybe I could have been more aggressive though. Fuel strategy was a big thing in this race, and you saw that at the end, the car that was second had to pit for a splash. This is great after Paul Ricard, it’s a good haul of points, and it’s good for the season.”
Zak Brown, Team Owner and Chairman United Autosports:
“We suffered an unlucky end to the race as with 20mins remaining an LMP2 podium and a LMP3 class win looked likely. So to only come away with a P3 podium sucks. The drivers and entire team have done a great job at Monza and we’ve proven we’re back on the pace after our Ricard disappointment. We can now look optimistically ahead to Le Mans.”
Richard Dean, Team Owner and Managing Director, United Autosports:
“In both classes, we finished massively disappointed. In LMP3 Sean and John controlled it, and going into the last hour it was our race, so to get a puncture in the last 10 minutes was heart-breaking. At least though it promoted the other car to third.
“In LMP2, there was lots of promise. We knew this would be our weakest circuit, but we may have pushed a bit too hard, and were aggressive with the strategy here and didn’t get the fuel consumption we wanted. A splash or fuel at the end put us out of contention, and I thought the drive-through too was more than harsh. There’s contact up and down the field on every lap, and he caused a collision with both cars touching in a straight line due to a misunderstanding between two drivers. Neither driver lost a tenth of a second, both cars finished, I don’t see what was wrong? It’s a big disappointment, but Phil Hanson was a star, and we’re still positive and focused on getting a podium in LMP3.”
Source. United Autosports