15 April, 2012
- Parente's final session pulls United Autosports #22 McLaren GT up to 17th out of massive 57-car field
- Less than a tenth of a second separates top two McLaren GTs
- Overnight changes promise improved performance for tomorrow's three-hour race
During qualifying for the Blancpain Endurance Series at Monza on Saturday, the United Autosports Pro Cup crew of Matt Bell (England), David Brabham (Australia) and Álvaro Parente (Portugal) brought the McLaren MP4-12C GT3 across the line as the second fastest McLaren GT in the field.
After plenty of rain during Friday's practice and pre-qualifying for the opening round of the 2012 Blancpain Endurance Series at the historic Italian circuit, it stayed dry for Saturday's three-part qualifying session until late into the last part of the session.
The combined result, helped by a 1m49.192s lap by Parente, the third driver in the #22 car, put the trio into 17th place out of the massive 57 car grid.
Meanwhile in the Pro-Am Cup car, early brake problems for first qualifying driver Mark Patterson (USA) in the #23 McLaren GT, combined with heavy traffic, negated his effort and when Zak Brown (USA) took over at the wheel, any flow he might have developed was disrupted by two red flags as stricken cars were removed from the track.
It was then left to former grand prix driver Mark Blundell (England) in the third session to attempt to restore the status quo as he wrestled the #23 McLaren GT, while fighting understeer during his five laps.
The Leeds-based team has put together two trios of winning drivers in the two-car all-new McLaren MP4-12C GT3 cars, and all six drivers recognise the need to extract more performance from the new sportscar. However with 11 of the top 13 cars being a combination of Porsches and Ferraris, a better balance of performance is required in the series.
With two former Formula 1 drivers and Le Mans 24 Hour winners in Brabham - the youngest son of three-times F1 World Champion, Sir Jack Brabham – and Mark Blundell, the Anglo-American team has an abundance of talent within the two crews.
McLaren GT-factory driver Parente, has also been instrumental in helping the team with the new cars and the former British Formula 3 Champion and Formula 1 feeder series GP2 race-winner is working hard to provide valuable set-up feedback.
With rain forecast for tomorrow afternoon's three-hour race, all six drivers believe wet conditions will provide them with an equalizing opportunity.
Matt Bell (UK), Age 22. Born: Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. Lives: Barningham, UK:
"I was out first and it was only a short run for me with three timed laps. It was not really enough time to bring the car up to the point I wanted and with traffic, I didn't get the best of runs but obviously the time was always going to be done in the last session with Álvaro. So my main job was to do the best time I could in that session just in case it rained and hand it over to the other two guys. Álvaro did a good job and we're less than a tenth off the top McLaren. We'll see how it goes tomorrow."
Richard Dean (GB), Team Owner and Managing Director of United Autosports:
"With 57 cars it's difficult to get a clear lap and there were several red flags that interrupted the laps for the #23 car and I don't think they ultimately got the best time out of it. Álvaro was pretty close to producing the best times of the McLaren GTs around here at the moment. Balance of performance-wise, I'm not entirely sure; the top McLaren is 14th and we're 17th, so we're within reach of the pace of the car and Álvaro did a great job.
"Matt, David and Álvaro in that car are all very close so for the race over three hours, we're in a very strong position there with that. It doesn't sound great, 17th, but out of 57 cars, we're nearer the front, although not as near to the front as I'd like to be. For the #23 car, there were just red flags at the wrong time; Zak got two red flags and Mark Blundell had a lot of understeer and some braking problems that we're sorting out."