Behind the scenes

Sky Sports spends the weekend with United Autosports

By William Esler at Donington Park.   Last Updated: 02/10/12 12:10pm

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Whilst qualifying on a Saturday and the race on a Sunday may be the focal point of a race weekend, and indeed the only bit many fans see, there is much more going on behind the scenes.

The drivers are instantly recognisable, but it is a team of hardworking engineers, mechanics, admin and catering staff that ensure they can ply their trade on the track.

Sky Sports joined Anglo-American GT team United Autosports for a behind-the-scenes look at the British GT finale at Donington Park to see the other side of motorsport.

On arrival at the track it is immediately clear how big the United Autosports operation is with multiple lorries in the paddock not only housing the tools, spare parts and tyres needed to run the cars - but also a vast hospitality unit with full cooking facilities, a long way removed from sandwiches or burger van food in the rain.

"Fortunately for me all I do is turn up and race," says team co-owner Zak Brown. "But my partner Richard (Dean) who runs the team, he has quite a bit of work in the week leading up to these races.

"The team arrives a couple of days beforehand, it takes a full day to set up the garage, the hospitality units. We probably have about 30 people out here on a race weekend - the pre-race prep is done in the race-shop, unless we are on back-to-back weekends, so when we got here it was about fuelling up the cars and warming them up, rather than doing any serious work - we'll do that after the first session.

"We have everyone here from crew chiefs to mechanics, truckies to media relations to sponsor relations so it has become quite a little big team."

The number 24 car had technical problems on Saturday

The garage is a hub of activity as I enter - the number 24 car had developed a technical problem, the cause of which was proving difficult to find.

Skill

But such is the skill of the United Autosports crew that the car is fixed in time for qualifying and both cars are sent out to the track. Unfortunately a fuel pick up problem strikes the number 24 as they are limited to just five laps, but perhaps more worryingly, Charles Bateman reports his foot "going straight to the floor" when he attempts the brake the MP4-12C.

No such issues affect the other car though, which misses out on pole by just seven hundredths of a second in the hands of Brown and Alvaro Parente.

It is a delicate balancing act for Brown, managing his role as co-owner, whilst staying focused on racing.

"I really lean on Richard," the American says. "We have the same vision for what we want the team to look like, so we really have a complimentary skills set. I don't know anything about running the technical side of a team, but Richard has been doing that his whole life. I like to drive the cars and have a certain environment and that's about the sort of level I get into."

The inquest begins on fuel pressure problems during qualifying

Post-qualifying the inquest continues with McLaren staff as the team try to establish the cause of the problems which have struck Bateman and Matt Bell's car that still has an outside chance of taking the drivers' championship.

As sun rises on Sunday morning the problems have been rectified and the team set about prepping the cars and finalising strategies for the race. The threat of rain is in the air, throwing a further variable into the mix.

McLaren Formula 1 Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh makes an appearance in the garage to cast an eye over the customer team. The team have recently announced the GT project will be moved to Woking, linking it more closely with the F1 team.

"I hope it will have a positive impact," Whitmarsh said of the move.

McLaren F1 boss Martin Whitmarsh inspects the McLaren GT cars

"We are in GT now to stay and give the best support we can to customers. I think we are pretty competitive here today in World GT1 and British GT. We have extraordinary high standards, as do our customers and so do the public for McLaren in any form of motor racing.

Involved

"So we have to have the best GT car out there for any customer and have the best ownership experience, so having the GT facility near us means we can second engineers, be closer to it and a bit more involved."

The closer links to the Formula 1 team is something that excites Brown moving forward.

"McLaren are making their comeback into GT racing and thus they are still quite new to it," he said.

"I think any linkage to the F1 team the better, because McLaren have so much information and resources and technology that the more fingerprints McLaren can directly put on the car the better."

Zak Brown and Alvaro Parente celebrate victory

Closer links to McLaren could be a worrying prospect for the rest of the British GT grid, as the United Autosports cars dominate in the race, running one-two in the closing stages, before eventually taking a first and third place finish, with Brown and Parente on the top step of the podium.

As the celebrations die down, the pack-up is quickly underway as the team dismantle their garage and awnings, eager to get back on the road to Leeds.

The operation is carried out with military precision, with everyone knowing their role and where each item is stored. Indeed some may be expert Tetris players given how tightly packed the lorries are.

All too soon then the weekend is over, as is the British GT season and the trucks are back on the road, heading to the factory.

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