We’ve been paying close attention to the establishment of United Autosports this season with signs afoot there that this is an outfit with serious intent.
What we hadn’t had the opportunity to do thus far though was to sit down and take time to talk to co-owner Zak Brown about his vision for the team, and his wider role in the sport.
We put that right on Sunday morning at Silverstone when dsc’s Editor Graham Goodwin and Planetlemans Editor Marcel ten Caat spent a fascinating half hour or so with the man himself.
So Zak, how did United come about?
“Richard Dean and I have been great mates for 20 plus years, I have a ton of respect for his racing heritage and ability so if it was going to happen it was likely to happen with Richard.
“I was racing myself back up until 2000 (in single seaters and in Grand-Am and ALMS in GT cars) but then decided that perhaps I needed a break from it and needed to concentrate on the business side of life too. By then Just Marketing was thriving and had grown to around 150 employees and with 5 offices worldwide.
“I wasn’t done with motorsport though really and did the Britcar 24 Hours in 2005 and 2006 (together with Richard Dean – they finished second overall in a Moore Motorsport BMW in 2006). That got the juices flowing again and I got involved in Ferrari Challenge races in the States, won some races and had some fun (Ron Dennis and Bernie Ecclestone were amongst the VIP guests entertained by his team in this period).
“More recently I sold 70% of the business to Credit Suisse so that gave me the capital to put something together in motorsport. I’ve made a liar of myself though – I always said I’d never spend my own money on motorsport but here I am!”
So why a team based in the UK?
“I’ve always loved Europe, and I love Britain. I like the way of racing over here and it was pretty clear that if we were going to be serious about this then having our own team was the way to go.
“In terms of running the team I trust Richard entirely. He’s top class in every way. For myself I could underwrite the investment and source sponsorship.
“As for the rest of the package. Richard sourced and completed the Audi deal and I have a ton of respect for Stephane (Ratel) technically and commercially. I think he’s the world’s best promoter for GT racing and it makes sense for us to be with him.
So what’s the plan moving forward?
“We want to do 2 years here (in FIA GT3) and by 2012 I see us continuing here but with a GT1 programme too. Beyond that I might also take a look at Grand-Am too.
“This is not in any way a vanity programme. I see this as something that, for me, when Just Marketing comes to an end, will provide the promise of a business enterprise that I can be fully involved in. It is a passion but I am also deadly serious about the business side too.”
So for GT1 would you be looking to move forward with Audi?
“If Audi want to do GT1 I’d do it with them in a heartbeat but that decision is some way off yet.”
So is there any chance that we might see the team moving to LMP racing in the future?
“I would love to see the rules packages coming together. Le Mans is certainly in ‘the plan’ and Martin Birrane is a good friend of mine so I’d love to do something with Lola. As for other programmes for the moment though I am 150% committed to the FIA GT package.
So would there be any interest in any ALMS programme with the R8 LMS if, as expected, the GT Challenge class is opened up to other GT3 machinery?
“I don’t see us there as a full season entry. Of course we’d be interested in perhaps Sebring and Petit Le Mans.”
You have some form of business arrangement through JMI with the FIA GT Championship – How would you characterise that?
“We’re finding Stephane a GT1 title sponsor. That will be done by 2011. It’s a new product (The FIA GT1 World Championship) and it takes time to get the profile and the reputation that a title sponsor would be looking for. From the off though Stephane and his team have rolled out 24 cars for the Championship – That’s unbelievable!
“I think it has fantastic potential and he has hired us to deliver. As a marketing prospect for a global brand it is a great and very economical way to get global motorsport exposure and it sits well with the other World Championships.
“The potential cost too is very sensible. We’re looking for at least a 3 year deal, that’s the minimum that really makes sense both for the Championship and for a sponsor.
“We are looking at a package valued at a few million Euros but the key is to ensure that a sponsor at least matches that commitment in activation.
“I firmly believe that Stephane will re-invest heavily in the Championship from any sponsorship revenue. What it needs is the correct brand fit that will drive butts on seats and help to build the partnership and the product.
“That will only come with big promotion, following the model with all successful TV sports. It’s my firm view that the really important aspect is the activation. I’d certainly be advising Stephane that if a sensible deal came forward that gave him $3 dollars in activation for every $1 in cash then it’s a deal he would do well to consider very seriously.
So what is the plan for the remainder of 2010?
“We are fully committed to the FIA GT3 European Championship and to the Spa 24 Hours.
“For Spa we’ll run two cars, one of which will have some big names aboard, (the first of these has been announced today, Mark Blundell will join the team for the 24 Hours)”
GT racing needs commercial heavy hitters at present and Zak Brown presents hugely impressive credentials in that regard. If he can deliver the sponsorship revenues that the FIA GT1 World Championship is seeking and move forward with the growth in competitiveness of his own team then there will be few in the paddock that have delivered more for the sport.
We wish him well.
GG and MtC