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Zak Brown: “I need to race authentic cars”

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At Spa Classic, we sat down with McLaren CEO Zak Brown and Richard Dean, racing a 1989 Jaguar XJR-10 and a 1974 Ford Capri RS3100.

Lord knows how he manages it all; just the Sunday before there was the Miami Grand Prix, days later he has touched down at Spa, Belgium, the Imola F1 race was yet to be cancelled and at the end of the month, the Indy 500 was waiting. I have no idea how he pulls it off to be everywhere, all the time. How many Zak Browns are there, in fact?

Photo Dirk de Jager

Zak and Richard

A wry smile follows; “It does involve a lot of travel, that’s for sure.” Zak Brown is many things, but a complainer he is not. CEO at McLaren, overseeing the Formula 1 team and the Indycar effort, and Formula E. Next to that, he is also a co-founder of United Autosports, which is what brings us here today. Brown and Richard Dean go back a long time, meeting at the Jim Russell Racing School in 1991. The American and the Brit kept in touch and decided to start United Autosports in 2009. With outings in different GT3 championships first, United Autosports has grown further, developing in the prototype LMP3 class and is currently one of the driving forces in the LMP2 category. To name just one category where they are currently active.

Photo Dirk de Jager

What surprises is that United Autosports has always managed to exhibit their team colours in a very clear way, making their entries easy to identify. In today’s sponsorship-driven racing world, that’s become a hard act to pull off. “Oh, but we do have sponsors,” Richard Dean explains. Zak Brown jumps in; “First of all, LMP2 is not a sponsorship-heavy series, and as a team, we are not that dependant.” In an era where many teams are quick to come and go, United’s over-ten-years track record speaks volumes on how Dean and Brown have managed to find a long-term way of going racing, without being linked to a manufacturer.

Photo Dirk de Jager


Diversifying has been key to this plan, and today at Peter Auto’s Spa Classic round at the famed Belgian circuit, we see one part of this plan in action; the historic component. Honestly, this part is mostly focused around Zak Brown’s famous race car collection, “but not exclusively,” as Dean is quick to point out. In the historics domain, United Autosports offers both racing support and restoration services. “It’s a way to keep our staff busy over the winter months.”

Photo Dirk de Jager

Senna’s car

“The historic racing is my main outlet these days,” Brown says. He is holed up in the office in the team truck, glued to his laptop and phone, only coming out when it’s time to don a racing suit, get a helmet on and go out. Lest we forget, for those who only know Zak Brown from the Drive to Survive series on Netflix, the American had a long racing career himself, before moving to the business side of the sport. Karting, the junior formulae (on both sides of the Atlantic), GT racing, he’s seen it all. And in the meantime, he has built up an incredible collection of vintage racing cars; the 1984 Dale Earnhardt NASCAR Chevrolet he let Daniel Ricciardo drive, the 1991 Ayrton Senna Monaco GP winning McLaren MP4/6 – “unfortunately, I don’t fit in it” -, Hurley Haywood’s 1988 Audi 200 Trans Am, and on and on. “Mostly, it’s cars that came to define my passion for racing when I grew up.”

See Also

1989 Jaguar XJR-10. Photo United Autosports

The Jag

The 1989 Jaguar XJR-10 he brought to Spa today, is one of those cars. It’s one of the iconic cars from the GTP era in IMSA “and it’s an incredibly quick car to drive,” Brown points out. The other car is the 1974 Ford Capri RS3100, good for two victories in that year’s European Touring Car Championship and a car that was driven by a young Niki Lauda. “This one dates back to before my time, of course, but as just one of three surviving authentic Ford Cologne Capris from this series, it has enormous significance.”

1974 Ford Capri RS3100. Photo United Autosports

No replicas

Which begs the question, in a field where replicas set the standard rather than being the exception, why would you risk such a treasure? “My car has been copied many times over, it would indeed be easy to race a replica. No one would notice, right? The only one who would know, would be me. And that’s just it, I couldn’t do it. I have to race an authentic race car.”

Photo Dirk de Jager

Mixed fortunes

The race would hand mixed fortunes for Brown and Dean. The first race in the Group C class in the Jaguar lasted just one lap, in race two Zak Brown came seventh. In the first race of the Heritage Touring Cup, Brown and Dean did not take the start. In the second heat, the duo’s race was over after seven laps. Racing, it’s always about ups and downs, with the downs often the reason why we keep coming back.

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