United Autosports: How it all began

On the surface, Yorkshireman Richard Dean and Californian Zak Brown couldn’t appear to be more different. But theirs is a genuine friendship formed when each had neither a penny or a dime. Dean picks up the story...

vUnited Autosports LMP2 car at Le Mans

United Autosports celebrated fifth overall and the LMP2 class win at Le Mans, 2020.

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“When I first met Zak, I was racing in Formula 3000, trying to eke a living and pay the rent working as an instructor at racing schools. At the Jim Russell school at Donington Park we ran a seven-day course which was aimed more at the serious guy who wanted to get into racing rather than 40th birthday presents. Each instructor was given a pupil, we’d have a bit of rivalry about whose guy could win the race at the end of the week and we’d put a bit of effort in. Inevitably you’d get quite close to the pupil. Luckily or otherwise, Zak was my guy one week.

“We hit it off immediately and we had a lot of fun. Then at the end of the last day when you’d usually shake hands and say, ‘Nice working with you,’ he said, ‘I’m not going anywhere, I’m staying. This is it’. He was working in a ski shop at the time in America and had an interest in racing through his dad, who’d taken him to tracks such as Riverside.
Zak said, ‘You’ve got to help me.’ I told him he needed sponsorship and I couldn’t help him with that because I was struggling as it was. But he needed somewhere to stay, so he cadged a sofa at my place. We ended up lodging together for a couple of years.

“People don’t see it right now because of the job he’s in, but Zak’s a funny guy. When we were mucking around, it was a lot of fun trying to raise money to go racing. I had no idea he’d end up where he has and find it quite funny given what we went through. But you can see he’s determined and focused, once he sets his mind on something. Just like that day when he said, ‘I’m not going home.’ He had a VW Beetle back home that he got his mum to sell and send him the money to live on. He wasn’t paying me rent so I got him a job at the school. He went from pupil to instructor in the fastest possible time. I pushed him through because he was running up my heating and phone bill. We’ve been best mates ever since.

Zak Brown with United Autosports cap

Zak Brown

Richard Dean

Richard Dean

“He’d raced, didn’t achieve what he wanted to as a driver, although he made the podium at the Daytona 24 Hours, then became hugely successful in motor sport business marketing [founding the JMI agency] and we just stayed in touch. He moved back to the US, grew the business in Indianapolis, and I ploughed on with my semi-racing, semi-running teams career. I’d been working with Lawrence Tomlinson and we set up Team LNT, did the Panoz GT2 team [Dean led the crew that won its class at Le Mans in 2006], and that evolved into Ginetta.

“We launched various cars and series, getting involved in the British Touring Car Championship package. I was looking after customers and was not running a racing team as such, and I wanted to get back into racing. I was talking to Zak and the timing was good because he was about to open his London office for JMI and would be over here much more often. He was racing in the Ferrari Challenge while he was running his business, just for fun, and said, ‘It would be cool to get a GT3 car. Why don’t we set up a little team? We can do some races together.’

I’d had enough of what I’d been doing, so it sounded like a good idea. It’s exactly 10 years ago since that.”

Zak Brown with Paul DiResta and Filipe Albuquerque

Brown with his 2020 Le Mans LMP2 winners DiResta (left) and Albuquerque