Last week I seized on the opportunity to have a sit down with United Autosports’ young star in the #22 Oreca 07 – Gibson, Phil Hanson. Phil is paired with Filipe Albuquerque in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS), they lead the Series and have not been off the podium yet (two firsts and a third). They have also been racing in the 2019/2020 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) where they are joined by third driver Paul Di Resta; they won the last last time out in that too, taking the LMP2 honours at the 6 hours of Spa Francorchamps in August!
Phil is now twenty-one years old, having had a meteoric rise through karting into Britcar and the Asian Le Mans Series. He is undertaking his fourth Le Mans having been one of the youngest ever participants at seventeen. In 2019 with United Autosports in a Ligier JSP217 he finished ninth overall and fourth in LMP2 class.
If you are looking for an in-form hot-favourite for LMP2 victory at the 24-Hours of Le Mans the #22 United Autosports crew might just be it. We covered a lot of ground in the time available, a summary follows.
SportsCarGlobal (SCG) – What are your expectations for the 24-Hours of Le Mans in 2020?
Phil Hanson (PH) – It would be nice to improve upon last year, but Le Mans cannot be taken for granted. The length of the race puts greater pressure on the reliability of the car, team, and drivers all of which can become fatigued throughout the race, hence preparation is key in every aspect. Similarly the competition in LMP2 is of a very high quality, bringing ELMS and WEC runners together
SCG – Who do you see as being strongest amongst the opposition?
PH – It’s Le Mans so it could come from anywhere, but season to-date JOTA, Jackie Chan DC Racing, G-Drive, Signatech-Alpine, IDEC, Duqueine, Panis, Cool Racing, etc… have all at one time or another been in the fight, hence a clean, fast run is essential, with no room for slip-ups, mis-steps or incidents.
SCG – Coming back to your point about preparation, tell us more about what you do specifically for Le Mans?
PH – Firstly my trainer and I work on different focus areas from time to time, improving as we go along with the aim of peaking the whole, if you like, at/for Le Mans. It’s both the mental and physical side.
SCG – So you pull a few practice all-nighters?! Ha-Ha!
PH – No not quite, it is more about reaching a similar level of physical tiredness, but retaining a mental ability/agility, so exercising then performing tasks whilst limiting the decline. I find I can sleep between stints, but of course you are on a declining curve of performance as you exert and tire, the goal is to minimise that decline from stint-to-stint.
SCG – Some drivers claim they don’t sleep, but you are able to catch some sleep?
PH – Sure, I can readily nod off at any time, but never during an Engineer’s briefing, of course not! I think the few that claim to not sleep through the night are probably playing a bit of a game, the importance of the rest between stints is well appreciated these days.
SCG – Returning to Le Mans preparations, are there other things you focus on for this race?
PH – Yes in particular the night time (of which there will be 50% more in September compared to the traditional June race) is very different. As good as the lighting is these days you need to identify markers for braking and turn-in that in daylight would not be necessary or even in your line of sight especially at 340 kmh.
SCG – Turning to the car, last year as mentioned United Autosports were campaigning the Ligier JSP217 and similar to most leading participants turned instead to the Oreca07 – Gibson. How has that change affected you?
PH – We had reached a point where we understood the Ligier and were getting the best out of it in terms of preparation as a team, pit crew and drivers, so it was a big step to make the change. Our engineers did a great job in engineering and getting their heads around the car, and as drivers we only get to then feel how the Oreca drove. Collectively it felt more responsive, you have a better sense of understeer, it seems more “on the nose”, a greater sense of control, of how hard you could push to manage various aspects throughout your stint(s).
SCG – Good, and as a driver team, Filipe and yourself drive as a pair in the ELMS, does introducing a third driver (Paul Di Resta) present any challenges?
PH – Not typically, We ran at the WEC Spa-Francorchamp Six Hours in mixed conditions and won which was a useful test. I have to remember that when Paul is with us I utilise a seat insert, and that can be a pain if I forget it!
SCG – Indeed! How much do the Covid-19 Protocols impact the events for you?
PH – It is largely focused on proving health (through testing, just done mine) and then controlled access to the Paddock as a “super-bubble” temperatures are taken and health monitoring.
SCG – Any direct impact on the drivers at stint changes? Sanitising the cockpit?
PH – No, we are pretty well covered by race suits, gloves, balaclavas and helmets!
SCG – Of course! So what is next for Phil Hanson?
PH – The current circumstances (Covid) plus the changes in Prototype regulations to LMDH+ mean it is a bit of limbo year, but I hope to continue to show my talents to the best of my abilities and to be spotted by future manufacturers coming into the sportscar racing world.
SCG – McLaren or with United Autosports perhaps??
PH – I have no insight into that, but…
SCG – Finally, how big a deal is Le Mans to Phil Hanson?
PH – To be honest it is not something that registered with me when I was very young. I became aware of it as a sporting dream in my teens, it is the biggest race in endurance motorsport, a Triple Crown motorsport event. I realised the dream by becoming one of the youngest ever participants at seventeen, but it is not until you are there (physically) that you realise how big it is. Now I’m hungry for the Class win, and then perhaps the Overall win!
SCG – And for how long? Given that you will be on track next weekend with a 74 year-old (Dominique Bastien #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing)..
PH – I can see doing this for at least twenty years!
SCG – Thank you Phil, we very much look forward to following you as you progress along that path. All at SportsCarGlobal, and we are sure plenty of United Autosports fans, plus the Brit Pack from afar, wish you the very best of luck in climbing on to that podium come 1430 on Sunday 20th September, Bon Chance!
Footnote – Phil is clearly getting great advice, guidance and support. He came across (and hopefully it reads as such) as a personable and confident individual. In the ELMS he has demonstrated a cool, quick head beyond his years and we sincerely do hope to follow him for many more.