LMP2, LMP3, GT4, classic racing and Extreme E - only some of the series United Autosports competes in. At the helm sits Richard Dean, who co-founded it along with McLaren CEO Zak Brown. We met up with Richard in the Spa Paddock where he revealed to us the secrets to United Autosports’ success.
Richard, United Autosports has proven to be extremely successful in the last 12 months. What’s the team’s edge, do you think?
I believe it’s all about the way we approach every event. When you start having success it’s easy to become complacent. We never take anything for granted, prepare every race in the same way, and have the same attitude going in. Our success is a result of getting everything right. There are so many small details that can make such a big difference. Having a great driver behind the wheel is obviously a good start, but even they will always graciously admit that we’ve always given them a car that performs in a way that means they can get the best out of it. Today the LMP2 category has almost become a one-make series. I believe the FIA never intended it to become that but with only one Ligier in the field, it has become just that. The thing about the Oreca chassis is that it’s just very good and so is the Gibson engine in it. The Gibson engines (which are lubricated by Motul) are a unit that no one actually talks about because nobody needs to. They just work. On top of that, I have to mention that a lot of this is all down to our technical director David Greenwood and his team who make sure all of our cars arrive on the grid in the best conditions they could be.
Where do you find gains in that Oreca Chassis?
It’s not easy. Especially given the fact that we were one of the last teams to adopt the Oreca 07 chassis. Only in 2019, we switched from Ligier to Oreca. This year everything changed again for us as well. Last year the teams had a choice of the tyre between Goodyear and Michelin. This year the Goodyear has become the spec tyre. So, everyone kind of expected us to struggle, as did we. However, the drivers managed to find pace in the car regardless of the kind of rubber they’re on.
For the 2021 season, the ACO changed the LMP2 rule book to slow down the cars. How did you manage this change and what’s your take on this having been a racing driver?
New regulations are a challenge for every participant. Everyone has to play by the same rules. The big challenge is to be the team that manages to get the best out of the regulations the fastest. So, it’s no big issue for us. On top of that, during the first race we didn’t feel that much of a difference. This is mostly because we’re now forced to run the low downforce set-up (Le Mans configuration) which isn’t really a disadvantage in Spa, but I can see it being a bigger challenge in other places. The drivers will definitely complain more about other tracks. They are obviously not happy with this as they want the thrill and rush of the speed. They definitely don’t want to go any slower.
With United Autosports you’re no longer limiting yourself to LMP2 and LMP3, you’ve started both a GT4 campaign and took part in the Extreme E championship! Why the expansion?
Well, in the last few years we’ve started to run United Autosports more as a business. No business can be successful if it puts all of its efforts into one product. Last year we moved into a new facility, and which gave us the room to expand and generally become better at what we do and maybe attract a manufacturer. On the other hand, it’s also pure passion. It might sound sad but if we could we’d spend every day at a track and every weekend racing, we would. It’s in our blood. The GT4 story has been a success from the start, winning the opening round. The Extreme E challenge is a project we took on with our partner Andretti Racing. The championship is an evolution of the Formula E championship and it’s run by the same people. They’ve done an amazing job at organising this. The first event broadcast was a huge success. During the race, I got so many messages from so many people. Especially from people who weren’t really all that much interested in motorsport, they did love this. We came second in the first event, and I believe the championship is only growing bigger so good things are ahead.
You’re not heading up United Autosports alone. You do it together with McLaren CEO Zak Brown. How did your relationship start?
Zak and I have been friends for over 30 years. When I was an aspiring driver, wanting to become an F1 driver one day, I was an instructor for a famous racing school at Donnington called the Jim Russel Racing School. Zak spent a week there and I was his instructor. We immediately hit it off. After the week was over, he told me he wasn’t going back to the US, and he spent a few weeks sleeping on my couch and he “kind of never left”. Years later we had the idea to start our own racing team, just for fun. We bought an Audi R8 GT3 and a truck and called it United Autosports. Now we’re one of the biggest teams racing all over the world and Zak is the CEO of McLaren. Funny how that goes.