Ben Hanley is an international racing driver competing for Motul-backed American racing team DragonSpeed. The British racing star competes across European Le Mans, the World Endurance Championship, the NTT IndyCar Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Having just finished this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours behind the wheel of one of the team's two Oreca LMP2 entries, and in advance of the 12 Hours of Sebring, we caught up with Ben between flights.
Ben Hanley: “There’s more possibility for errors in the dark”
Le Mans was your last race, Ben. How was it?
It was really good apart from we had a mechanical issue through the night. It gradually got worse and we had to pit and replace a few parts. After that, it was really good again and we had great pace in the car. It was a case of what could have been. Le Mans is hard anyway and very few cars don’t have any issues. Unfortunately, ours was an issue that cost us time over a number of hours. Gibson managed to make the change quite quickly with the mechanics from DragonSpeed. We were in the battle for fifth and ended up in 16th. It cost us a lot of track position and time. At the same time, apart from this, the car felt great and there were no incidents that caused us to lose time. It was a great effort by the team and everybody involved.
What was it like racing at Le Mans without a crowd? Do you need that atmosphere to spur you on?
No, the competition is enough to get us in the zone. As drivers, we’re kind of used now to the lack of spectators over the course of this year. There’s no fans anywhere at the moment, so it doesn't feel so out of the ordinary anymore.
Did the pandemic cause you much of a break from racing this year?
I ended up losing three months, so a long time. WEC has been spanning two years, so there hasn’t been any kind of a break. Which is good for a driver. You want to get as much seat time as possible. It’s the same for everybody. We’re fortunate we can get back to racing relatively quickly and it seems to be moving along at the moment. It’s a shame that a lot of programmes and calendars have been reduced, but at the same time we’re lucky we can get straight back to racing. You’ve just got to make the most of it.
You also race in series stateside. What are some of the key differences between racing at, say, Daytona and Le Mans?
Very different. Obviously, Daytona is at the start of the year. There’s a lot of running in the night and temperatures drop quite low in the evening. Le Mans this year was pretty similar as it was held so late. The night was long. When it’s normally in June there’s only six hours of absolute darkness, whereas this year there was about 10. That makes a big difference. There tends to be more possibility for errors in the dark. The team did a great job in how we went through the night.
Your international career must keep you busy. DragonSpeed has an IndyCar team, too…
Busy’s good [LAUGHS]. I’ve had some great opportunities these last few years. Especially IndyCar. It’s something I never thought I’d get into at this stage in my career. It’s been an amazing opportunity. IndyCar is very particular in that it’s a one-make series, but it’s quite open to development so you need a lot of experience and budget to compete with the top teams. At DragonSpeed, we’ve certainly shown in the last few years we’re capable of being in that environment. It’s a great show for the team and myself as a driver.
How do you adjust going between very different cars?
It’s that different it’s not that much of a problem. Sometimes it’s easier to get caught out switching between LMP1 and LMP2 because they are quite similar.
What’s next on the calendar for 2020? And how’s 2021 looking?
We’ve still got the ELMS races to do and Sebring 12 Hours. As for next year, the WEC/ELMS are in the process of confirming what’s required in terms of driver line-ups. Until that’s defined everyone is waiting around a bit. It’s still quite early in the year. Well, it is late, but it’s early [laughs]. It’s a strange year for everybody. With the rule changes that are coming you can’t plan too far in advance at the moment.
DragonSpeed is sponsored by Motul. How do its products help your racing?
It’s more the reliability side of things. It’s something that goes on in the background. As a driver, you don’t think that much about it, until you have a problem. Fortunately, with our cooperation with Motul, we’ve not had many problems at all. I don’t want to jinx that [laughs]. Everything runs smoothly in our team and that goes right the way through from drivers, mechanics and engineers to the products, like the oils and lubricants, greases, and cleaners from Motul. It’s great to have that partnership.