The ELMS season is set to kick off this weekend in Barcelona. This year, the championship ramps up the competition even more, bringing one of the strongest LMP2 fields to the tracks around Europe. One of those teams is ELMS veterans Dragonspeed. Ben Hanley has been their ace drive for five years now and we caught up with him in Spain.
Ben, you’re in Barcelona now testing with Dragonspeed. This is your fifth season with the team. It’s unusual for any race team to be that consistent in it’s line-up. Is that the secret to its success?
Has it already been five years? I guess it is. I believe the consistency of the team has definitely been part of the team’s success. Endurance racing is all about confidence in the team and the people around you. Being together for all this time has definitely benefited us greatly.
Before we continue talking about ELMS, in 2019 you tried out Indycar. Unfortunately Covid put a halt to those plans. Will you take a seat back this year?
Unfortunately, Covid did not just put a halt to those plans it straight up buried them. We started last year with great confidence doing some winter testing and preparing the car. Then the pandemic hit, stopping the programme in its tracks. On top of that, the budget our partners’ businesses had was tanked by the pandemic as well. It’s a championship with an incredibly steep learning curve and very expensive to compete in, especially for a small team. We had great ambitions, but unfortunately, we couldn’t see them come to fruition.
For Le Mans this year you’ll be teaming up with Juan Pablo Montoya. He’s been with the team last year. Now you’re sharing the car with him. What does someone like him bring to the team?
It’s never a bad thing to have an F1 world champion in the car. We worked together before last year and he’s just a very relaxed driver who brings a lot of experience to the team. On top of that, as I said, the team has been very consistent throughout the years, so it’s great to have someone from outside the team come in and assess the situation with their own vision.
How has the Oreca 07 evolved throughout the years?
With a spec car like the Oreca 7 there isn’t much room for vast evolutions. This is why we’re noticing that the differences in the LMP2 field have become tiny. This is something you see a lot in spec series. Because there is only so much you can modify on the car, after a few years all the teams know the tricks and specific set-up of the car. Especially with drivers moving around teams so much and sharing their knowledge. This has made an incredibly level playing field and nearly an entire field of LMP2 cars that have the speed and capacity to win. The biggest change for us has been the switch of tyre manufacturers. Moving from Michelin to Goodyear was the biggest challenge because with a new tyre all the parameters change.
With a new set of regulations for 2021, LMP2 cars have been slowed down. Doesn’t that go against every instinct for you as a race driver?
It is a bit odd when I came out of Portimao last year and got in the car again this year and noticed that the car is a bit heavier. We’ve got a new tyre and a bit less power. Overall it’s all about making a good racing series. When you look at Le Mans, last year the LMP2 cars were so fast: 3:20 at Le Mans is surreal for a cost-cut spec machine really. This year some things change but the cars still feel fast, so for me that’s ok.