British Team United Autosports left Le Mans with a big trophy as well as having secured the FIA WEC world title with one race still to go. It was a huge success for the team, which celebrated its first victory in LMP2 at La Sarthe with its #22 car. After the race we caught up with team owner Richard Dean.
Richard, congratulations on a successful Le Mans! It must have been a weird experience not having an audience to witness the victory?
Thank you, we couldn’t be happier with this achievement. Although there hasn’t been any time for a celebration as we’re already packing up for Bahrain and the transport leaves this Friday. To have Le Mans without spectators was a weird experience. There was no driver parade and the start grid was empty start. I’m sure the drivers will have noticed the lack of barbecue smells out on track! Although it was weird at the beginning, once the racing started, our attention switched solely to the race. Especially this year as the competition in LMP2 was more ferocious than ever before.
The race week has been compressed to only two days of running prior to the race and no test days on top of that. Did that make the challenge even tougher?
Well, Le Mans is supposed to be the toughest race in the world. It already was before, but with this new shortened schedule they made it even tougher. With 10.5 hours of running on Thursday, it was incredibly hard on the guys to get everything ready. There was one night during the week when the team just went to the hotel for a shower and had to go straight back to the track. The other nights they might’ve gotten three or four hours sleep. On top of that, we had the new hyperpole concept on Friday, a day in which we usually fuelled, reset the car and made sure everything is checked twice before the race. However, with this last session and the parc fermé that followed it, we only got the car back at 2pm. In my opinion it was too much, even though we had no incidents or mechanical issues. Although they are our competition, we worried about the teams who had big issues, such as IDEC.
How hands on are you managing a team this big?
We’re running a very big operation with 80 people on site and six cars during the weekend. We’ve had four LMP3s in the cup and two LMP2s in the big race, so it was a massive job. If you try to manage everything yourself, you’re making a big mistake. Fortunately, I’ve got very experienced people running the team so, although I have a tendency to handle a lot and sleep very little, I’m confident in my team’s ability. I have to admit that in the past, the moment I stopped managing everything myself is the moment we started to do a lot better…
During the race there were two moments for United Autosports that really stuck out. The first one is a moment throughout the night where both the 32 and the 22-car diced for the lead. Did you handle that as a team principal?
Oh, I remember that moment very well. We had been mostly leading the race with a 1-2 for almost 12 hours at this point and our pit-stop strategy for both cars were to box them one lap apart so they wouldn’t be in the same pitstop cycle. Because of a series of slow zones and safety cars both cars crept closer to one another without me really noticing, right up to the point when they were running right behind each other. At one point I noticed one car flashing the other one. First, I thought it was a glitch in the feed, or a bump. But then it happened again, which is the point I realised that the drivers were no longer operating as teammates but as competitors. That’s the moment I intervened and asked them to take it a notch lower.
That sounded intense! Even more intense must’ve been the last 20 minutes of the race, where the Jota sport car was inching closer? Talk me through that moment.
The situation was simple. Again, because of some slow zones and an unfortunate safety car incident, the 38 Jota car with Anthony Davidson behind the wheel came within a pitstop window, and we weren’t sure that it could make the end of the race without stopping. Our calculations told us he could, but it was hard to tell how much fuel they managed to save during the safety car. On top of that people might have thought that having a youngster like Phil Hanson in the car against a Le Mans veteran like Davidson might have been a wrong move, but Hanson drove a perfect stint, giving it his all. Although he did give us a little scare sliding wide on pit entry [laughs]. In the end, the Jota did need another pit stop and we managed to win with just a 30-second lead after 24 hours of racing, which speaks volumes about the level of racing.
Having so many cars running Motul oil throughout the operation, what does a brand like Motul mean to you from a team owner's perspective?
We work with Motul products in all our cars, both LMP2 and LMP3. And because the product is just so reliable, it’s one less thing we have to worry about. To be honest if all the parts of the car were as reliable as Motul we’d all sleep a lot better at night.