Le Mans 2018: the British drivers and teams to watch
Phil Hanson is just 18, but he’s already aiming for LMP2 glory in his second Le Mans
The 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours starts on 16 June, but what’s the big news this year? We’ve picked out some cars and drivers to keep an eye on, with a particular focus, of course, for entrants British.
How’s this for a meteoric rise? In 2014, Phil Hanson was a promising rookie karter, claiming the Whilton Mill Club Championship at his first attempt. Four years later, the 18-year-old is gearing up to start his second Le Mans 24 Hours, sharing an LMP2 prototype with an ex-F1 racer.
After just two seasons in karting, the Berkshire driver jumped straight to LMP3 sports cars with Tockwith Motorsports, winning the Asian Le Mans Series class title. Hanson says: “It can cost £10 million just to get to Formula 1, so we looked at other routes to make a career as a driver.”
Hanson’s route involved stepping up to LMP2 last year and the chance to tackle Le Mans. It was an eye-opening experience: “The big challenge is the scale of the event. The week leading up to the race is more exhausting than the race itself, due to all the events and the sheer amount of fans.”
That experience will help Hanson this year, and he has gained plenty more since then. He’s now racing for United Autosports and his focus is on a European Le Mans Series campaign with ex-Audi works driver Filipe Albuquerque (ex- F1 racer Paul di Resta will join them for Le Mans). He also drove for the team in the Daytona 24 Hours, sharing a car with Fernando Alonso.
Hanson soaks up the knowledge of his team-mates: “When I started, the learning was all about driving: braking points, corner speeds and so on. But I know those now, so it’s about the other things: feedback, working with the team – just the way you present yourself.”
After finishing ninth in class last year, Hanson hopes his extra experience will allow him to push for class glory. “It’ll also be nice not to be so new,” he says.
Ginetta’s LMP1 debut:
The Ginetta G60-LT P1 will make its debut in LMP1 this weekend, with two cars fielded by the Manor Racing-run CEFC TRSM squad. The team missed the World Endurance Championship opener at Spa, so it has its work cut out.
UK’s best victory bet:
A record 32 British drivers have won Le Mans outright. Bromley’s Mike Conway is the best bet to become the 33rd: he’ll share a works Toyota TS050 Hybrid with Kamui Kobayashi and José María López.
Button’s first Le Mans:
Fernando Alonso, who’ll race a works Toyota, will see a familiar face in LMP1: his old McLaren F1 team-mate Jenson Button, who will be competing for the Russian SMP Racing team. This will be 2009 F1 world champion Button’s Le Mans debut.
Gavin’s bid for six:
Oliver Gavin is one of the most quietly successful British racers at Le Mans. He’ll start his 18th consecutive 24 Hours this weekend – and his 17th with the works Corvette Racing team – and is bidding for a sixth class win.
Tandy’s a Pro Porsche pilot:
Nick Tandy will be one of the favourites for victory in the GTE Pro class this weekend in the works Porsche 911 RSR he shared with Patrick Pilet and Earl Bamber.
The 33-year-old won Le Mans outright alongside Bamber and Nico Hülkenberg in a Porsche 919 Hybrid in 2015 but retired from the event in both 2016 and 2017. With Porsche quitting LMP1, Tandy is back in the GTE Pro division. And he sure is a pro when it comes to GT racing, having already won the GTLM class in this year’s Sebring 12 Hours.
Lynn in at Aston:
Aston Martin doesn’t just have a new Vantage GTE this year: it has also added a new driver to its line-up. Former Williams F1 development driver Alex Lynn, 24, will contest Le Mans and the full WEC season alongside his commitments for DS Virgin Racing in Formula E. He’ll share a car with Maxime Martin and Scot Jonny Adam, whose late charge help Aston Martin clinch a dramatic victory in 2017.
Newey makes LMP2 debut:
Harrison Newey, the 19-year-old son of acclaimed F1 car designer Adrian, will make his Le Mans debut this year. He’ll drive an LMP2 class Dallara-Gibson for SMP Racing, the team that Button will race for in the top LMP1 class. Newey has already had sportswear success this year, winning the 2017-2018 Asian Le Mans Series title.
Sims tabbed for works BMW:
Alex Sims, 30, signed as a BMW factory driver last season, with his efforts focused on the IMSA Sportscar Championship in the US. He’s been racing the new BMW M8 GTE this season, helping the machine take a podium finish in the 12 Hours of Sebring.
Source: Autocar Online