Phil Hanson has re-written the European Le Mans Series history books by becoming the youngest ever outright race winner.
The 19-year-old Briton along with Filipe Albuquerque, swept their United Autosports entered Ligier JS P217 to victory in the shortened, weather-affected 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps recently.
“I’m thrilled to have won my first ELMS race and my first international race! Although it wasn’t the most conventional of races, as due to horrendous weather it was shorter than the intended 4-hour length, nonetheless it was a good race and the whole weekend was positive. Qualifying went in our direction.
“From the outset, we were quick and had a perfect set-up on the car, so then it was just a matter of fine-tuning. Then the weather threw a spanner in the mix and luckily we were able to play out our strategy in our favour, and bank on the race director seeing the track conditions being too risky to continue the race.
“We were also able to look at the radar, and our strategists and engineers were able to read it to our advantage, so it was excellent stuff – I’m delighted.”
Talking about winning a red-flagged, shortened race, Hanson reflected, “It’s strange not seeing a chequered flag but seeing a red flag instead. There’s a joy in it, but it’s a bit different to what you’re used to.
“Fortunately, in our case, it wasn’t because of some serious injury or crash, it was because of the potential for that to happen with the weather conditions.
“Regardless, being able to know that we did it, we finally had the luck that we’ve been missing all year was fantastic! We’ve had bad luck, and I think it’s played back in our hands with a stroke of good fortune in this round – giving us the red flag at the opportune moment when we were leading the race.
“It evens out some of the bad luck we’ve had throughout the year. It’s a little bit disappointing that it wasn’t a race we won on outright performance, which shows a more important status against the other teams in the paddock, but a win is a win at the end of the day.
“People say that we did an excellent job in qualifying and have been quick throughout, and I think people know we’ve had bad luck throughout the year, which isn’t down to any aspects of the team or us, I think it’s just been misfortune in the race. So it is a bit disappointing that the victory came late in the season and the shortest race, but that’s how it is sometimes.”
Hanson spoke about his approach to the race at Spa, “I took things pretty steady at the start of the race because of the dire conditions. On reflection maybe I was too conservative as I did lose a few places unfortunately but better that than risking chucking it off the track.
“Perhaps I could have been a bit more switched on with some of the things I could have done to help improve my stint inside the car, things that make the drivability easier . . . Something experience will steer me towards next time. The team and drivers always discuss all the different conditions.
“Before the start of the race we said if the weather continued as it was doing then, we might pit straight away for Filipe, to try to maximise his time in case they shortened the race.
“This was more of an aggressive strategy, but we were able to do that as we’re not in a championship position so still able to gamble on each race which played in our favour this time but hasn’t in a few previous races when we’ve gambled and been unsuccessful, unfortunately.
“It’s just a stroke of luck really that it played in our favour this time. But as I said, we’ve had bad luck in a few races, so I think it’s a balance.”
Looking ahead to the next, and final, round of the 2018 ELMS season, we asked Hanson to reflect on his year so far, and what he hopes to achieve in Portugal, “I think this win gives us a boost going into the last ELMS round in Portugal. This is Filipe’s home track so he’s pushing hard and I think it always seems to come together at the previous round.
“United is a new team for me this year and a new driver line-up, but obviously, we have been paired up quite a lot with all the testing we’ve done, but I think by the last round it probably the best you’re going to be in any team in any situation.
“I think we’ve been making progress throughout the year and although we may not have shown it in our races, I think the last race at Portimão could be an excellent example of what we can do on outright performance. It’s been quite a short prototype career for me so far – 5 LMP3 races and 14 LMP2 races since 2016.
“My career is not progressing as much as my driver development, which has improved exponentially since joining United Autosports and I need to say a massive thanks to them for everything they’ve done and all they’ve helped me achieve.
“We’ve been able to reach the target that we set out at the start of this year, although we haven’t been able to achieve some of the results we thought we were capable of doing.
“I think we accomplished what we set out to concerning my progress, especially in different aspects – my feedback, my understanding of the actual mechanical side of the car, has improved significantly – again that’s down to working with great people like Filipe and our engineer Gautier.
“It’s a shame we didn’t get the results this year but hopefully our podium at the Red Bull Ring, this win at Spa, and another decent result at Portimão will come together as 3 of 6 races where we have been able to salvage some good points and some good results.”
Finally, Hanson spoke about what the future might hold for him in sportscar racing, and how he sees his career developing, “My next goal in sportscar racing is to start winning more regularly. I want to enter qualifying sessions, put on a good show, put some good laps together, and to contest for more outright pace on one lap hopefully.”
“Any driver that can produce something magical like Filipe did by almost grabbing pole at Spa can add respect to their name, so I think that will be the next step. Also gaining that little bit extra pace would also be a good next target to have and keep the momentum going, and hopefully by next year, we’ll be even stronger.”
He concluded, “I’m sure it will be interesting to see what my plans are and where racing takes me, and where endurance racing takes me as we plan to stay in sportscars. I think I’m only going to get quicker which means that we’re only going to get more competitive with the same sort of driver line-up that we have now with me and a more experienced professional driver.”
The final round of the 2018 European Le Mans Series takes place at the end of October.