By winning the LMP3 title last month at Spa-Francorchamps, Mike Guasch became the first American driver to win a European Le Mans Series class championship.
The 58-year-old Californian became LMP3 champion at the second-last round of the season, following a stellar season for himself and United Autosports co-drivers Alex Brundle and Christian England.
“It’s a great achievement; I’m really proud of it,” he told Sportscar365. “It’s interesting because I raced with this team back in 2010-11, and in 2011 we were leading the British GT Championship.
“I was just one of maybe two or three Americans at the time who had ever led or potentially won in British GT, but I wouldn’t have been the sole champion to ever have won as an American. To do it in ELMS is pretty cool.
“In 2013, I won the American Le Mans Series championship in Prototype Challenge. Obviously ALMS is the United States version, and now to have won the European [series].
“I’m a two-continent champion, so that feels pretty good!”
Going into the season, the Anglo-American squad was entering unknown territory.
While 2016 is the class’ second year in ELMS, the grids this season have been as much as four times larger than its debut season.
A two-car effort was organized for 2016, with Guasch, Brundle and England in the No. 2 Ligier and Wayne Boyd, Matt Bell and Mark Patterson in the No. 3 car.
“I was pretty confident knowing of what I could do,” Guasch said. “I did not know my teammates. I was very confident in Alex, because he was a known commodity.
“Christian, no-one really knew, but I trusted Richard [Dean, team co-owner] that he would choose the right guys to put this program together.
“I do know that when I contacted United Autosports, they were really excited that they had already announced Alex and the LMP3 program, which was something I had been looking at for a while.”
Following a few seasons competing successfully in the U.S., Guasch decided to return to Europe and look for a ride in ELMS.
“I made the decision to come over to Europe, so when I rung up Richard, he was really excited about it because he had been watching my career over here over the last few years,” he explained.
“I won quite a few races and quite a few championships over in the States in the Prototype Challenge class, which is basically very similar to LMP3.
“Overall, I was pretty confident that I could do a good job, but the only thing that was unknown was how good were the Europeans going to be on their own home tracks and in a new car.
“I’ve personally been racing in endurance racing for five or six years now. The team aspect of endurance racing is quite unique to sprint racing, and at the beginning of the year there were a lot of sprint drivers who got in.
“I was thinking, we might have an advantage over these guys, with pit stops, driver changes and driver dynamics, which are very unique in endurance racing. It takes years to sort that stuff out.”
After a successful start to the season with the win at Silverstone in April, the No. 2 crew continued with good form to take the class victories at Imola and Red Bull Ring.
It took until Round 4 at Paul Ricard for United Autosports to beaten in LMP3.
Nevertheless, Guasch believes that if things had gone differently, another win could have been in their pocket.
“We had some engine issues at Red Bull Ring and Paul Ricard, which reduced the top speed of our car,” he said. “The team identified and resolved the problem before Spa.
“Really, I believe we should have easily won Paul Ricard, and at [Spa], we just had bad luck on the yellow flags. The guys who won [Graff] got a lap up on us due to the safety car.
“The safety car picked me up and they ended up getting a lap on us. We ended up four seconds behind at the finish, because they had a 30-second penalty for jumping the Full Course Yellow.
“We should have won all five races, in my opinion. If they hadn’t gotten that full lap on us under the safety car, there is no way in hell they would have beaten us.”
For next year, a return to ELMS is Guasch’s first choice, but a move up to the top class might be on the cards.
“I’ve been offered a number of rides here in the States to go into the Prototype class, which would be exciting, but I really want to go back to Europe for another year or two,” he said.
“I love Europe, I love traveling, so I would have no issue with going back to Europe again.
“By winning the LMP3 championship, we do get an automatic invitation to Le Mans. Our objective is to do Le Mans next year, if we get this invitation.
“I would go back to ELMS in LMP3, or if I can figure it out, I’ll do LMP2, but I don’t know if United Autosports at this time wants to go LMP2 racing.
“I just did the season, we did a lot of time testing to get refreshed on the tracks. There are two new tracks for next year, but I have driven one of them, Portimao.
“We would be able to focus more on the tracks that we haven’t raced this year, and I would feel far more confident going into next year, knowing that I had just driven all those tracks the year before.
“That’s why ELMS, for me, makes the most sense.”