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HANSON: Reflecting on a Fantastic Season Hat-Trick

Phil Hanson files his final Sportscar365 column of year reflecting on his hat-trick of major titles…

Photo: United Autosports

I now finally have the time to reflect on my success. Of course the aim was to win the European Le Mans Series, FIA World Endurance Championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans when we set out at the start of the respective seasons but to actually win all three, in the same season, is amazing. ELMS was a fantastic season.

It was shortened, five instead of six rounds, a second Ricard race taking the place of Barcelona, due to COVID, while Silverstone was missing from the calendar. That was a shame as I enjoy both the Spanish and English tracks.

Three wins, two thirds and a fastest lap was pretty amazing, our non-victories being the result essentially of punctures. Filipe and I finally won the title by a healthy 39-points from the ‘sister’ No. 32 United Autosports car.

We also had an incredibly strong run in WEC.

We swapped from the Ligier to Oreca chassis for the opening round of the 2019-20 season at Silverstone in September ’19 but an electronics issue caused an early retirement and we struggled with a few issues due to pure bad luck, recording third-places in the next two races in China and Japan.

But consecutive wins at Bahrain, COTA, Spa and of course at Le Mans, was pretty incredible.

We were 26 points adrift of Racing Team Nederland after Fuji and still 21 points down on them after Shanghai in sixth spot.

Our Bahrain win last December moved us up to second-place in the standings, three-points behind the Jackie Chan DC Racing guys, before we took the championship lead at COTA in February.

Victory at Le Mans secured the drivers title for Filipe and me, unfortunately Paul lost out due to missing Fuji, while United also wrapped up the Teams Trophy in France. In the end we secured the titles by a strong 38 points.

Winning Le Mans gave me the most satisfaction this year.

I made my 24 Hour race début there in 2017, finishing ninth in LMP2 with Nigel Moore and Karun Chandhok and have had Filipe and Paul as team-mates for the past three years, finishing fourth last year.

It’s obviously my biggest race of the season, for the majority of sports car drivers I’m sure, which brings huge mental, emotion and stress with it being one race with so many variables that can go wrong.

I was also especially pleased with my performance at Paul Ricard for the third ELMS race at the end of August. I was out on slicks in very wet conditions and was killing myself to keep the lap times as quick as I could, taking immense risks and having race-ending moments on the track from massive snaps when hitting damp patches.

We’d made the wrong call on tires but it was in my next stint when the other cars had gone onto slicks, on a greasy track, and there was a point when I was seconds quicker than anyone else. I was in a really good rhythm on new slicks, recovering from the back of the pack, and well within my comfort zone.

I was a minute down on the leader after Hour 1, and by the time the strategy had played out and Filipe had taken over, we were back in 2nd. Filipe ultimately closed the gap on the leading No. 26 in the closing stages and took the lead with 4mins remaining.

Having led the early stages of the race, falling to near last place and coming back through to take a win when we thought all had been lost was definitely my ELMS highlight this year.

In WEC, my final stint at Le Mans were pretty special. I got in the car thinking it was a case of bringing the car home but with safety cars and slow zones, it brought the JOTA car back into play so I had to push to the limit – not knowing they also needed to stop again near the end for a splash. It was an all or nothing two quali-esque laps, taking risks in traffic, thinking the Le Mans win was on the line.

It’s such a shame there were no spectators at our races.

It would have been awesome to look down into the pit-lane from the Le Mans podium, for example, seeing all of the fans celebrating our success.

That also applies to my father [Dick] not being present. After attending CoTA in February and directly due to the COVID epidemic sweeping the world, he stayed at home and didn’t attend another race.

Up until then, he’s been ever-present at my races throughout my career.

I’ll be a Gold-graded driver next year which changes some things so we’ve to look carefully at all of the options with this scenario in mind for 2021.

Phil Hanson (@PhilHansonRace) is a European Le Mans Series race-winner, driving for United Autosports in the ELMS and FIA World Endurance Championship.

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