UNITED AUTOSPORTS LEADS SERIES OUTRIGHT AND IS MAJOR CONTENDER FOR REMAINING TWO TITLES
- #22 leads series outright, #23 first in LMP2 Am, #3 & #2 second and third in LMP3
- Bad luck costs pole-starting #22 outright race win & #23 Am class win
- #3 earns Anglo-American team its maiden Asian LMS LMP3 class victory
United Autosports is in strong contention for all three Asian Le Mans Series titles after the 4 Hours of Fuji today (9 Dec) – the Japanese race marking the mid-point of the four-race championship the Anglo-American team is contesting for the first time. Second-place today earns #22 of Phil Hanson (GB) and Paul Di Resta (GB) a three-point lead in the overall LMP2 rankings with the similar #23 Ligier JS P2 Nissan of Guy Cosmo (US), Patrick Byrne (US) and Salih Yoluc (TUR) leading the LMP2 Am category and equal fourth in the overall standings following a second in class and fifth overall in Japan. Furthermore United is placed second (#3) – 11 points off the lead – after Matt Bell (GB), Kay van Berlo (NED) and Christian England (GB) earned United its maiden Asian LMP3 class win, with the #2 of Wayne Boyd (GB), Chris Buncombe (GB) and Garett Grist (CAN) recording fifth, placing them third in championship standings. The UK-based team has now claimed three overall podium finishes, a LMP2 Am class win plus two LMP3 podiums after two races. The 4hr race around the 2.84-mile, 16-turn Fuji Speedway began with moisture in the air and in a cold ambient temperature with rain falling approaching the end of the first hour.
The third and penultimate round of the series takes place at Buriram in Thailand (12 Jan) but United are evaluating drivers for the 2019 season at a track in Europe next week.
Hanson, having earned himself his first career LMP2 pole and the team’s maiden series pole the previous day, started the #22 with Yoluc in #23 which Cosmo qualified third overall and fastest in Am class. #22 lay second 30 minutes in, seven seconds behind the leading #24, with #23 fourth. #23 pitted, with Cosmo taking over on 48 minutes, still on the same slicks, while #22 stopped, and changed to wet tyres on 53 minutes, but dramatically snatched the lead at turn one on 58 minutes when #24 exited the pits having pitted a lap later. #22 impressively extended its lead to 19 seconds in the difficult, slippery conditions due to intermittent rain or drizzle, while #23, having made an extra stop for wets, lay fourth after 90 minutes, 30 seconds ahead of its nearest Am class rival.
The leading #22 Ligier stopped for fuel on 109 minutes having had its lead dramatically reduced moments earlier when Hanson was pushed wide and off the track by a slower car, fortunately without contact. #23 took fuel minutes later, the #22 remaining first – now 26 seconds ahead – #23 fourth – 34 seconds ahead of his Am rival – with all scheduled pit-stops completed at mid-distance, while #23 moved up to third 10 minutes later. #22’s lead was extended to 103 seconds with 95 minutes remaining when the second-placed #24 pitted for slicks as the track dried but Hanson could not follow suit due to the regulated 90 minutes driving time of co-driver Di Resta for another crucial seven minutes, handing over the car after a 2hr 30mins stint, for fuel/slicks with 88 minutes to run, #23 having pitted for fuel/slicks moments earlier.
#22 lay 20 seconds down on the leading #24 with an hour remaining, Di Resta hampered by a handling imbalance, the Scot re-taking the lead when #24 pitted with 45 minutes to run, while Byrne took over the third-placed #23 with 40 minutes left. With 37 minutes remaining, Di Resta dived into the pits for a timed fuel fill under a Safety Car phase, #22 directly behind the leading #24 with 26 minutes left as the race resumed. Byrne lost two places – and the LMP2 Am lead – on the same lap with 20 minutes left. But Di Resta was unable to challenge for the win in the closing stages, with #23 taking fifth overall and second in the Am class.
#2 (Buncombe) and #3 (Bell) began from second and third spots respectively courtesy of the qualifying efforts of Grist and van Berlo but switched positions on the opening lap. #3 & #2 held second – 9 seconds off the LMP3 lead – and fifth with 30 minutes gone. Fourth-placed #2 stopped on 55 minutes, the second-placed #3 taking on fuel/wets and England climbing aboard 6 minutes later. He came very close to taking the class lead on 75 minutes but was thwarted due to a brief power shut down and diminishing tyre grip. #2 pitted on 103 minutes with Grist taking over, the second-placed #3 doing likewise at the halfway mark now in the hands of van Berlo.
#3 briefly snatched the class lead for the first time with 66 minutes to go when the #13 car the Dutchman had been fighting with pitted, van Berlo resuming after it had pitted for fuel/slicks on 63 minutes, 5 seconds adrift of the leading #13 – fourth-placed #2 pitting for Boyd moments later, Grist having survived a spin earlier in his stint just in front of the dicing #13 & #3. Van Berlo grabbed the lead briefly after the Safety Car re-start but went wide in avoidance of another car at the last corner, although the Dutchman was not to be denied and moments later re-took the LMP3 class lead. He took the chequered flag 3.584 seconds ahead – while #2 dropped to fifth in the closing stages after serving a drive through penalty for overtaking under yellow flags.
* Championship positions/pts provisional
Phil Hanson (GB), driver car #22, United Autosports:
Born/Lives: London, UK. Age: 19
“The race was messy as we all expected a dry race. It was really, really cold making it difficult to keep any temperature in the tyres while the damp moisture in the air turned from drizzle to rain near the end of the first hour. I lost out at the start, dropping to second, but got the lead when it turned wet and made a good gap as my pace was good. But we were ultimately caught out by the allowed driving time. We started this event with a really good car from the outset. I was fastest in the private test, second quickest in FP1 and fastest again in FP2. The pace was always there. I put a second set of tyres on in qually after a small lock-up on the first and nailed my first ever LMP2 pole on only my second attempt at qualifying.”
Paul Di Resta (GB), driver car #22, United Autosports:
Born: Scotland, UK. Lives: Monaco. Age: 32
“Second is not the result we’d hoped for especially after Phil had led so much of the race. We lost out when the #24 pitted for slicks and Phil had to wait until there was 90 minutes remaining for me to get in due to the regulations. The track had dried at this point Phil, who had done a solid job, was losing time on wets so the #24 benefitted massively which effectively won them the race. There was a flat-spot on the slicks I took on which caused me some issues. I chose not to push hard and prevent any risk of a lock-up battling for the win, opting to bring home more points. Phil did the bulk of the work at Fuji and massive credit to him as he delivered.”
Guy Cosmo (US), driver car #23, United Autosports:
Born: New York, USA. Lives: Palm Beach Gardens, USA. Age: 41
“I really enjoyed racing one of these cars in the rain for the first time. It was very challenging but was pleased with my performance. The plan was for me to do the final couple of stints but when the rain came, I was told to take over from Salih. I made a couple of small mistakes but never came to a standstill in either. I didn’t extract everything out of the car in qualifying. I’m still learning about this evolution of LMP2 car.”
Patrick Byrne (US), driver car #23, United Autosports:
Born: Colorado, USA. Lives: Washington, USA. Age: 28
“More points in what is becoming a real strong, competitive Am class. I was prepping to take over the car for the second stint but with the rain arriving, Guy took the car over, so in the end I got in the car with around 40 minutes to run. Almost immediately, there was a Safety Car which caught us out. My [old] tyres were real cold at the re-start and I was just a sitting duck to the cars behind and I just didn’t have anything to keep them behind.”
Salih Yoluc (TUR), driver car #23, United Autosports:
Born/Lives: Istanbul, Turkey. Age: 33
“The start was scrappy due to cold tyres and I may have been overly cautious as it was my first time in the damp in an LMP2 car. But I managed some okay laps and handed the car over in a good position. Unfortunately Guy went out on slicks when he took over from me when wets would have been the better option so we lost a lot of time because he had to stop again.”
Garett Grist (CAN), driver car #2, United Autosports:
Born: St. Catherine’s, Canada. Lives: Grimsby, Canada. Age: 22
“We’d already lost masses of time when I got into the car. It was a tough stint on a wet track, on wet tyres but a dry set-up making life difficult and causing my pace to be up and down. I stayed on wets longer than most as we were hoping for a Safety Car at that time which we didn’t get and so was haemorrhaging time to the guys who had changed to slicks. Qualifying was messy as I had no lap time display in the car so had no clue what I was doing. I was disappointed not to get LMP3 pole especially as our qually sim that morning had been much better.”
Chris Buncombe (GB), driver car #2, United Autosports:
Born: Taunton, UK Lives: London, UK Age: 40
“My stint was tricky, struggling with the balance of the car throughout which affected my pace. I’m sure it was snowing on the grid it was that cold! I stayed out on slicks in the rain for as long as I could and I was just focussed on not making a mistake in the difficult conditions. I pitted for wets but there was an issue that caused a problem with the wheel gun which put us on the backfoot from there on in. I’m still learning the LMP3 car.”
Wayne Boyd (GB), driver car #2, United Autosports:
Born: Belfast, Northern Ireland. Lives: Templepatrick, Northern Ireland. Age: 28
“My stint went okay and my focus was trying to get fourth after our early setback. After the Safety Car, I made up some places but was judged to have overtaken a car through a Yellow Flag zone resulting in a drive-through penalty which I felt was harsh as the car in question was doing FCY speed which dropped me a place. Now we focus on Thailand.”
Christian England (GB), driver car #3, United Autosports:
Born: Barnsley, UK. Lives: Huddersfield, UK. Age: 37
“I’m absolutely ecstatic to be part of the class winning crew especially as it was a last-minute call up when Jim [McGuire] couldn’t make it due to business – and all credit to him for giving me this unexpected opportunity. My stint was really tricky as the track was so greasy, not fully wet but certainly not dry. Nevertheless I closed in on the leader and was on his tail before the car shut itself off unexpectedly and then there was a big tyre drop off which I had to adjust my driving to.”
Matt Bell (GB), driver car #3, United Autosports:
Born: Newcastle, UK. Lives: Stamford, UK. Age: 28
“In some respects the victory feels bitter-sweet as my regular co-driver Jim [McGuire] was absent but I know he’ll be pleased with the AERO car winning. It was actually a nail-biter with Mother nature adding some excitement with the variable weather conditions. My stint was actually straightforward running second to #65 which put a couple of LMP2 cars in between us but we were some way ahead of the other class cars. The rain came and all hell broke loose but I stayed out for a long time for strategy.”
Kay van Berlo (NED), driver car #3, United Autosports:
Born/Lives: Veghel, The Netherlands. Age: 17
“The conditions were tricky and my stint was probably the toughest I’ve ever driven in terms of pressure. I tried to take the lead a few times. Immediately after the Safety Car I managed to get ahead, but a GT car ran wide at the last Turn so I had to go really wide which dropped me back again. But I managed to overtake him again and pulled a small gap to the flag. Qualifying wasn’t easy as I had no radio communication or lap time display in the car so had little clue as to how I was doing. This was only my second LMP3 qualifying [after Sebring] but I was feeling really confident after the practice sessions and was pretty pleased with P4 taking into account the comms issues.”
Zak Brown, Team Owner and Chairman, United Autosports:
“A second consecutive strong race in all three classes sees us head for the penultimate event in Thailand in very strong positions in all three championships. It’s been a hectic and tiring few weeks for our team in Asia that has nevertheless proved rewarding in terms of success. Our aim is to keep the momentum going into Buriram where, hopefully after two near misses, we can also achieve our maiden outright race win.”
Richard Dean, Team Owner and Managing Director, United Autosports:
“There is everything to play for in terms of the championships going into the second half of the season which is very pleasing. Phil has been mega in the #22 from Friday morning but he and Paul were unlucky not to earn us our first Asian LMS overall win today. Phil was magnificent in getting us our first pole, drove stunning stints to lead the race in extremely difficult conditions, but our strategy options are limited with a two-driver line-up of a platinum [Di Resta] and silver [Hanson] FIA rated drivers with Paul only able to run a maximum of 90 minutes in the car. This contributed to the fact that we couldn’t stop Phil for slicks immediately after the #24 pitted due to the drive time rules and this is when we lost the time as the track dried. #23 led the Am class for the majority of the race but was unlucky when it pitted two laps before the Safety Car period, which it had to do due to Guy’s driving time, with the #4 benefitting from this caution period to make its stop which ultimately cost us the class win. With regards LMP2 the ultimate results are disappointing. In LMP3, #2 was unlucky when a regulator which controls the wheel guns, malfunctioned at its first pit-stop, costing a minute, while #3 earned us our first class victory with a superb performance.”