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.
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.”