A year and a half on from his sportscar racing debut, it’s safe to say that Ben Hanley has re-ignited his career. Driving for DragonSpeed the British ex-GP2 driver is in the thick of the 2017 ELMS title fight, and over the past year has made a name for himself in the world of prototype racing.
The 32-year-old made the jump to sportscars in 2016, after five years of inactivity, and has since put his career on an upward trajectory. His performances with DragonSpeed – winning at Spa last year and scoring Pole Position at Silverstone this year being notable highlights – have got him noticed, prompting TDS Racing and G-Drive Racing to give him call-ups to the FIA WEC this season.
But according to Hanley, successes aside, moving from high-level single-seater racing in GP2 back in 2008, to LMP2 hasn’t been an easy transition to make.
“I found it very difficult to get into sportscars,” Hanley told DSC. “I didn’t have any backing initially, so to get drives I was trying to convince people that I could do the job, but that’s difficult because there are so many people with experience. Before last year I had none. So it was difficult to get a chance, even just some testing.
“I didn’t race for five years, and therefore got downgraded to Silver, and was given a chance to race by DragonSpeed.
“It was just that they were looking for a fast Silver and I was on the list. My manager spoke to Elton (Julian, DragonSpeed team principal), and he gave me a shot to show what I could do. It went well last year, we had a few podiums and a win at Spa. So I’ve stayed on for this year (now as a Gold-rated driver) and things are going pretty well.
“Back in 2009 and 2010 I just did a couple of races in Super League, Auto GP, that sort of thing and got a couple of podiums and wins in those categories, but it didn’t get me anywhere. So I started to look into the sportscar and endurance world.
“I’m up against people with my rating who were experienced, so it was tough to get started. I really owe Elton (Julian) and DragonSpeed a big thanks for giving me this opportunity.
In sportscars, it’s a different environment, but it’s more interesting
“In sportscars, it’s a different environment, but it’s more interesting, it’s more open to the public and you get a good feeling in each weekend. I love the strategy and traffic management, I enjoy all of it.
“There’s been a lot to learn in 2017, with the new cars. They’re a huge step this year in lap time and performance, so as a Pro driver it’s great. When you’re in qualifying-spec with low fuel and new tyres it’s so quick.
“It’s a different mentality through traffic now too because of that, as last year the closing speeds weren’t as big.
“With more downforce there’s more disturbance in the air so it’s more difficult to follow other drivers too. You have to think of saving tyres and pushing towards the end of the stint, or cycling the drivers to gain track position. It’s changed how we tackle the races.
“From a general perspective it’s also interesting to see the class reset, as before there was a cycle each time a new car came out. The best car in the class was always the newest, now it’s all fresh, and you don’t have a grid with cars that are five years old in it, everyone has new toys, which is great for the image of the sport I think.”
I want to be an FIA World Champion, in whatever category
For now, the full focus is on the ELMS campaign, though he does have a dream he’s hoping to fulfil. Heading into today’s 4 Hours of Red Bull Ring, Hanley, and teammates Nicolas Lapierre and Henrik Hedman, are third in the standings, and looking to make up some of that ground.
“I want to be an FIA World Champion, in whatever category,” he concluded. “But I’m in the ELMS to win, and we had a chance last year. We’re going to keep pushing, trying to win the races, and in endurance racing so much can happen.
“Every weekend we’re aiming for the top step, sadly we had gearbox issues at Silverstone so we lost valuable points, but it seems that our competitors have had variable results too.
“We’re capable of the very best results. Look at our 1-2 at Monza. The team were very happy, in the #21, we would have been happy to go P1, but it was a great result for the team nonetheless.
“We could do with some more results like that, just the other way round!”