Filipe Albuquerque contested his 23rd race for United Autosports in Bahrain and embarks on his fourth consecutive season with the British team in 2020. The Portuguese has nothing but admiration for the team, his team-mates and all of the staff at its new, state-of-the-art Yorkshire race shop.
“When I signed with United Autosports for the 2017 European Le Mans Series, I could never have imagined just how much I’d see the team grow over the last three years. I met with Richard Dean for the first time at Daytona that year and we spoke about his new LMP2 project in ELMS. They were starting in LMP2 with one car and a bunch of LMP3s – United having made its ELMS début in 2016 in LMP3.
“I will be embarking on my fourth consecutive year with United in 2020 and I honestly can’t wait as Phil Hanson and I will be gunning for the ELMS title. It’ll be my fourth ELMS season with United but the first since my maiden season with United whereby I’ll compete in all six races, previously my IMSA commitments had forced me to miss the opening race. I love this team and the way Richard and Zak Brown run it. The environment is very unique and special, it’s enjoyable to be with all the guys on-event.
“How they have progressed, like now competing in the WEC for example, how they analyse everything. They’ve evolved into a very competitive entrant. Nothing is missing anywhere, in all areas which makes a driver, mechanic and engineer, highly motivated. Everyone involved always wants to give more which is why I am so happy with them and am delighted to re-sign every year.
“Working with Phil [Hanson] is great. He has become a good friend of mine. He is a great kid and easy to work with. We share the ups and downs of racing together and he has evolved so much from when I first met him at a test at Magny Cours in the winter of 2017. Like with United, it is incredible to see his evolution, his hard work in the gym, for example, and the man that he is becoming is impressive.
“Here at Bahrain and in the WEC, of course, there is a third driver sharing our Oreca. Paul [Di Resta] is a very experienced guy coming from Formula 1 and DTM. It is interesting to work together as we have different approaches but I think that makes us even more complete as a driver line-up. Paul, with his F1/DTM mentality, and me with more the mentality of endurance racing, in Europe and America. It’s about merging our experiences together to make the team better.
“There are no egos in the team. Whoever the engineer decides to put in for qualifying, or doing whatever, everyone is fine with the decisions, there are no hard feelings. Everyone speaks out which is most important and it has been great to work with everyone.
“Before our Bahrain WEC victory, for me, the best race or the best moment so far with United was probably my first race for them in the opening round of the 2017 season at Silverstone. No one really knew the pace of everyone, we’d been 11th fastest in the Prologue at Monza. But we qualified our Ligier on the front row and won by six seconds having taken the lead in the closing laps. It was incredible and emotional. My first race with United, United’s first race in LMP2. I think that was a great memory and has to be the best memory of mine and I think as well for United. Another good moment was Spa ELMS this year, our second race with the Oreca. Fastest in FP1, fastest in FP2, fastest in qualifying, won the race and fastest lap of the race, a clean sweep. Complete domination the whole weekend.
“I’d only previously raced once at Bahrain, in 2016 (above with RGR). I finished second in LMP2, by less than seven seconds in the six-hour race that was the LMP1 swansong for my old friends at Audi Sport. It’s not a particularly hard track but of course, the ambient temperature is normally high but not so much this year. But it’s a nice place to go in December with great facilities. I arrived at our hotel on Wednesday morning, checking in at 4 am, but unfortunately, the hotel had scheduled a fire alarm test at 8 am, oh man I felt dead that morning! On Thursday, I was impressed with my first flying lap, straight away very competitive. I was quite happy with the opening day in general. I spent the practice sessions driving with old tyres and enjoyed the challenge of taking care of them. I was happy with the car balance.
“The same applied to Friday, I was happy with the set-up and our pace. Bahrain was Paul’s to qualify with Phil. Both Paul and Phil are solid performers and they got pole-position, United’s first-ever WEC pole – and we went on to literally dominate the eight-hour race. It has been a perfect weekend for us and a dream result. Pole, race win and fastest lap. We were maybe a little more tense than normal having been unlucky in the previous WEC races. We had a great race strategy from the garage in saving fuel and tyres. The closing stages were fun racing my fellow Portuguese and good friend, Antonio [Da Costa]. I’ve known Antonio since he was a kid.
“Bahrain must be the team’s biggest win. Obviously, as a race car driver, I always like to win but I think this one represents more than that because United has been doing such a great effort with the new Oreca and had been a little bit unlucky with two or three WEC starts. But this weekend we were really competitive through practice, qualifying and into the race. We were maybe a little bit tense, at least that was the case from my side, to ensure that we made sure and won. We had very minor setbacks with a couple of pit-stops where we lost some time but I think everyone had that. In the end, we made it, we won, and I think it was fully deserved. We have always been there on the top and finally, we achieved it which must have been very satisfying for Richard, Zak, who was present, plus the engineers and mechanics who have been working so hard.
“For me personally, the Bahrain result is just what was needed after a really bad start to my 2019 season in Daytona in January. We had an issue with the car’s brake lights which effectively took me out of the fight for the win. So to finish the year off with six consecutive podium finishes with United, ELMS and WEC, plus the 500km of Interlagos race in Brazil which I won, is just mega. The Bahrain result puts us right back in championship contention, just three points off the lead, so now I’m really looking forward to COTA in February!”