Philip Hanson is just 22 at the time of publishing this article, but in the field of endurance sportscar racing he is already a star. With a number of races under his belt, such as Le Mans 24 and Rolex 24 Hours, at Daytona, alongside two-time F1 champion, Fernando Alonso, he is the youngest ever World Endurance Champion and the youngest ever Brit to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
He is also the first driver to ever win Le Mans and hold both the WEC and ELMS titles in the same year.
As is the case with most race drivers, his career evolved from a hobby at the Go-Karting track. Unusual for a race driver, he is the first in his family to take up competitive racing at Pro-Karting level aged 14.
The leap from being a karting enthusiast to a professional race driver is, in fact, a challenge in itself. Joining a small team as a teenage competitor requires serious commitment: for starters, race tracks are dotted all across the country, which can present both logistical and educational problems for someone of school age. Not to mention that racing is an expensive sport with high running costs. The main stumbling block for most youngsters, however, is having to dedicate all weekends to racing at different venues in the pursuit of a career that also requires rigorous training and stringent weight control. As is the case with professional jockeys, drivers cannot afford any excess body weight, so a tailored training regime combined with a strict diet are part and parcel of the career driver’s life.
Philip, who won Le Mans at his fourth participation, has had a personal trainer for the past three years, learning how to calibrate heart rate and intermittent resting. Ultimately, though, what keeps a driver going, he says, is the adrenaline.
The ultimate watershed point for young drivers is having to decide between pursuing a more traditional career path via University and following their passion for the sport to the next stage.
Given that a sports career has a limited natural life span – most drivers, for example, would have quit or been outranked by the age of 40 – the stakes are existential.
Hanson has a well thought out strategy geared to a team-based endurance racing which he finds more fun, as well as more challenging.
He is currently on the drivers roster of United Autosports, with the natural progression being a manufacturer’s ticket.
Single manufacturer’s drives are very competitive, but offer greater infrastructure and support and of course, greater visibility and recognition in the sport generally.