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Interview with Sam Hancock

Sam Hancock is a driver, which has driven several cars. From formula cars to GT and LMP, it is all on the resumé of Sam Hancock. RacingInside.com spoke in an exclusive interview about his new team and his new challenges.

Sam HancockHello Sam, some of our visitors will be familiar with the name of Sam Hancock. Unfortunately, some of them have never heard of you. Could you give a brief introduction about yourself?
I’ve been racing since I was a kid, firstly in karts from the age of nine and then in cars from sixteen onwards. I got serious about car racing in 1997 in Formula Vauxhall Junior and then Formula Palmer Audi in ‘98. I also raced in the USA in Dodge Barber Pro Series and did a handful of races in the FIA Formula 3000 championship in 2003. However for the past few years I’ve concentrated on sportscars, winning the Le Mans Series LMP2 championship with Courage in 2004. I’ve raced at Le Mans four times, but last season I switched to race in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB. I scored a race win and finished fifth in the championship in my first season and this year I’m a partner in, and driver for, a team called Jota Sport. We formed the team under the umbrella of sportscar outfit Team Jota, and I am contesting the full Carrera Cup GB season and selected Supercup races.

In addition I’ve also done some writing for Autosport in the UK and have done several track tests for them including the new GP2 car and the Radical LMP2 machine.

Some race drivers are getting involved in racing through friends or family. How did you get involved in racing? Did your parents support you from the early beginning?
When I was growing up my dad was racing for fun in championships like Formula First, Classic Formula Ford 2000 and a little bit of karting, so literally from the age of zero I was at a race track most weekends with him. Then, when I was about 7-years-old, I was almost tall enough to reach the pedals on his kart that he used to keep in the shed. I used to go out there every day to see if I could touch the pedals and the day I could was the day I went to a local disused air field to start testing!

Did you started your career, like many other drivers, in karting or have you been into the cars straight away? Do you think karting will be an essential step in the career of a race driver?
I did quite a bit of karting from the age of 9, but predominantly in club events. I dipped in and out of higher level karting, but it was so expensive so I enjoyed most of my success in the club level events up and down the country.

I think karting is totally crucial for anyone, no matter what their age, who wants to get into racing. We all know the Lewis Hamilton-type story and lots has been written and said about how crucial karting is for youngsters to develop race craft. But I also do a lot of coaching for older drivers who want to start racing or want to improve their level and the first thing I try to convince them to do is get into a kart and do as much karting as possible alongside the usual car training. Without question, it makes an enormous difference.

During the first years of your career you have raced many single seaters (open wheelers). What are the reasons that you are not driving those cars anymore?
A number of reasons really. As you climb the single-seater ladder, the sponsorship requirement becomes astronomical and yet the tangible returns on that sponsorship remain relatively small with very limited media coverage and so on. By contrast, when you’re a young guy, desperate to keep your career going and you realise that sportscar racing offers sponsors a chance to associate with fantastic car brands like Porsche and Ferrari and enormous events with global reach, like Le Mans, it makes for quite an easy decision really.

Hancock driving Porsche Carrera CupAfter driving the single seaters you have made the step into the GT’s and LMP-cars. You have got some great results in that kind of cars, because you are the Le Mans Series champion of 2004 in the LMP2. What is the most significant difference between driving a single seater, a GT and a LMP-car?
Well a top single seater is very similar to driving a prototype. They have similar amounts of grip and downforce, similar braking points and set ups. All of the things you learn in single seaters are totally relevant to LMP cars. The main difference is that the prototype cars are heavier and that means you have to adjust your driving style. It varies from chassis to chassis, but I remember when I first drove the LMP2 Courage everything was very similar, but whereas you could turn into a corner on the brakes in the F3000 car I’d been driving, the Courage didn’t want to turn in because of the extra weight. In the end I took my foot off the brake, which felt pretty alien at the time, and it was fine and cornered as if it was on rails!

A GT car is completely different though. It’s a different style of racing and feeling in the car. There’s very little you can carry over from single seaters, other than that single seaters teach you to hustle every bit of performance you can from the car on every corner of every lap - which is hugely relevant to a competitive single make series such as the Porsche Carrera Cup. Generally a GT car is so much heavier and rolls a lot more than a single seater. Even on the steering wheel, there is so much more steering lock on a GT car than you’d ever dream of using in a single seater or prototype. It’s a strange feeling at first, but as with anything else you adapt to it and in the end it becomes great fun.

Now you are a successful driver in the LMP-cars and you are also competing in the Porsche Carrera Cup UK. You are driving for a team which is new to the championship this year and of which you’re also a partner. Can you tell us about the team? Could you give us a good look from the inside, to view what it is like manage and run a racing team? What are the future plans for the team?
The idea for Jota Sport came from a conversation with the owner of the company that was my major sponsor from last year. We were already considering forming a small, relatively informal team to run his own racing in the Radical championship, but in the end we were most excited about the idea of expanding the brief to create a really professional, first class racing team which, in time, would be capable of attracting manufacturer programmes.

I knew that we could get the commercial and marketing side up and running to a very high level, but ultimately I wanted the philosophy of the team to be engineering-led, and of the highest quality.

With this in mind, I preferred the idea of doing a joint-venture with an established outfit rather than starting from scratch. This way, we’d not only short-cut much of the learning process, but also, by combining resources,  be able to offer very strong capabilities from the off with a wide and varied programme.

Sam Hignett and his Le Mans sportscar outfit, Team Jota, fitted the bill perfectly. Sam and I go back a few years after I drove for his team in the 2005 Istanbul 1000kms – part of the Le Mans Series. I was struck then by how lean and professional the organisation was, and how, despite being privateers on a vastly limited budget compared to those of the factory teams they were competing against, they were able to field a car that was hugely competitive and reliable. On top of that the attention to detail was superb and the energy of the team was young, hungry and very ambitious – exactly what I wanted for our new outfit.

Now that we’re up and running together, everything is so integrated that I think to even call us a sister-team is incorrect. Okay, the sportscar squad is called Team Jota and we’re Jota Sport, but now it really is just one big outfit, the benefits of which are fantastic.

For example, with the various programmes we’ve got going on in-house I think we’re the only team able to offer sponsors access TOCA weekends, Grand Prix weekends and Le Mans 24 Hours!

Although I’m a partner, I also need to concentrate on my driving career, so I don’t manage the team on a day-to-day basis - that is the job of Sam Hignett. So when I’m at the circuit I can concentrate totally on my driving and when I’m away from the track I work on developing new business opportunities for the team, sponsorships etc. It’s actually quite similar to what I had to do beforehand as a driver, so while the day job is the same, now I do it for Jota Sport instead of Sam Hancock.

Hancock driving GP2If you take a look ahead, what do you think that the future will bring to you? Winning the Le Mans 24 hours will possibly be your main target, but do you have any other targets that have to be accomplished?
On a personal level, my goal as a driver has always been the same since I switched to sportscars and that is to be a professional racing driver, racing at the highest level possible, for as long as possible. I consider myself very fortunate that I have been able to earn my living from this for a good few years now but the real focus is on a factory drive. It doesn’t have to be in sportscars, it could be GT’s or even Touring Cars, but a drive with a factory team is the goal.

The life of a race driver is tough physically and mentally. Do you have a special training programme to stay fit and to gain strength?
Physical training has always been an important part of my regime, both cardio and strength work, although it varies a little bit throughout the year. I enjoy long distance running, so, for example, if I’m entering a half marathon I will concentrate more on endurance cardio work. At the moment it’s a mixture between cardio and regular gym work. I’ve also started researching the mental side of preparation which I find really interesting. On the whole though, I usually train everyday, although if I’m not racing I try to take Sunday off.

If you could change lives for a day with another race driver, who would it be?
That is a great question! I suppose the dream was always to race in Formula One and the ultimate team is Ferrari. Therefore to spend a day in the shoes of Kimi Raïkkönen or Felipe Massa would be fantastic. On the other hand, the chance to spend a day with a top sportscar team, be it Peugeot, Audi or Penske, would be a huge opportunity because it’s a day when you have a chance to make a good impression and show the key decision makers what you can do.

From the outside, being a race driver looks like a real dream. But there are also negative points, of course. If you could take people a look at the ‘inside’ of racing, what do you think is the most negative point of being a race driver?
There isn’t one. If you are lucky enough to earn your living from racing cars, I can’t think of any possible reason to complain.

What would you like to say to everyone that is dreaming of a career in racing?
You must be 100% dedicated to it and you must have total belief in yourself. As you grow up you naturally get exposed to other things which may come into your life but the trick is to not let them distract you and remain totally focused. Also, don’t ever let that self-belief waver for a single second.