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Catching Up With.... Sam Hancock

There’s no shortage of talented drivers out there looking for a 2013 deal, Sam Hancock arrives in the New Year looking for a new challenge after a successful year with Jota saw the team take an impressive LMP2 win against a full WEC field at Spa Francorchamps.

The ex Aston Martin factory driver has now moved on from the Kent based squad after 5 years – so what next?

It's sad to be leaving Jota to be honest. My relationship with them goes back a long way and since reuniting with them in 2008 for the Porsche Carrera Cup, I've been an integral part of the partnership (with Sam Hignett and Simon Dolan) that has seen it grow into a race winning sports car team at World Championship level.

But times are tough, racing is mightily expensive and, although Simon has been exceptional in his willingness to fund the development of the team and the business to this point, it's not reasonable to assume it can continue forever and he rightly wants to reduce his financial input.

Commercial sponsors at the level required to plug the gap are tough to find right now and in the meantime there are a lot of talented, well funded drivers around at present - including many single-seater refugees for whom sports car racing looks like a relative bargain. Against that backdrop I start to look pretty expensive!

So what does the future hold?

It's too early to say at present but there's certainly some really interesting conversations going on. I'm up against plenty of funded drivers - even some pros seem to be paying these days - so that's going to make it tricky, but the market evolves and you have to evolve with it. I'm mostly focusing on factory team projects and some high quality privateer efforts - they're both the toughest gigs to get by far, but I think I'd be well suited to  the factory programmes especially. We'll see.

So looking back at the 2012 season, you competed for Jota Sport in the European Le Mans Series, the Le Mans 24 Hours, and selected rounds of the World Endurance Championship.

The Zytek Nissan LMP2 package was strong enough for you to take a stunning win in the Spa WEC round, which I guess must have been the highlight for you. How do you feel about the season now having had a few weeks to reflect on it?

Overall I'm very proud of it. It certainly had some highs and lows, but our win in the Spa 6 Hours wasn't just a highlight of the year, it was one of the highlights of my entire career. LMP2 at world championship level has arguably been one of the most intensely competitive categories in sports car racing this year, so to beat that level of competition, with a team new to the car and that I've helped build up, was a fantastic feeling.

Particularly for the fact that my co-driver, Simon Dolan, was such an emphatic part of that victory. He drove fifty per cent of that race, was quick and didn't put a foot wrong, even under intense pressure at the end from Robbie Kerr, a professional driver of exceptional pace and experience. I've coached Simon at every track outing he's ever had since his very first track day five years ago and, while we achieved our goal of getting him on the grid at Le Mans last year, it was really at Spa that I think he came of age. I was very proud of him and also of the team.

If Spa was one of the highs, what about the lows - Le Mans for instance?

Yeah, Le Mans was hard. We crashed out at twenty hours with Simon at the wheel - the car just inexplicably snapped on him in the Porsche Curves and he took a heavy hit against the concrete wall. All of the evidence points toward a mechanical failure of some kind, probably a wheel bearing. It was a real shame because although we had endured a tough race already [Sam had a puncture in the first hour, Simon an electrical failure in the night causing a lighting blackout and resulting spin into the gravel, Ed.], we were fighting back and running as high as fourth in class at times. We felt positive about a podium finish.

I heard that you put in some pretty intense preparations for that race, so it must have hurt not to get to the end?

Yeah, I've raced at Le Mans seven times in total now and I can say that I've probably never been so intensely focused as I was this year - even when I drove for Aston Martin. After the Spa win a few weeks earlier, I really sniffed a chance for the win. It's my dream to stand on the top step of the podium at Le Mans and I wanted it bad. Possibly a bit too much. I'd stepped up my training for the season anyway with two winter training camps and two to three sessions a day back home, five or six days a week. I even replicated the race a week beforehand with a 24hr race simulation that saw me working out for the exact durations that I would be in the car, at the exact times of day that I would likely be in it - even through the night. I remember finishing a two hour run at 11pm and then being on my bike again at 4am the next morning. It was probably a bit over the top and I arrived at Le Mans with a stinking cold that only just cleared up by race day. I just wanted to be ready for anything that race threw at me - I'd have driven the whole bloody thing on my own if I had to! I'd definitely train like that again though, because I think the mental and physical benefits are really powerful,  but not so close to the race next time.

At the Donington ELMS race, you fought hard for the lead and were nominated as the Radio Le Mans commentary team's Driver of the Day, surely another highlight for you?

Absolutely. Acknowledgement for a job well done by your peers and colleagues, like the guys at Radio Le Mans, are the accolades I value most - far more than trophies or even titles for example. That's because those guys understand, they were there, they know what happened that day, and they know what it takes to be at the front. A "nice job" from them is pretty much all I need from a race.

And what about historic racing? You've raced at Goodwood, Monaco Historic and Le Mans Classic this year, will that continue?

Yes, absolutely. I've been a lucky boy! All my historic races all come about from my work as a private driver coach for a few notable collectors who very kindly invite me to drive their incredible cars at these wonderful events. It's a huge treat for me and I love every minute of it. I actually think it's really helped develop my driving over the years as well, because you have to contend with so many variables such as massive brake fade and tyre wear.

You also jump in and out of such a wide variety of machinery that you learn to adapt very quickly, which helps in modern racing when switching between GTs and prototypes for example. I'm putting together my historic racing plans for next year as we speak and I may even get involved in helping set up a few focused racing divisions with established historic preparers. The level of competition in that arena has risen so much in recent years that things are getting serious now and to be at the sharp end you need to incorporate a professional approach that you'd more likely find in the modern racing world. So hopefully I can add a bit of value in that area alongside the driving and coaching.