The World Endurance Championship (WEC) returns this weekend for its first race since lockdown, as the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps kick-starts the build-up to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Instead of a May-to-June timescale, it’s August-to-September, because of you-know-what. The added complications of travelling into Europe and racing in the midst of a global pandemic won’t make it easy on teams, but still the British United Autosports squad heads to Spa with its tail up, leading the LMP2 class standings in only its first full season racing at world level.

The team was co-founded by current McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown and his old friend Richard Dean 10 years ago and is now established as one of the finest and most promising in sports car racing. For Dean, life couldn’t be much better, given that his other beloved United, Leeds, have just won promotion as champions to football’s Premier League. Meanwhile, drivers Paul di Resta, Filipe Albuquerque and Phil Hanson arrive in Belgium off the back of two consecutive WEC LMP2 victories – even if the last one was way back in February.

United around the world

The victories in Bahrain and Austin, Texas, underline the team’s step from European to world level, following a switch from the Ligier chassis to Oreca, the LMP2 benchmark. The decision was a tough one for Dean, who holds Ligier in high regard. “Common feedback is that when the Ligier is dialled in, it’s fast, and we scored wins, but it’s a lot harder to keep consistent at the front,” he says. “The Oreca has a bigger window of performance where if you haven’t got it quite right, it doesn’t drop off dramatically. With the Ligier, you definitely had to work a lot harder to keep it at that peak.”

Di Resta's F1 class

Dean is quick to credit his drivers for carrying United to the top of LMP2. “We can take a lot of credit for doing a good job and winning races, but it’s hard to argue that we’ve got the best driver line-up,” he says.

Di Resta is the most familiar of the team’s trio. The ex-Force India Formula 1 driver and former DTM champion is relatively new to sports car racing, and the Scot has faced a familiar transition in attitude. “Formula 1 creates a guarded single-mindedness, and if you haven’t got that, you get eaten alive,” says Dean.

“Paul has that determination but has adapted so well to the team player side of sports car racing. I wasn’t sure he would when we first met him, because you could see sharing a car and information was unusual for him. You protect yourself, because you think everyone is going to stab you in the back, and that felt normal to him.