In 2006, Richard Dean was a rookie at the 24 Hours: "I heard of the Le Mans 24 Hours through my father, Tony Dean. Although Tony never had the chance to race at Le Mans, he raced throughout the world in long distance sports car races through the 60s and 70s. My first lap felt like it took an age to complete! I felt totally lost. With no opportunity to do any advance laps, even in a road car, and no option to learn the track on a simulator, I just set off trying to remember what was coming up next from the printed track map I had taken a brief look at."
Dean shared a Panoz Esperante GTLM fielded by Team LNT with another rookie, Tom Kimber-Smith, and team owner Lawrence Tomlinson. "Lawrence was a very solid gent driver who knew very well what his strengths and weaknesses were. Despite me being the ‘experienced pro’ in the line-up and Tom being the ‘young hot-shot,’ Lawrence was the only one with Le Mans experience. Lawrence set out to the whole team quite clearly before the race that he wasn’t going to take any risks or go along with any strategy that may effect the result. As such he announced he wouldn’t be driving in the dark or the rain. Tom and I double-stinted through the night. Tom was very talented and very fit and the race went pretty smoothly. Although I do remember in the early hours of the morning Tom had a bit of a loss of confidence in his ability to keep pushing to the end. I remember having to give him a bit of a motivational talk even though I was feeling pretty rough myself. The Panoz was a tank! It wasn’t the best handling car but Don and Dan Panoz had a plan and they believed they knew what was required to win Le Mans. The car was super reliable and the engine was so strong. The plan was pretty simple, it required the drivers to be faultless throughout…and the opposition to implode through the race…it worked."
Even though the Panoz experienced no major technical troubles on its way to victory, the end of the race was not a walk in the park for Dean: "I remember being in the car for the last two stints, it wasn’t planned for me to stay in the car for so long at the end, but we didn’t have time to risk a driver change at the last stop because we were under pressure from a very fast Porsche who was closing on us (driven by Lars Erik Nielsen, Pierre Ehret and Dominik Farnbacher, Ed.). The final lap where the marshals were on the track waving and celebrating was also something I wish I could have enjoyed, but there was confusion as to how close the second place car was to us." After this triumphant yet white-knuckle finish, Dean was required by a doctor to submit a urine sample before heading to the podium!
In the wake of the win, Dean remained loyal to Team LNT. In 2007, still at the wheel of a Panoz Esperante GTLM, the Brit and his fellow countryman Lawrence Tomlinson joined forces with Robert Bell, finishing 23rd overall and fifth in their class. Then, in 2009, Dean and Tomlinson competed in the LMP2 with a Ginetta GZ09S and new teammate Nigel Moore (retirement).
PHOTO ABOVE (Copyright - ACO/ARCHIVES): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SUNDAY 18 JUNE 2006. Under the ballet of track marshal flags, Richard Dean on his way to winning his class and marking the only victory for a Panoz at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In 2017, Dean returned to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the same class as a team co-owner. "Zak (Brown, Ed.) and myself launched United Autosports in 2010. Before entering sports-prototype racing in 2016 with an LMP3 programme, then LMP2 the following year, we competed in a variety of championships and races around the world. GT3, touring cars, one-make, and racing at the likes of Daytona, Macau, Bathurst, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. My 2006 experience at Le Mans was very useful. I was also effectively running the team during our efforts in 2006, so I was heavily involved in everything in the run up to the event, the staff, the planning, the sponsors and guests, etc."
Since its start in prototypes, United Autosports has steadily climbed the ranks of endurance racing, with three LMP3 wins in the European Le Mans Series (2016 and 2017) and its first LMP2 first place finish in the Asian Le Mans Series at the end of the 2018-2019 season. Last year, the team reached the impressive track record of 300 races and 50 victories, including a recent LMP2 win in the FIA World Endurance Championship at the Bahrain round.
Since its first participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Brown and Dean's team has never failed to make it into the top 5 in the LMP2 class, with third place in 2018, two fourth places in 2017 (fifth overall) and 2019, and in December a first triumph in the FIA WEC with the ORECA 07 after a long relationship with Ligier. "We started the Silverstone race with just 1,154 kilometers and 248 laps under our belts with our new ORECA which we ran for the first and only time at the Prologue event at Barcelona in July. So I’m fully aware we could not expect to start the Silverstone race at the same level as the other ORECA runners as some of these teams have three or more years experience with the car. It is going to take us some time but I believe we have quality people in our team who can accelerate our learning. By the second half of the season I want to be challenging for podiums and hopefully in with a shout for a win at some point...maybe even at Le Mans!" That mission is already accomplished thanks to the team's first win at Bahrain, and what would be a better way to celebrate United Autosports' 10th anniversary than first place the 24 Hours in June?
PHOTO ABOVE: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, SATURDAY 16 & SUNDAY 17 JUNE 2018. For its second participation in the 24 Hours, United Autosports claimed the third step on the LMP2 podium thanks to Hugo de Sadeleer, Will Owen and Juan Pablo Montoya.
BREAKING NEWS: THE 24 HOURS OF LE MANS POSTPONED TO 19–20 SEPTEMBER 2020