Nick Tandy’s exceptional performance at Le Mans rightly took most of the headlines in the UK media – but there was another British ace celebrating a hard-earned win at La Sarthe, achieving a personal career zenith and pinning his name firmly on the endurance world map.
As far as careers go, UK-born, Singapore-raised Richard Bradley’s is as unconventional as it has been meteoric. On paper his route looks straightforward enough, with success in karts, Formula BMW and F3. But then came a self-acknowledged “too much, too soon” leap to Japan’s Super Formula, before the recent diversification into sports cars.
For many, Bradley’s ascent to Le Mans winner this year came from nowhere. Yet the 24-year-old has been competing in LMP machinery for the past three seasons, most of the time paired with fellow Brit Matt Howson at the Hong Kong-based KCMG team, with whom Bradley raced in Super Formula back in 2013.
“Le Mans this year was magical and the result took a while to process,” says Bradley. “But it was also the result of a lot of bloody hard work. We only received the car (a brand-new ORECA 05 LMP2) in March, so we had plenty to do. Although Stéphane Sarrazin shook it down, Matt [Howson] did the initial aero and performance work.”
The graft paid off handsomely in June, when Bradley took a fine pole position and then along with team-mates Howson and Toyota refugee Nicolas Lapierre claimed a dominant win, leading all bar 10 of the 358 laps completed in LMP2.
“It was a Le Mans you dare only dream about. The only problem we had was when Nico and I went up escape roads briefly on Sunday morning, because of oil,” says Bradley. “Apart from that we were in control, which is satisfying when you know you’re up against the best in the world at the greatest race of all. Setting pole and sharing the victory will remain memories I’ll savour for the rest of my life.”
There is something of a latter-day Eddie Irvine in Richard Bradley, not only in that he made it big in the Far East, but in his often candidly irreverent take on the world. The Irvine comparison fits, too, in both his combative style and also his life away from the track, where he is a shrewd entrepreneur with interests in a variety of businesses and projects.
Bradley’s career has certainly been different, entirely suiting his pleasantly quirky and effervescent personality, but it’s not been without controversy this year.
At Fuji in October, a fraught and wild battle with both of title rival G-Drive Racing’s Ligiers ended with Bradley in the barriers and a whole soap opera of recriminations, ultimately resulting in him receiving a suspended ban.
“For me it was all a massive pain,” he says, “because at the end of the day I just want to race. I can’t be bothered with all the politics and bullshit. After Fuji I was upset because it was actually one of my best races. I pulled off some mega moves and was one of the quickest on the track – but nobody remembers that now. The incidents are history, but I’ve had a high level of support and sympathy from a lot of people in the paddock and in the press. There was a lot going on off the track around that race, and in time I guess it will all come out.”
Many were left perplexed when Bradley was omitted from the post-season LMP1 rookie test, formed to give young talents a chance to gain experience up the FIA/ACO ladder.
“Of course it was disappointing not to get a chance,” he says, “but I am young enough to be patient and earn an opportunity in the future. It is my goal ultimately to be able to win Le Mans in both LMP1 and LMP2. Now, that would be something, wouldn’t it?”
CAREER IN BRIEF
Born: 17/8/91, Greenwich, England
2010 Formula BMW Pacific, Eurasia – champion
2011 All-Japan F3 Ch’ship, Team TOM’S, 5th. Macau GP, 9th
2012 All-Japan F3 Ch’ship, Team TOM’S, 4th
2013 Japanese Super Formula, KCMG, 21st; WEC LMP2 debut with KCMG at Fuji
2014 WEC LMP2, 3rd
2015 WEC LMP2, 2nd; Le Mans class win