One of the benefits of having 26 years’ worth of racing history is that you have a little black book full of racing drivers to call on.
There are scores drivers on Manor’s pages that have gone on to race and win across much of motor sport, and with the team’s fledgling World Endurance Championship LMP2 campaign there are few better to tap up than Matthew Howson.
So at the Nürburgring, with his usual KCMG squad on the WEC sidelines – Le Mans defence aside – they did just that to partner him with fellow Manor old boys Antonio Pizzonia and Tor Graves.
A winner at Le Mans with KCMG in 2015, Howson has become one of the standard-bearers of the class along with the stellar and relatively more household names of René Rast, Nicolas Minassian, Tristan Gommendy and co.
“It was very late notice, just two days,” he says about his call-up. “It’s been about 15 years since I last drove for them and there are some of the same people and it’s the same vibe. It’s such a friendly team, but it’s super efficient, you can feel the Formula 1 touch in there.
“Back then there’d be old blokes going on about ‘it was better…’ but that’s how it feels now. There are a lot of drivers that were around that have gone onto big things, like Antonio. I was team-mates with Lewis Hamilton at Manor and he’s done all right for himself. It was a strong era for British motor sport and we all talk fondly of it. Plus they’re all Yorkshire lads so there’s plenty of tea!”
It was a reunion with Manor, and with Richard Bradley, with whom he shared his Le Mans victory in 2015. Like Howson, Bradley is usually among the fastest in the division.
“We just can’t stay away from each other! We have a really good working relationship as well as a friendship, and that benefits us. We can share information and we genuinely want to help each other, even when we’re in different cars. That’s how it should be in teams like Manor, there’s no wall.”
Their race-winning experience of the Oreca 05, of which Manor has two in the WEC, could be vital in keeping the team’s progression to the front of the class moving.
“Manor is obviously very experienced, and it feels much more structured in some ways than KCMG but there are certainly things that they could learn from them. They’re in a position where they’re trying to understand their exact circumstances and I have been able to bring advice, whether it’s on the driver changes, tyre decisions, whatever. They’re subtly bleeding me dry of information, but I’m offering it up anyway.
“They started on the back foot having started very, very late. Jota and Alpine were out testing very early so in the circumstances it’s a very good car. Having two cars should bring the team on faster. It had an OK Silverstone, at Spa they were very competitive and Le Mans is Le Mans. At the Nürburgring it was always at the right end.”
In rival garages at Le Mans, Manor led the opening stages thanks to a flying Roberto Merhi, but the car slid down the field as problems beset it. The same can be said for Howson and KCMG, its first race in the World Endurance Championship since finishing as series runners-up in 2015.
“We were looking very strong in the race. We were conserving a lot of fuel and going one lap longer than most and we weren’t touching kerbs. We knew we weren’t going to need to stop for brakes but unfortunately the car just wasn’t reliable enough, probably due to moisture getting into it.
“We came back into a stronger field with much more depth, we could have been able to go on and win that race and we pushed the eventual winners hard early on. It’s disappointing for everyone at KCMG, but they showed they were a force again.”
The World Endurance Championship makes its debut in Mexico in a few weeks’ time, with two TBAs currently filling the Manor ranks beside Tor Graves. Keeping Howson for the time being at least could be just what Manor needs in preparation for a title assault in 2017.