From obscurity to the spotlight: Manchester graduate targets top five finish in Le Mans 24hours début

By Mark Shales

A former Manchester student is targeting a top-five finish when he makes his debut at the world famous Le Mans 24hours race this weekend.

Matt Howson, 29, will realise his life-long dream of racing around the eight-and-a-half mile circuit for KCMG – the first Chinese team to compete in the annual endurance competition.

And the Manchester Metropolitan psychology graduate, one of just 13 British drivers in the 66-man strong LPM2 class, is relishing the challenge.

“Top five in a prototype category full of F1, Indycar and experienced Le Mans drivers would be pretty sensational,” he told MM. 

“Far and above anything else I’ve achieved in my career.

“It’s a gruelling race with so many variables but what we lack in experience we more than make up for in determination.

“If you look at some of the Schumacher versus Vettel, and Rossi versus Lorenzo battles in motorsport, pure experience counts for nothing if you’re not motivated enough.

“I’d class us in the ones-with-something-to-prove category, so that counts for something I’m sure.”

A former teammate of Formula One’s Lewis Hamilton, Howson is currently in his first season of endurance racing following two years with Formula Three in Japan.

He will share driving duties with teammates Ho-Pin Tung, an ex-Chinese Formula One test driver for BMW Sauber, and Alexandre Imperatori, a Swiss former Super GT driver.

Despite narrowly missing out on a podium position at last month’s ‘Six hours of Silverstone’ – the opening race of the World Endurance Championship calendar – he insists all preparations are going to plan.

And although it will be difficult not to get caught up in the occasion, Howson will be hoping to emulate the concentration of a snooker player.

“With these races you’re aware of the gravity and the size but you just don’t think about it too much,” he added.

“It has to be just another race in the same way a snooker player has to be switched on throughout the whole match, you just have to block out your mind when it’s important.

“I always marvel watching them when they switch it on when it matters while remaining emotionally unwavering – it’s exactly the same for us.

“I’m surprisingly calm, so it will probably all sink in post-race. I’ve just got to keep focused on the task in hand and then nothing can interfere with my driving performance.”

The team will race in a Morgan LMP2-Nissan with Michelin tyres – one of only four sides in the category not using Dunlop rubbers.

The strong showing at Silverstone has already seen post-Le Mans race offers coming his way and Howson believes a successful weekend could have a profound impact upon his future racing career.

“It’s an incredible place,” he explained. “It’s probably the biggest stand-alone race there’s ever been in motor racing and testing was definitely an experience.

“You certainly can’t have a slow accident round there, if anything goes wrong it’s going to happen with a lot of speed.

“But for me as much as anything the race is potentially a massive career booster. You can go from being in complete obscurity to being right in the spotlight.”

Picture courtesy of David Merrit, via WikiCommons, with thanks.

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