- United Autosports records fifth place in one-off 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship race
- Albuquerque and Le Mans rookies Owen and de Sadeleer in scintillating form
- Ligier JS P217 ran like clockwork in 24-hour marathon
United Autosports scored an amazing top-five class placing – sixth position overall – on the Anglo-American team’s Le Mans 24 Hour and FIA World Endurance Championship début today (18 Jun). Filipe Albuquerque (P)/Will Owen (US)/Hugo de Sadeleer (CH) steered their Ligier JS P217 home to an LMP2 category fifth position in the world-famous twice-around-the-clock marathon. The trio clocked-up 362-laps, over 3,000-miles, around the 8.47-mile circuit consisting of closed public roads, finishing just over 30-miles behind the class-winners in the record 25-car LMP2 field competing in this year’s 85th running of the famous Le Mans 24 Hours in France.
It was the first-time Owen and de Sadeleer had raced at Le Mans while Albuquerque was making his fourth 24 hour appearance. For United, with previous 24 hour race experience from Daytona (US), Dubai (UAE) and Spa (B), it marked only its third-ever race with its 600bhp Nissan-engined Ligier sports-prototype. The #32 Ligier started from the eighth-row of the record 25-car LMP2 field, Albuquerque having posted the 15th fastest LMP2 time after six-hours of qualifying on Wednesday and Thursday evenings held in very hot ambient temperatures.
From the initial test at Le Mans two weeks earlier, it was immediately evident that the Silverstone European Le Mans Series race winning Ligier JS P217 was not ideally suited to the fast, sweeping French circuit. Nevertheless, the United Autosports car was, as in the Monza ELMS race when it finished sixth, consistently the best-placed Ligier at Le Mans. It ultimately finished the race as the highest-placed non Oreca.
In hot sunshine and in front of an estimated crowd of almost 260,000, Albuquerque got United’s maiden LM24 underway and following stints by Owen (1731-1942) then de Sadeleer (1942-2237) – the car only taking on tyres at the driver changes – the Portuguese was back in the Ligier and at one-third distance lay eighth. The Ligier moved up to sixth during Owen’s next stint (0115-0410) – the American driving supremely during the night hours. De Sadeleer was back behind the wheel as the sun rose, the Swiss gaining a further place during his stint (0410-0701) and like Owen, drove with maturity and consistency in his maiden 24 hour race.
A trouble-free run and consistent lappery by all three drivers combined with attrition in the more powerful LMP1 class placed the United car an amazing fifth overall – fourth in class – in the classification with 5.5hrs to run with Albuquerque, who set a searing pace throughout, back in the Dunlop-shod car. Owen (0935-1046) then de Sadeleer (1046-1241) completed their final stints without drama – the former’s harmless spin the only problem to affect the United Autosports Ligier all race – with Albuquerque bringing the car home to the finish – the former Audi “factory” driver’s best ever Le Mans overall race result.
United now reverts to its ELMS LMP2 & LMP3 campaigns after its one-off WEC appearance. The third round of the ELMS is at the Red Bull Ring (A) on 23 July. The four-hour race will see Albuquerque/Owen/de Sadeleer bidding for LMP2 success having placed first (Silverstone) and sixth (Monza) in the opening two races with John Falb (USA)/Sean Rayhall (USA) – winners of last Thursday’s Road to Le Mans race – plus Wayne Boyd (GB)/Christian England (GB)/Mark Patterson (SA) aiming for LMP3 success in the four-hour race.
LMP2: #32 Albuquerque/Owen/de Sadeleer.
Qualified: 15th LMP2 / 21st o/a, 3m29.151s (FA). Race: POS.
Filipe Albuquerque (P): Born/Lives: Coimbra, Portugal. Age: 31
“It was a hard one but I am really happy with P5. I don’t think we could have squeezed any more from our car. I think the whole team should be proud as they did an amazing job all week. The rookie boys [Hugo and Will] did a fantastic job. It was very hot throughout, we didn’t have the pace to match the winners but still we managed to put the car in the top-five. I set my grid time in Q3. On my first attempt I was in traffic but the second lap was pretty good. I extracted everything I had from the car.”
Will Owen (US): Born: Plano, Texas. Lives: Denver, Colorado. Age: 22
“As far as the event goes, I am just blown away and it was sad getting out of the car after my last stint on Sunday morning. I’ve been very happy with my stints, picking up my pace compared to practice and qualifying. I felt very comfortable generally but in my last stint I made a mistake, touched a kerb, spun and went through the gravel which wrecked the tyres. The team has done a fantastic job and made no mistakes. So minus that one error I’m extremely happy with the weekend.”
Hugo de Sadeleer (CH): Born: Lausanne, Switzerland. Lives: Monaco. Age: 19
“What an achievement! I have been preparing so long for this race and to claim this result is like a dream coming true. I’ve driven a lot of hours this weekend and I am very pleased with my performance and proud to have participated in this legendary race. To get this kind of result is a bonus.”
Zak Brown, Team Owner and Chairman, United Autosports:
“Awesome! When Richard [Dean] and I started the team back in 2010, Le Mans was something we both wanted United Autosports to enter one day and what a way to open account. All three drivers were faultless, consistent and fast but my sincere thanks go to the entire United Autosports crew. They’ve all worked incredibly hard for months leading up to this event and if it wasn’t for their combined efforts, I don’t think such a result could have been achieved.”
Richard Dean, Team Owner and Managing Director, United Autosports:
“To achieve this result in what is the world’s toughest race makes me delighted for everyone in the team. The amount of work and planning that has gone into it has been colossal. Fifth place, just five laps behind the outright winning LMP1 car is truly incredible. Although our car didn’t have the outright pace, everything else went according to plan and great reliability. We only came in the pits for tyres when we needed them and fuel when it was about to run out. I’m massively proud of the team who were magnificent in pit-stops.”