Back for a second year at Le Mans in the LMP2 class, United Autosports young guns Hugo de Sadeleer and Will Owen are searching for silverware with new teammate and Le Mans rookie Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 32 Ligier. Both emphasized to RACER how beneficial it’s been to have the Colombian with them this year.
“This year I’m full of confidence — I’m still feeling the boost of finishing the race last year,” de Sadeleer said. “There is a lot of pressure here, though, having Juan Pablo as my teammate. You need to be perfect and United also gives you that kind of pressure because they give you amazing teammates.
“Some people told me, ‘Watch out, Juan Pablo is a character,’ and not in a positive way. But now I’ve met him, I know he’s an amazing guy — he’s so funny and we get along great. He’s got so much experience, and he’s really helping us out.
“He’s opened the minds of the team, because he comes from one of the best prototype teams in the USA [Acura Team Penske’s IMSA DPi squad]. He helps everyone moves forward.”
Texas native Owen, who campaigned with de Sadeleer in the ELMS last year, and finished fourth in LMP2 at Le Mans, echoed his teammate’s viewpoint. Impressed with Montoya’s willing to get stuck in, Owen said that once he got up to speed with driving the JS P217 and got acclimatized to the La Sarthe circuit onthe Test Day, he was contributing straight away, helping the team set the car up and get a baseline sorted for race week.
“He’s a character — he brings so much experience and knowledge, that’s different to most of the sports car drivers I’m around,” Owen said of Montoya. “It’s really cool to have his perspective. He knows how to improve things that some of us might miss.
“He was surprised at how tough the track was at the test. Once he got comfortable though, he got super quick. That’s what you have to expect though, it’s not straight forward. The track is full of small details that you can’t prepare for until you get here.”
Because their line-up is so strong, Owen and de Sadeleer feel that they have a great chance to finish on the podium this year with the updated Ligier JS P217. While there’s still a gap to them and the ORECAs, Owen shed some light on where the ‘Joker’ upgrades have made the difference, explaining that the car has been improved in many key areas, making it easier to drive and as a result, put them in contention.
“It feels quicker. The setup has evolved on the car here — the aero is far more stable. Last year, maybe it was because I was new to the track, I always felt a bit tense. But now I feel a lot more comfortable on the limit here.
“We’re gaining the time through the fast corners, and down the straights because it’s far more efficient as it has higher top speed but still remains stable through the Porsche Curves. We’re right with the ORECAs in that respect. Make no mistake, a step forward has been made for Ligier.”