SEBRING, Fla. – As United Autosports co-owner Richard Dean put it, the European team’s first foray into IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at last month’s Rolex 24 at Daytona drew plenty of attention.
“Daytona was a huge event to try and go do from Europe with two cars for the first time, and what felt like the spotlight of the motorsport world on us,” Dean said Thursday at Sebring Int’l Raceway in a two-day test to prepare for next month’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. “It was quite a pressurized situation, and I thought by the time we got to the race, we were quite competitive.”
The pressure came primarily from the fact that two-time Formula One Fernando Alonso was part of the team’s driver lineup in the No. 23 United Autosports Ligier LMP2 car, alongside youngsters Lando Norris and Phil Hanson.
But it was the team’s other car, the No. 32 Ligier shared by Will Owen, Paul Di Resta, Hugo de Sadeleer and Bruno Senna, that was the top performer, finishing just off the podium in fourth place.
It was a strong start for the team in its first WeatherTech Championship race. But the veteran team that regularly competes in the European Le Mans Series would have liked an even better result.
“We were a little bit disappointed in the end, even though we finished fourth because I think with three hours to go we sat in third place and the two Cadillacs were looking like they were struggling, we felt like we had an opportunity that 24-hour races can give you,” Dean said. “But everybody’s got a story, so we came out of there with a fourth place.”
Even before that fourth-place result, the team announced plans to field the No. 32 Ligier in this season’s remaining three races of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup season, which reaches its halfway point next month in Sebring.
On Thursday, Hanson and Di Resta were busy familiarizing themselves with the quirky, 3.74-mile Sebring circuit alongside Alex Brundle, who the team brought in for this week’s test in place of Senna, who will drive for the team in the Twelve Hours but was battling an illness this week.
“Bruno couldn’t travel, he wasn’t well enough, and there was just no point in him getting on a plane and being ill here,” Dean said. “He knows the track. Of the three drivers we’ve got, he’s the one who needed the least laps around here. We’re new as a team here to Sebring, and the two drivers then that we’re going to run with – which is Phil Hanson, who just turned 18, and Paul Di Resta, who, while massively experienced, he’s not experienced in LMP2, Daytona was his first experience.”
“We’ve got a relationship with Alex, we ran him in LMP3, he won the European championship with us, he’s been here before, he knows the team really well, and we thought it would be sensible to have somebody as a reference here. Alex was available, so he’s here at the test to help us.”
What also has been helpful to the team is its alliance with IndyCar powerhouse Andretti Autosport. The Indianapolis-based Andretti team has provided significant operational assistance, and the team also secured some temporary workspace in Florida as it prepares for the Twelve Hours.
Dean said the team would keep this No. 32 Ligier in the U.S. for the remainder of the year for the Patrón Endurance Cup rounds as it fields two other Ligiers in the ELMS.
“We feel a little bit more organized, we’ve got our own truck now, and we’ve got a little base here, and Andretti have been helping us out an awful lot, so our little collaboration or alliance with Andretti has certainly steadied the ship a little bit for us and helped us,” Dean said. “We’re excited to do these remaining races, and now that we’ve got Daytona experience with us, it’s definitely going to help us do a much better job in the approach for Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit.”
CREDIT: IMSA Communications