The latest in the increasingly long list of American drivers trying out the European Le Mans Series is Will Owen, who, along with Hugo de Sadeleer, has been signed by United Autosports for 2017.
The 21-year-old Colorado native has so far focused his career on the U.S. open-wheel racing scene, and in 2016 finished fourth in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.
However, he is set for a big step up in 2017, racing United Autosports’ new Ligier JS P217 Gibson for the full European Le Mans Series season and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“I’m honestly so excited,” he told Sportscar365 at Autosport International. “I didn’t really know which direction we were going to go a few months ago, but like Richard [Dean] said [on stage at the announcement], this has all come together really quickly for United Autosports.
“Now that I’m here and we’ve figured this out and sorted out the deal, I’m really excited. I don’t think we could have figured out anything better for next year.
“The new Ligier looks super, it’s been testing really well and it’s been showing fast. We’re going to be going over 200 [mph] at Le Mans, which is kind of crazy when you think about it now, but I’m sure when I’m out there, it’s going to be [great].
“It’s been a dream to be at that race for a long time, but after I saw it last year, I was hooked. This was my goal, from now on, to get in this race as soon as possible. I can’t believe we did it and I’m really thankful for the opportunity.”
The announcement was made last week at the Autosport International show in Birmingham, England, with several personnel from the team and Onroak Automotive present, including Zak Brown, Richard Dean and Jacques Nicolet, as well as FIA World Endurance Championship CEO Gerard Neveu.
Owen and de Sadeleer were announced as two of the team’s three drivers, but while the third seat is yet to be filled,
Brown hinted that Alex Brundle could join the lineup, saying, “We’re trying to get the economics together to try and get Alex or someone of his caliber, but he did a great job for us and someone like himself deserves to be in a top-line drive.”
While Owen admitted he didn’t know who his other co-driver would be, he did say just how much he is looking forward to working with de Sadeleer and the team in general.
“Honestly, Hugo and I get along well so far,” he said. “I don’t even know him that well but we actually have a lot in common and we like doing some of the same stuff.
“I think we are going to have a similar style, so that’s nice, to know right away that I’m going to be able to get along with him. Just in general the whole team has got some great people. It’s going to be good.”
As well as a new car, series and team, Owen will have to get used to racing on another continent, which he says is something he’s excited about, even though he understands the difficulties in doing so.
“It’s super different,” he said, about racing in Europe. “Everything so far has been different, and this is a big step up for me, from open-wheel.
“Generally, with the tracks, the cars and the drivers, Europe is just a lot different than the U.S. That’s going to be a learning experience from the beginning, in learning how to deal with different cultures, and different kinds of people.”
Owen was given the opportunity to test RGR Sport’s Ligier JS P2 Nissan at the WEC Bahrain Rookie Test in November, giving him his first taste of LMP2 machinery, something he enjoyed.
“It was an awesome day, it was so fun,” he said. “The Ligier car from the previous year was so great to drive, and for sure my favorite race car.
“Everything worked well, we had no problems and I learned so much just from driving with their pro drivers and being in that environment.
“It also taught me that this is what I want to do, in the prototype aspect of it. I want to [race] prototypes from now on.”