United Autosports co-owner and managing director Richard Dean says its switch from Ligier to Oreca LMP2 machinery for its maiden FIA World Endurance Championship campaign came at the “very last minute” in the build up to the start of the season.
As first revealed by Sportscar365 earlier this month, the Anglo-American squad will campaign an Oreca 07 Gibson for Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson instead of its planned Ligier JS P217 Gibson entry.
According to Dean, the decision came shortly after the 24 Hours of Le Mans where the same driving trio finished fourth in class after a near-flawless run.
“It was a difficult race to watch because I didn’t see the drivers do anything wrong,” Dean told Endurance-Info. “We had a drive-through penalty and an [issue] with the door. When you add all of that, the pace wasn’t good enough.
“If I’m thinking my engineers did a great job and the mechanics did a great job and I wouldn’t change the drivers for any other team, then it leaves one thing to try to see if we’re correct in our analysis that we lacked some performance in the car.
“We didn’t know if that was the answer, so there was only one way we were going to find out. We thought we’d have to make the change.”
With no brand-new Oreca LMP2 cars immediately available, the team purchased three U.S.-based chassis earlier this month, utilizing a like-new car that had completed only 200 kms in the hands of PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports as its race chassis.
Two additional cars, from JDC-Miller Motorsports, will be used as backup chassis.
“It was the very, very last minute that we could possibly do it,” Dean said. “We already entered the series but hadn’t gotten to the first race, so it was possible to change.
“But WEC has other challenges in the restriction on private test days, so we only have a small number of private test days.
“The Prologue offers an opportunity for two days testing that’s not included in those private days. So if we didn’t make the change quickly, we’d miss the opportunity to do the Prologue with the new car.
“We know we are racing against some top quality teams that have had the Oreca for three-and-a-half years. We have to catch up quickly.
“We had to make a quick decision after Le Mans. Who knows if it’s the right decision right now.”
Dean said they are planning to remain with Ligier LMP2 cars in the ELMS this season but its long-term future will be dependent on its fortunes in the WEC.
“Is our current form our current position, our current standard, as a result of maximum ability as a driver and team combination or will we take a step forward with the Oreca?” Dean said.
“If I said that we were going to change, then I’m predicting that our results are going to improve. We hope they will improve but today we don’t know.”
United ‘Disappointed but not Surprised’ in Losing Ligier UK Distributorship
Dean said the organization is disappointed with the outcome in losing its long-standing partnership with Ligier, as the UK importer and distributor for the French constructor’s race cars, although admitted he’s not surprised.
“Of course I’m disappointed because we have a fantastic relationship with Ligier and we’ve had some fantastic results and have shared together some really special moments racing where we’ve run races, podiums, ELMS champions twice, together,” he said.
“We’ve built a relationship that’s not usual in motorsport, in that it works that closely.
“From a human point it was extremely disappointing to lose that relationship. But that relationship is completely amicable. Jacques and Pierre [Nicolet] were having lunch with me here [in Barcelona].
“You have to respect the decision they’ve come to, which is how can you have a Ligier agent racing with a competitor’s car, even thought we’re slightly seperate with United Autosports and Ligier UK.
“We’ve built a reputation around United Autosports racing the produces we sell and this breaks that process.
“I was not surprised that was the outcome.”
David Bristol contributed to this report