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United Autosports confirms de Sadeleer, MRTI grad Owen for Le Mans/ELMS

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BIRMINGHAM, UK – United Autosports has confirmed two of its drivers ahead of its first appearance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June in the LMP2 class.

United Autosports won the LMP3 championship in the European Le Mans Series last year, securing itself a berth for Le Mans in the process.

The Anglo-American team announced two of its three drivers for Le Mans at Autosport International on Thursday, with Mazda Road to Indy racer Will Owen and Formula Renault’s Huge de Sadeleer set to feature for its debut at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Owen finished fourth in the Pro Mazda series in 2016 with Juncos Racing, but will now turn his attention to sports car racing as part of United Autosports’ Le Mans and full-season ELMS line-up.

“Part of it was going to Le Mans in 2016. That was life-changing, honestly, it was so cool,” Owen told NBC Sports when asked about his decision to cross codes.

“The other thing was I feel like there are so many opportunities to become part of a manufacturer effort in sports cars. I decided to go that way because there are so many great places to go and series to run and cool cars to drive.

“I think I went there because of the options, that’s the biggest thing. We looked at a lot of things but eventually we looked at prototypes and after I drove it, I was like ‘man, this is what I want to do’. I’m so excited that we landed with United Autosports.”

Owen said racing on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder for the past three years – including one season in USF2000 championship and the last two in Pro Mazda – has prepared him well for life in endurance racing.

“If you look at me before and after Mazda Road to Indy, I’m a completely different driver and a completely different person,” Owen said.

“The series has helped me develop because of the intense competition. When you come here and you’ve done the deal where it’s been down to hundredths in qualifying, you’re well prepared.”

Owen and de Sadeleer are poised to be joined by Alex Brundle for Le Mans and the ELMS season, the Briton having won the LMP3 title with United Autosports last year.

“We know who we want, we’re just working on getting some economics together so we can go there and compete at the front,” United Autosports team owner Zak Brown told NBC Sports.

United Autosports will field a Ligier LMP2 car for the ELMS season and Le Mans, with the livery being unveiled on Thursday as part of the announcement.

F1: USGP post-qualifying reactions on NBCSN

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Here are post-qualifying quotes from drivers following the session today at the United States Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton extended his record with 72 poles and then broke a tie with Michael Schumacher for his 117th front row start.

TOP 3 WORLD FEED INTERVIEWS – WITH NBCSN’S WILL BUXTON

1. 44-Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

“The team have done a great job. Track was very difficult with the wind picking up. There was a head wind into Turn 1, then a tail wind out of 1, then Sector 1 tail wind, then a head wind into 9, so it shifts through the lap. You have to gauge how hard to push. That’s why I love this track, especially when you have a car this good.”

“I think it’s highly unlikely (to clinch the championship). Sebastian did a great job to bring the Ferrari back up there. Ultimately all I can do is the best of my abilities.

“Sebastian’s right there. Unless he makes a silly mistake – which is quite unlikely as he’s a four-time World Champion – we’ll see it continue on to other races.”

2. 5-Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari

“I was very happy at the end but was lacking a bit of rhythm first to second sector. Finally I got it right at the end when it mattered. I believe our race pace is very good. Quali, we’ve been just a bit behind. Congrats to Lewis.”

3. 77-Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes

“Definitely disappointing. It was looking good, quite close with Lewis. Disappointing but there’s always tomorrow.”

OTHER INTERVIEWS (Alonso, Ocon, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Hartley with Buxton; rest with BBC Radio 5 Live reporter Jennie Gow, while Buxton was handling world feed top three) 

4. 3-Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull

“Happy with what I did in the last run! Today overall not really, until that last run. We were a bit off the pace. We found something. I’m just more happy with how we turned it around. I was 10th in Q1, but then we made it less than half a second. Let’s go for win number two. That sounds a lot sweeter and has a better ring to it!”

5. 7-Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari

“Probably not (as to get the most out of it). This is what we got today. Some places were more difficult. It was hard to get it right. Some laps were good. It was difficult to put a lap together. I don’t know. I have no idea how tomorrow will go.”

6. 33-Max Verstappen, Red Bull (has 15-spot grid penalty; will start 18th)

“Everything seemed to work pretty OK. I made two big mistakes in the last run. I was surprised to be that close (to them). I should have been near Sebastian. Look at sector times; it all looked OK. If you make two mistakes, it’s not all there. It’s my worst qualifying of the year.

“In qualifying we lose a lot on the straights. We get close. I have to fight harder. I’ll try to show tomorrow what I didn’t do today.”

7. 31-Esteban Ocon, Force India

“I feel sick all the session. Massive headache. I took something during session. My stomach was upside down. I’m not going too close to you. Hopefully can recover and be ready to attack tomorrow.”

8. 55-Carlos Sainz Jr., Renault

“(I’m) very happy with that, and how everything’s gone so far. It was quite tough track conditions with the wind is picking up. You have to know how the car will react. I built it up over the whole session, more than a second. P8 with a penalty in front of us, I think we can be pretty pleased with that. Just want a clean race. Don’t want anything more than that. We’ll see what the strategies are. I’ve been focusing on short running so far. A clean race, if we do that, we can be in the points for the team.”

9. 14-Fernando Alonso, McLaren

“It felt great. We had difficult conditions. Very windy and quite hot. The grip was lower than we expected. The McLaren car performed extremely well. We went into Q3. In Q3 we were ninth, and we’ll be eighth with the Verstappen penalty. A great chance to score points. (with long straights, maybe not as bad?)

“We’ll see. We seem to compare with the other teams. There’s still a deficit on the straights. We’re a little bit exposed in first lap in the group. After that’s settled, we can open the gap in high speed section and defend better. We’ll try defend these first laps as best we can.”

10. 11-Sergio Perez, Force India

“It was good. We had good pace in the car today. But my qualifying was compromised big time when Kevin (Magnussen) blocked me. I had to use an extra set. So in Q3 I only had a single set. It was strange; it was quite understeery. Lost 4 tenths to Q2, and that meant P10. Definitely tomorrow I will be able to recover, move forward. It’ll be a tricky run. There are a lot of things that can happen. It’ll be important to get a good race in. Crossed fingers! (to survive Turn 1).”

14. 8-Romain Grosjean, Haas

“Yeah, it’s been a tough weekend. I didn’t run any ultrasofts before quals. Then I spun before. The one on Lance Stroll was close. I was lucky not to spin in the grass. That would have been the end of it. We made it to Q2, which was good I thought. We closed the gap from 0.7 to 0.3, but we haven’t been performing that well. It’s not the upgrade that’s been the issue; it’s been more tire-related. And that’s why we’ve had such a swing in performance. Malaysia nowhere, Japan we’re good, now here it’s mixed.

“(On Haas Hill:) That was amazing. The support we have here is insane! I waved at them in quali after I was done. I’m sure the fans will give us something special.”

15. 27-Nico Hulkenberg, Renault (has 20-spot grid penalty, will start 19th)

“(Not running is) not by choice but it is what it is. We have the plus-20 engine penalty. It doesn’t make sense to keep running. We want to keep the flexibility in strategy to start on whatever tire. We have been reasonably competitive and have a big challenge on our hands right from the back. I’m trying to be positive. Hopefully can overtake a lot of cars. Look forward to better racing.”

18. 39-Brendon Hartley, Toro Rosso (has 25-spot grid penalty, will start 20th)

“Obviously I’d love to be quicker but we knew we were starting at the back. Put a lot of focus on long runs. Getting the peak performance out of this Pirelli tire I didn’t get today. Free practice three had a good feeling. There’s a lot of quirky things to manage with these tires. Honestly I should be happy with how the weekend’s gone so far. I don’t do the 24 hours completely alone! It’s quick. It’s physical to drive. I’ll be happy to be done after an hour and a half. A point would be a dream starting from the back. If I can move forward and put a race together, I’ll be happy.”