One of this season’s young winners, Hugo de Sadeleer has fast become a leading figure of the Swiss delegation, with a top five finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and two European Le Mans Series (ELMS) victories.
Switzerland has always produced excellent racing drivers. Among today’s stars are Sébastien Buemi, who triumphed in five of the nine World Endurance Championship races with the Toyota TS050 HYBRID this year and Thomas Flohr, who claimed a class win in LMGTE Am.
But the Swiss revelation of the year was in ELMS. The de Saadelers are a racing family. This season, while Hugo was busy launching the United Autosports LMP2 campaign, his brother Jérôme set about winning the Radical SR1 title.
Brimming with enthusiasm following his successful début, Hugo is now getting ready to begin the new year in glittering company.
How do you feel after your first season in endurance?
I’m really pleased with the way my career has begun. In motor racing, you have to work hard, but luck plays a big part. Joining United Autosports just when they launched their LMP2 campaign was a stroke of luck. You only need to look at how they put the team together, the engineers they hired and their relations with Onroak Automotive [who built the team’s chassis, the Ligier JS P217], and you can see they’re destined to become world class. United Autosports has really invested the time and money it takes to run a top-notch campaign and the pay-back was a win in the first round, at Silverstone. We were runners-up in the championship too, which was surprising given than Will Owen and I were beginners and the G-Drive Racing crew have been in LMP2 since 2012.
How did you get on with an experienced endurance driver like Filipe Albuquerque, and Will Owen, who was an endurance rookie, like you?
Filipe is first and foremost a very fast driver and incredibly consistent, but that isn’t what makes him special. In a sport full of testosterone and adrenaline and oversized egos, Filipe is the most down-to-earth, approachable, unselfish driver I know. He threw himself into developing our LMP2 campaign, which necessarily involved building up my and Will’s driving experience. Filipe taught me a lot and it’s largely thanks to him that I was named Rookie of the Year. We also spent a lot of time together away from the track and I can tell you he put me through a very demanding training routine. Will Owen is on the same track as me. He was impressive this season, and very committed. I’m grateful to him for his key role in our success this year.
At Le Mans, you finished fifth and demonstrated impressive speed. How was your first Le Mans 24 Hours?
It was an extraordinary experience. I’ve been a fan of Le Mans since I was a child. I think, whether you’re a Formula One driver, a WRC driver, or whatever, you dream of doing Le Mans one day. My dream came true! The LMP2s were astonishingly fast this year. Doing nearly 340kph on the most beautiful circuit in the world is an incredible feeling, and very addictive. Our Ligier was at a disadvantage compared to the other LMP2s and it would have been difficult to win the race. That said, we were superbly well prepared. Our car spent the least time in the pits which earned us fourth place in our class and fifth overall. I didn’t realise how great that was until Filipe said that even when he was in LMP1 with Audi, he had never finished that high. That puts things into perspective for me. Looking back, it’s a dream came true! When I envisage the future, I see myself on podium at Le Mans. I’m going to do all I can to get there.
Are you all set for Daytona with Bruno Senna and Fernando Alonso?
Given the way United Autosports has put the 2018 campaign together, the pressure is on. Paul di Resta, Bruno Senna and Fernando Alonso are all exceptional drivers and I’ll try to learn as much as possible from them. That said, I think I’ve earned my seat and I’ll put the work in to be faster than the others. To be honest though, it won’t be easy. I was there when Fernando got behind the wheel of an LMP2 for the first time at Motorland Aragon. Let me tell you, he will be extremely fast at Daytona. He’s an incredible driver, whatever the car. As for Bruno, he didn’t win the World Endurance Championship for nothing. He’s an excellent driver and a great person. I’m really excited to be driving with him at Daytona.
Photo: Fifth at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Hugo de Sadeleer (right) and teammates Will Owen (left) and Filipe Albuquerque (middle) fought for the LMP2 ELMS crown down to the line in the last round.