Team WRT Claim Podium Finish at The Centenary of The 24 Hours of Le Mans To Take Championship Lead (and What a Recovery Drive From Car #31)
The Centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was just as thrilling as it had promised to be. It had all the ingredients to make it an epic and unique race, including huge crowds, a terrific show on and off track, race-deciding incidents, suddenly-changing weather, and numerous position changes. Team WRT achieved a fantastic result, with car #41, in the hands of Rui Andrade, Louis Delétraz and Robert Kubica, finishing second in the LMP2 class, and car #31, with Robin Frijns, Sean Gelael and Ferdinand Habsburg taking fifth following an impressive recovery drive.
Misfortunes in the closing stages of the race meant a victory and a double podium finish eluded the Belgian team. Nevertheless, the results are an excellent addition to their points tally in the FIA WEC LMP2 standings, with the two Oreca 07 Gibson of the Belgian squad now in the top six and #41 in the lead by 4 points.
Ahead of the 24 Hours race, Team WRT conquered a double GT3 win in the two races of ‘Road to Le Mans’ with its BMW M4 GT3s, thanks to the duos of Tim Whale and Max Hesse, and Valentino Rossi and Jérôme Policand, in a feat that will be remembered for Vale’s first win in on four wheels.
Team Principal Vincent Vosse summed up: “What a race! At the closing stages, we had two cars fighting for podium finishes, which is already a big achievement. We didn’t manage to win, but we managed to finish second and seize the championship lead. Car #31 had to stop fighting for the podium because of a suspension failure. This meant we couldn’t give Louis and Robert the win they lost in the last lap in 2021, something I really wanted. We can be proud of the team, who did a great job to bring the two cars in the top five, we were probably the only team having a two-car line-up fighting for the podium until 15 minutes from the end. I am very proud of the work of the team and the atmosphere in the team, and we are looking forward to a more successful end of the season and to fight for the win at Le Mans next year.”
As always at Le Mans, the entire week was intense and the various free practice sessions were used to find the best set-ups and balance and perform runs in race pace. In front of very strong competition, car #41 qualified third in the Hyperpole session, while car #31 took P15 on the grid.
The opening hours were rich in incidents, with a long safety car period after the first lap, followed by three slow zones. Robert Kubica took the start in car #41 keeping P3 and taking the lead in the second hour, while Sean Gelael in #31 made a strategic pit stop during the safety car period, to then run in 12th.
To complicate things, the rain appeared in the east section of the track shortly before the third hour, causing many cars to lose control. Ferdinand Habsburg in #31, rubbed the guardrail, meaning the car had to stop for repairs and losing one lap, while Rui Andrade in #41 was running eighth. Shortly after, the race continued behind the safety car for more than one hour.
The part of the race leading to the eight-hour mark continued to be rich in incidents, yellow periods, with the rain appearing again, but the Team WRT cars avoided the chaos and continued climbing positions, with Louis Delétraz taking the lead, in #41, at the beginning of the sixth hour.
At mid-race, car #41 was second and car #31 16th, before another extended safety car period. With full daylight during hour 17, car #41 with Rui Andrade at the wheel was provisionally in the lead once again, with Sean Gelael in car #31 in 13th position. Both cars continued to charge and reduce gaps ahead.
Four hours from the end, car #41 was second in full fight for the win, having minimised the gap to 16 seconds, Car #31 completed a sensational comeback to fifth.
The last hours saw a superb close fight. Car #41, with Louis Delétraz at the wheel in the closing stages, got within seven seconds of the leading car, but eventually crossed the line in second. Similarly, car #41, with Robin Frijns at the wheel, climbed up to third, but eventually finishing fifth, after a suspension failure fifteen minutes from the end.
“In Le Mans you always learn a new lesson, and I never thought ‘not giving up’ would ever give such rewards. I crashed in the rain, was completely out of control on slick tyres, I feel responsible as I was in the car. We lost a lap there, but sticking with it, believing in the car and in the team, we came back from last, unbelievable. It was really a cool and fun race, always pushing, but unfortunate a damper failure at the end barred us from the podium.”
“I missed the test day because I was coming back from Jakarta’s Formula E race. In free practice 1 I crashed and we lost running time, then in qualifying we had low engine power and were unlucky with the red flags, so we qualified poorly. The beginning of the race was ok, although it was a roller-coaster race, then some rain hit strongly, we had some damage when the car went off-track, we lost one lap that we kept hunting for during the entire race. We managed to be quite strong at the end of the race, we got P3 into the last hour, that was the target, but then the damper failed and dropped back to P5.”
“It’s tough to finish fifth, to have been in the top three and have the podium taken away in the last 10 minutes, after all we fought since free practice. But I hope we showed character and strength. And, besides that, what an amazing event!”
FIA WEC Round 4 – 24 Heures du Mans, France, 10-11 June 2023
Race Result (LMP2)
1. Costa-Scherer-Smiechowski (Oreca 07 Gibson) 328 laps
2. Andrade-Delétraz-Kubica (Oreca 07 Gibson) +21s015
3. Jani-Binder-Pino (Oreca 07 Gibson) + 1 lap
4. Milesi-Vaxivière-Canal (Oreca 07 Gibson) + 1 lap
5. Frijns-Gelael-Habsburg (Oreca 07 Gibson) + 1 lap
Source: Team WRT