A fifth place finish, with Rui Andrade, Louis Delétraz and Robert Kubica, and a seventh, with Robin Frijns, Sean Gelael and Ferdinand Habsburg: the results at the 1000 Miles of Sebring, the season-opener of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship, were not the ones that Team WRT had hoped for. The pair of Oreca 07 Gibson LMP2s, of the Belgian squad, proved competitive but could not materialise a good first part of the race due to small issues and a strategy that didn’t yield the expected outcome.
Team WRT Principal Vincent Vosse was frustrated but not pessimistic at the end of the eight-hour race in Florida: “This is not the result we wanted but we shouldn’t overreact. When you come from a string of good results, not being on the podium can lead you to see everything negatively and we should avoid that. At some point, we were second and third, then things became more difficult. We did not have the best pace and maybe we were too cautious with our strategy… it’s difficult to say at this moment. We need to analyse thoroughly what happened, and the forthcoming tests will certainly help us correct the small issues we encountered.”
After very fruitful work in the Prologue test days, Team WRT’s Orecas performed well during the three free practice sessions and confirmed their good form in qualifying. Robin Frijns placed #31 in third among the LMP2 cars, while Louis Delétraz was sixth-fastest.
Sean Gelael (#31) and Robert Kubica (#41) took the start and did a very good job, as the Pole was second and the Indonesian third at the end of lap one, both climbing one position after a half-hour when the safety car came into action and some cars went for an early first pit stop. The two Team WRT cars pitted shortly before the first-hour mark, with Gelael staying at the wheel of #31 and Rui Andrade jumping into #41.
With the top contenders in LMP2 having chosen different pit stop strategies, positions changed often. After two hours, car #31, now with Ferdinand Habsburg at the wheel, was third and car #41, with Andrade, performing a double stint, fifth.
Things did stabilise in the following phases with Team WRT not in a position to make significant position gains, as Gelael was back in car #31 and Robert Kubica took the wheel in car #41. At the half-race mark, four hours in, the Pole was third while Robin Frijns was running fifth after taking over in #31. With two hours left on the clock, Delétraz (#41) and Habsburg (#31) were third and fifth respectively.
The last quarter of the race was influenced by strategy considerations and fuel calculations. With no yellow periods, most of the top contenders were forced to a late ‘splash and dash’, including car #31, with Robin Frijns dropping from 5th to 7th, while Louis Delétraz crossed the line in 5th.
“I am disappointed about the race. We had a pretty decent car, but in my first double stint, we struggled a lot with tyre temperature and were one-second off pace. In the final stint the car was alive again. I think something went wrong with the tyres, it was unfortunate, otherwise, things would have gone much better.”
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose… The pace was good at the beginning, but then there were issues during Robin’s stint. Strategy-wise some teams nailed it better than us with the new rules. Some gambled and it worked, we tried something hoping it would work, but it didn’t go our way. Hopefully, we can optimise our package in the next races.”
“Honestly, I had a good time, I enjoyed racing lap after lap at Sebring and was happy with my stints. In between, there were things out of anyone’s control. There are small things we need to look at, but the difference between today’s results and winning is not big. I look forward to Portimão and Spa, two tracks where we should be ok.”