Team WRT took its first LMP2 podium of the season in the FIA WEC, at the end of a closely-fought 6 Hours of Portimão. On the demanding Portuguese track, Rui Andrade, Louis Delétraz and Robert Kubica emerged in the top-three in the final half-hour of a race that proved challenging for the Belgian squad. Robin Frijns, Sean Gelael and Ferdinand Habsburg finished seventh, after two minor penalties barred them from a better result. 

Team WRT collected vital points ahead of the next round, its home race at Spa-Francorchamps, in two weeks.

Team WRT Principal Vincent Vosse was satisfied with the performance of the entire team at the end of the weekend: “We reacted well after a disappointing qualifying and managed to finish on the podium after a very tough and close race. Car #41 did a fantastic job to reduce the gap and climb through the field, and car #31 was on a similar course. It would have finished fourth without the penalty in the closing laps which added to another one earlier in the race. These things happen when you are racing flat-out and fighting for six hours like today. I’m happy with the performance we showed during the race, it is encouraging ahead of the forthcoming home race at Spa.”

The free practice sessions showed how competitive the LMP2 class is this year, but Team WRT’s Oreca 07 Gibson duo progressed well to take second and third (with #31 and #41, respectively) in the third session. Unfortunately, qualifying left mixed feelings, with Robin Frijns (#31) finishing the session in seventh and Louis Delétraz (#41) in ninth.

Sean Gelael and Rui Andrade took the start, with the Indonesian impressively seizing the lead that he kept for most of the first stint, before dropping to third, while Andrade was ninth. The first pit stop took place 35 minutes into the race, with both drivers staying at the wheel. Robin Frijns and Louis Delétraz took over at the second pit stop, emerging fifth and ninth. Car #31 then had to serve a five-second penalty at the third pit stop, for an earlier unsafe release, dropping to ninth, while car #41 was sixth when it made slight contact with a rival.

Frijns and Delétraz chased hard to climb back to fourth and fifth respectively, swapping positions in lap 117. At the mid-race mark, Robert Kubica, who had taken over in car #41, and Ferdinand Habsburg (in car #31) were fifth and seventh, and later climbed up to fourth and fifth, in full contention for a podium finish, as the gaps remained very close. They were further reduced at the beginning of the last hour when the only safety-car period of the race occurred. After the re-start, both gained one position.

Unfortunately, Frijns had to serve another 5-second penalty at the last pit stop for an overtake beyond track limits, with thirty minutes to go, dropping to seventh. Shortly after, Delétraz claimed third with a great move on Kvyat. Positions would not change despite the close gaps and a fierce final battle.

Robin Frijns: “I did a triple stint, five in total. Generally, we were struggling at the beginning of the stints, then half-way things would be better, but much time would be lost. We didn’t have any real issue, but traffic-wise, it was tough, every time you get close to the car in front, you are losing time. Still, traffic is the same for everybody! The pace was better than in Sebring, but we still have to find something to be on the podium in Spa.”

Sean Gelael: “I was happy with my start, going from seventh to first, and I was able to fight with the top guys for a while, but unfortunately, we couldn’t keep ourselves there. The potential is there, it’s always been, we just need to pick things up.”

Ferdinand Habsburg: “I am quite happy with myself, to be honest, but it is overshadowed by the fact it was a sad race for us. It’s a reminder that racing is not always sunshine and rainbows, sometimes you don’t know why things go in the right direction or they don’t. All you can do is to think whether you did your best and today I think I did, I’m proud of myself. For Spa we need to change a couple of things and hopefully we can find what we can do better.”

Rui Andrade: “We ended the weekend on a positive note after struggling with the car balance up to qualifying, but then the engineers did an amazing job. My start wasn’t very good, there was again a lot of confusion with the Hypercars ahead, but I managed to recover our starting position, and then Robert and Louis made a fantastic job. We were lucky with the safety-car period in the end and with the third position, we really maximized our package this weekend. We progressed from Sebring and hopefully, soon we will be fighting for victory again.”

Louis Delétraz: “The race was very tough, it was a good recovery from last in lap one, to third at the finish. Regarding my stints, I had to make space for myself at every single overtake, nobody seemed to be nice today! To come back from so far is a big achievement, we took good points, we keep our championship bid alive and we go to Spa with a positive spirit.”

Robert Kubica: “For sure, a podium is a good reward for the hard work of the team. To be honest, it is more than what we could expect looking at the overall picture of our pace after qualifying. We had a good recovery after the first hour of the race, making up a gap of one minute, and had a very strong second part of the race. The car felt much better in the race than in previous sessions and I could keep a good pace despite a contact with a GT car which resulted in strong vibrations in the front, as a rim had been damaged. The safety car at the end helped, but our approach to the race and the tyre strategy was good. Now we have 10 days before Spa to work on what we learned so far.”

FIA World Endurance Championship – Round 2
6 Hours of Portimão, Portugal – 14-16 April 2023

Race Result (LMP2)

1. Jarvis-Pierson-Van der Garde (Oreca 07 Gibson)      215 laps
2. Lubin-Hanson-Hankey (Oreca 07 Gibson)                + 0s684
3. Andrade-Delétraz-Kubica (Oreca 07 Gibson)        + 5s272
4. Kvyat-Pin-Bortolotti (Oreca 07 Gibson)                   +17s865
5. Da Costa-Ye-Beckmann (Oreca 07 Gibson)               +31s723
7. Frijns-Gelael-Habsburg (Oreca 07 Gibson)            +32.767