It was time to start the engines for the most eagerly anticipated endurance race on the race calendar – the 89th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Fans welcomed back the most iconic race on the motorsport calendar and the debut of Louis Delétraz and Team WRT, where after racing all day and night leading the LMP2 category it ended in heartbreak as the #41 Oreca 07 Gibson stopped on track on the last lap of the race.
The first track action of the Le Mans 24 Hours race week got underway with Free Practice 1. It was a chance to pitch against the competition and optimise the car set-up, and the team setting the 4th fastest time in the LMP2 category after completing 33 laps, with the benchmark time at 3.29:441. Qualifying practice was up next and Louis in the #41 car was quicker matching the previous sessions benchmark time and finishing the session in 3rd, which meant the team qualified for the Hyperpole session.
Before that, night-time fell across Circuit de la Sarthe and in traditional Le Mans 24h schedule, it was time for Free Practice 2, a session after dark. Free Practice 2 & 3 were focussed on car set up and race preparation, the team finished respectively in P6 & P7. Louis Delétraz raced into the Hyperpole session and showed sensational form to lay down the pole-sitting marker of 3.28:470. However, it was only quick enough to finish the session in P2, marginally missing out on pole in the LMP2 category, but a strong result for the team.
The paddock was buzzing with excitement from welcoming back fans to the Circuit de la Sarthe on race day. Louis Delétraz and Team WRT were ready to get started. But, moments before the beginning of the 89th edition of Le Mans there was a sudden downpour of rain, which meant the race would need to start behind a Safety Car following the formation lap, whilst on-track conditions eased with Robert Kubica at the wheel.
As soon as track conditions improved, the traditional flag waved and the Le Mans 24h race began with 61 cars thundering across the start/finish line. The first few laps on the wet track were very tricky, and there were a few early incidents causing many “Slow Zones”
At the 6h mark, there continued to be high drama at the Circuit de la Sarthe as rain showers gave Team WRT more tricky conditions to encounter. However, Louis and the #41 car managed to skilfully navigate around several incidents to take the lead in the LMP2 category. Eventually a Safety Car was needed due to the volume of debris on track. Louis opted to stay out on slick tyres on a damp track when many competitors decided to pit for intermediate tyres. Staying on slicks proved to be the right choice and Louis took the lead of the race later on.
Team WRT had executed the perfect Le Mans 24h strategy and team plan to be racing towards the final stages with two potential podium finishes in their debut race. Team WRT were in full control of the LMP2 category as they raced into the 18th hour of the Le Mans 24h.
There was 2 hours to go, and the team made their final driver change from Louis’ superb stint to hand over to Yifei Ye for the closing stages of the race and give one final push to the chequered flag. In last hour, Team WRT made their final pit-stop for fuel, which would see them home.
However, it was heartbreak for Louis and the Team. The #41 leading the race with a 30 second gap suddenly stopped out on track whilst on the final lap. It was an electrical problem which had caused the car to switch off completely. Then sadly, the car was unable to restart.
Louis Delétraz: “Obviously we are devastated by the result. I want to take the time to thank the crew and my team mates for their hard work. We gave it everything and to lose the victory with less than one lap to go after making no mistakes during 24 hours is something horrible. However, congratulations to the sister car who could save the victory once we stopped, at least the trophy stays within the team. This one hurt but we will be back stronger and I think we have to be proud. Everyone saw our performance. Thank you.”