The opening round of the 2021 European Le Mans Series was held at the adrenaline-pumping Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, a driver’s favourite due to its technical characteristics that challenge and push a drivers skill set to the limits.
After a high-flying and speedy start to his career at Team WRT, Louis Delétraz continued strong form from the excellent 2-day official pre-season testing by comfortably placing the #41 ORLEN Team WRT Oreca 07-Gibson at the top of the LMP2 time sheets after day one of the Prologue Test.
“This was the perfect start for us and I’m really happy. It’s been a long time since I have had this feeling and to win a race, so to do it altogether with this team is great. I am also very happy with my choice to move to endurance racing and commit to a full championship and am looking forward to the rest of the season”.
The first Free Practice sessions of the race weekend got underway on Friday, and this gave Louis a marker on the #41 machine’s performance compared to their rivals. Speed and confidence are just two attributes that are needed here at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and Louis has them in abundance, topping the time sheet with a 1:32.828 after Free Practice 2, eight tenths quicker than their nearest rivals.
The race weekend was going from strength-to-strength with a very impressive LMP2 Qualifying session after the speedy Swiss stormed to a provisional pole position with the #41 ORLEN Team WRT, only then to be beaten by 0.079 in the dying seconds of the session. None-the-less, the team remained exceptionally happy with their P2, starting from the front row of the grid for the 4 Hours of Barcelona.
It was a beautiful start to the day with the warm Spanish sun beaming across the racetrack, and with plenty of excitement up and down the paddock. Engines were fired up and Delétraz was eager to get the race started from the front as he looked to earn the race win.
As the cars thundered up to the start/finish line it was time to get the 2021 ELMS season under-way. It was lights out as the #41 car raced off the grid and straight into attack mode. On the first lap, there was a short Safety Car period from an incident further down in the grid. Back underway and the battle at the front resumed. It was on Lap 10, when the REMUS-supported driver beautifully overtook the leader and raced ahead in P1.
On Lap 29, the Swiss driver made his first stop for fuel only. The race strategy was perfectly executed, and the team continued to exit the pits to again lead the race. Louis was clearly driving with intent as he opened the gap to the 2ndplaced car.
“The race itself was very smooth and we made no mistakes, which was the most important thing. I tried to pass the leader as quicky as possible, but they did not make it easy. I finally made the move at turn 1 and made it stick to lead the race so then I could build up a gap as much as I could and create more margin for my teammates. Then Yifei took over, he did a great job to increase the advantage we had and then Robert finished strong, crossing the line in P1” Louis said.
Just after the hour mark, the team was still leading and started to increase the gap to more than 20s to the rest of the field. The Belgian squad made their 2nd pit-stop and this time it was for the driver change, Louis jumping out and Yifei jumping in for his stint.
The Asian Le Mans Series champion extended the lead at the front, before making the 3rd and final stop, and another driver change with Robert Kubica bringing the #41 car home.
At the end of an exhilarating 4 Hours of endurance racing, Louis and ORLEN Team WRT crossed the line to win, where the Swiss picked up his first win since moving to endurance racing on his debut in the European Le Mans Series!
Louis Delétraz: “It was an amazing first race for us and it’s been a long time since I have had this feeling and win a race, so to do it altogether with this team is great. We would not have dreamed about this some days ago. First of all, a big thanks to the whole team who put this whole programme together. There were a lot of hard-working people behind the scenes to be able to achieve this today. Also Robert and Yifei did a really great job, it’s a team effort. It was a great performance. I am also very happy with my choice to move to endurance racing and commit to a full championship and am looking forward to the rest of the season”.