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.
Louis Delétraz: “It’s a disappointing result. We were running a strong second and I think we did a strategy mistake. We work as a team, with a lot of people, and these things happen, we just need to make sure it does not happen again. Together with my teammates, we were fast and brought the car in front, there was the potential for more. We’ll work on these issues and sort them for the next races.”
Robert Kubica: “For sure, P5 is not what we were expecting. We started well, gaining quite a few positions and having a strong first part of the race. We were fighting for a podium but unfortunately, an issue with one of the tyres prevented us to optimise the second part of the race, and we lost a lot of ground while some of our competitors were climbing up positions. P5 leaves us unsatisfied but we can be happy about how we work as a team.”