Hard-earned first 2023 FIA WEC podium for Team WRT at Portimão

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.

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.”

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.” 

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.”