After a double podium in the first race of the season, Team WRT has conquered in style its first LMP2 win in the 2022 FIA WEC, signing a one-two at home at Spa-Francorchamps in a particularly difficult race, rich in incidents and storms, and which had to be red-flagged three times. The reigning LMP2 champions perfectly mastered the situation and emerged as the winners, with Sean Gelael, Robin Frijns and Rene Rast imposing car #31 ahead of Rui Andrade, Norman Nato and Ferdinand Habsburg in the Realteam by WRT #41 car. The success allows the two Team WRT cars to take the lead in the overall LMP2 standings and is well-promising ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the next round in the calendar.
Team WRT Principal Vincent Vosse was clearly elated at the end of a stressful day: “It’s simply great to win at home with the two cars! It was a very difficult race, with a lot of surprises but also with a lot of great racing. Our drivers have done a fantastic job, with no faults in these treacherous conditions, and the pit guys have been equally good. Last year, Spa was a disappointing outing, this year we have proved competitive and reliable, in what was our first return on a track where we have already raced. I am also extremely happy to see such a huge and enthusiastic crowd, it’s heart-warming after what we went through the last two seasons because of the pandemic. I want to congratulate the teams of the ACO and of the promoter, Renaud Jeanfils, for their fantastic work. It’s great to see motor racing is alive again!”
The weekend started perfectly for Team WRT, with car #31 topping the overall rankings in free practice 1 and #41 in P7 overall. In the following sessions, the competition reacted and in qualifying, the two cars respectively took second and fifth in LMP2.
The sun was shining for the start of the race on Saturday, which saw in the first laps Sean Gelalel keeping P2 in LMP2 and Rui Andrade dropping a few positions after the confusion following some first lap contacts in the group. Shortly after the first pit stop, where car #41 arrived with a punctured tyre, a first big crash prompted a red flag. The race restarted behind the safety car but a violent storm provoked again a stop of the action via the red flag.
When the race resumed, Robin Frijns, then at the wheel of car #31 put a fantastic show on the wet track, taking the overall lead and posting laps two seconds faster than anyone else. In car #41, Norman Nato climbed positions as well, up to 5th of the category at the mid-race mark. As the track dried, Frijns logically had to concede the overall lead but kept the command in LMP2. Still, drama was not over, with several full-course yellow periods and again a red flag because of a storm 2 hours and a half from the end.
Rene Rast (#31) and Ferdinand Habsburg (#41) took the wheel for the final double stint and became first and second in the class by lap 82, thanks to faultless performances and perfect team strategy, shortly before the last refuel and with one hour to go. The Austrian would start a close duel with Hanson, with whom he exchanged the position a couple of times; eventually, a mistake by the Brit cleared the way to a fantastic one-two, after a final dash-and-splash under full-course yellow.
Robin Frijns: “Obviously, very happy with the result. It was a crazy race, with three red flags. We even got to lead overall in the pouring rain, which was a bit of a surprise! After the disappointment here at Spa last year, it was important to win and to do it with a one-two is even better.”
Rene Rast: “A one-two is great, the team did a fantastic job the whole weekend, with the right decisions at the right time. We had some luck too, as towards the end I had a little contact with a car spinning in front of me, but everything went well, we are also leading the championship and I am very happy.”
Sean Gelael: “It’s a good day for the team, I’m so happy for everyone, this 1-2 at home means so much for Team WRT. I am super happy, there was a lot of fighting in the track, I could stay in P2, then Robin took the lead and Rene finished the job. It’s a great reward for all the good work done by the team since Sebring. Now, we need to keep the momentum and try to get the next one, which is Le Mans.”
Ferdinand Habsburg: “It was an exciting race, we started 5th, then dropped down the order just because we found ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong moment, but then we had a very consistent race. Norman did a great job, he had the longest and toughest stint in the rain, and I could finish off the job after some nice battling with the United car. We didn’t have a perfectly clean weekend but still finished 2nd in LMP2 and 4th overall, getting some champagne is a great success.”
Norman Nato: “It’s great for the team to be 1-2 here in Belgium, we couldn’t expect more. In the race, we went through every condition, like often at Spa, it was tricky, but we managed to stay on track and get some good points. It’s very good for confidence ahead of Le Mans, the ‘big one’, where we hope to put some pressure on car #31!”
Rui Andrade: “It’s a mega job by all the team, car #31 was very strong, so congratulations to them. We struggled a bit in free practice, then the race was better, we were more competitive. During one of the safety-car periods, we had a puncture, but everybody did a great job and it’s nice to be at the top.”
FIA World Endurance Championship – Round 2
Spa 6 Hours, Belgium, 5-7 May 2022
1. López-Kobayashi-Conway (Toyota GR010 Hybrid) 103 laps
2. Negrão-Lapierre-Vaxivière (Alpine A480G) + 24s473
3. Frijns-Gelael-Rast (Oreca 07 Gibson) + 1m06s185
4. Andrade-Habsburg-Nato (Oreca 07 Gibson) + 1m40s676
5. Stevens-Da Costa-González (Oreca 07 Gibson) + 1m48s571