Team WRT signed a superb third LMP2 success in the FIA WEC this season, by conquering the win in the 6 Hours of Fuji, in a race where perfect pit stop strategy and racing flat-out throughout six hours. Robin Frijns, Sean Gelael and Dries Vanthoor crossed the line as LMP2 victors and fifth overall. Rui Andrade, Ferdinand Habsburg and Norman Nato in the Oreca 07 Gibson of the Belgian squad carrying the colours of REALTEAM also shone, finishing fourth in the LMP2 class, a few thousands of a second from the podium, after suffering a slow puncture. Still, this result allows car #41 to keep a chance towards the LMP2 championship in the last round in Bahrain.
Vincent Vosse was a happy Team WRT Principal after the race: “We take a third win in five races and narrowly missed having the two cars on the podium for a third time. Unfortunately, having the wins spread between two cars and missing the heavy points at Le Mans is no good for the championship, but as a team we can be very proud of what accomplished. Today, in a race with no safety-car periods, the strategy was very good and all drivers performed at the highest pace. I want to underline the terrific start of Sean and the very solid race of Dries, who has Le Mans experience but was discovering a different race format here. The entire team did a fantastic job.”
Since the start of the weekend, the cars by Team WRT proved competitive, with fruitful work being done in the three free practice sessions to find the best balance. All this led to a good qualifying session, as car #31 was third-fastest with Robin Frijns, who saw one of his times cancelled, and car#41 fourth-fastest, with Ferdinand Habsburg at the wheel.
On Sunday, nice weather welcomed the race, which proved intense but relatively smooth. Sean Gelael in car #31 took the LMP2 lead in a heated first lap, with Rui Andrade in 6th in car #41. The first half of the race saw an intense duel, paced by the pit stops, between car #31 and one of the Jota cars, with the Team WRT machine leading most of the time with Gelael and Dries Vanthoor later, but never leaving the top 3. Car #41 climbed progressively to stabilize among the cars fighting for P5, but then lost some positions because a slow puncture, as Norman Nato took the wheel for the central part of the race.
The second half of the race started with car #31 in third and car #41 in 6th, with Dries Vanthoor and Ferdinand Habsburg at their command. One hour and a half from the hand, Robin Frijns retook the lead in the class, with Norman Nato in car #41.
The last hour, and especially the last half-hour, were of great intensity with both cars fighting against the two Jota cars, #38 and #28 respectively. The strategy proved crucial, as car #38, which had retaken the lead had to stop three minutes from the end for the last splash-and-dash, opening the way to Team WRT’s success. Similarly, Nato duelled until the end with Rasmussen for the podium, narrowly missing P3.
Robin Frijns: “I’m very happy with the result, it was very close with the Jota cars the whole weekend, they had faster qualifying pace, but in the race, we were very strong. Sean did a great job at the start and Dries as well in order to manage tyres. Today we proved that when there are no technical issues, we are always in a position to fight for the win.”
Sean Gelael: “This win feels like redemption after the last couple of races! It was a very clean race in general, with no safety-car or full yellow course periods, it’s what we wanted, and everything was perfect and went well. We are very happy for the entire team and for our engineers.”
Dries Vanthoor: “I am very happy to have come here and been able to take a win together with Sean and Robin. It’s a great achievement for the entire team. Things ran smoothly and we did no mistakes. In my double stint, the rivals were catching hard but they used their tyres in excess. We decided to keep our pace and it was the right thing to do.”
Rui Andrade: “I am disappointed for our result but very happy for the team’s win. We were a little bit unlucky at the start, as I was pushed wide and lost some time because of vibrations. Today, we didn’t have the pace we wanted, but now let’s focus on Bahrain and see if we can make it for the title.”
Ferdinand Habsburg: “There are a lot of mixed feelings. On one hand, this P4 keeps us in the race for the title, which is good, but on the other hand, we could have had a better result, it’s emotionally draining and annoying for the whole team, but the best thing we can do is look forward to Bahrain and go for it there.”
Norman Nato: “It’s not the result we would have expected, but that’s racing. There was the little incident at the start and later a slow puncture. After that, it was tough, we knew we had to be cautious with tyre degradation, and coming back was not easy, with so much traffic. At the end, we missed the podium for very little, I tried my best but did not want to take stupid risks and jeopardize our chances in the championship.”
FIA World Endurance Championship – Round 5
6 hours of Fuji, Japan – 8-11 September 2022
1. Hirakawa-Hartley-Buemi (Toyota GR 010) 232 laps
2. Conway-Kobayashi-Lopez (Toyota GR 010) + 1m08s382
3. Negrão-Lapierre-Vaxivière (Alpine A480) + 2 laps
4. Di Resta –Jensen-Vergne (Peugeot 9X8) + 5 laps
5. Frijns-Gelael-Vanthoor (Oreca 07 Gibson) + 7 laps (1stLMP2)
8. Andrade-Habsburg-Nato (Oreca 07 Gibson) + 8 laps (4th LMP2)
Photo: Brecht Decancq