The result of the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans is well known, the leading #5 Toyota stalled with one lap to go, but that of the last edition has little to envy, at least in terms of twists and turns to the LMP2 category. Last August it was on the very last lap that Oreca shared #41 of Team WRT driven by Yifei Ye Robert Kubica and Louis Delétraz, had collapsed due to a sensor failure that had caused a short circuit.
Ten months later, Kubica and Delétraz join forces with rookie Lorenzo Colombo in the Prema Orlen team for the 2022 edition of the Le Mans classic, but the memory of that rare mishap lingers in their minds, they both said Motorsport.com.
“It was pretty awful”remembers Deletraz. “I was in the garage and the Le Mans stewards came up to us with podium caps and said, ‘Let’s go, you’re going to win the race, it’s the last lap. The procedure is like this, you go there, that Podium is on the left…’ I wasn’t very happy with that, Robert left at the time because he didn’t want to hear he’d won until the line was crossed.
“Suddenly we saw the car stop. It was quite shocking. I didn’t understand it right away because you wonder how that’s possible. It’s surreal. I don’t know, I didn’t know why. I left the garage “Because at that moment everyone’s screaming, there’s one side of the garage that’s happy and the other side of the garage that’s crying. It’s terrible. I know that back then they talked to Yifei on the radio for ten minutes to reboot her.”
“What you need to know is that when we finished the lap we were third because we had one lap ahead of the others. I think they were just trying to give him all the possible combinations to rebuild this car start, but it never worked the three weeks after Le Mans, I couldn’t believe it. Every morning I woke up and said to myself: ‘But how is it possible for something like this to happen on the last lap of the 24 hours?’ .”
The #41 WRT failed to clear the final trap during the 2021 24 Hours of Le Mans
When he’s not remembering that hat story, Kubica is remembering the organizers’ visit. “I said it’s not over yet”he says. “I didn’t think about retiring, but you never know. Our position was very comfortable and the car had been running for 24 hours. The race wasn’t smooth, we struggled but we kept going and you never tell yourself she’s going to drop us in the last five minutes. It was a good lesson for us, a hard lesson.
“I was amazed at my reaction and that it was so painful. I came to the conclusion that the reason I reacted that way is because in a championship with ten or 20 races you take into account the fact that things happen When you come to Le Mans once a year, especially the first time… It shows on the one hand that we can do this job and get there, but at the same time – and this is important – it underlines the difficulty of this race.”
“I know there might not be a second chance for me because you have to pull so many factors together — and they have to work well — that you don’t know if you’ll ever find yourself in that position again,” he said to Louis, ‘If we win, you probably won’t see me here anymore. The reason I’m here is because I didn’t win last year. To be honest, Le Mans gave me 360° emotions.”
Delétraz and Kubica now meet in Sarthe at Prema, a team the Pole drove for in the F3 Euro Series back in 2003, although he says he doesn’t really remember! “Of course the DNA of the team, the heart of the team – Angelo, René and Grazia [la famille Rosin, ndlr] – is the same. René was much younger! He came to the races, but he was more of an age to be a spectator and learner.he emphasizes with regard to the stable, which now dominates in certain promotion formulas.
And if it wasn’t an essential requirement, the two men did aspire to make their return as teammates a reality. “No, that’s not a coincidence”confirms Deletraz. “Last year went very well, we became good teammates but also good friends. I think we share the same opinion on many issues. What’s very interesting is that Robert has a tremendous career and experience. I learned a lot, I think as i have quite a similar vision of motorsport as he does it might be easier for him to work with me than certain people so it wasn’t 100% the goal to be together but when the opportunity came up we did did it with great pleasure.”
“I think we wanted to work together but obviously everyone was trying to get the best opportunity for themselves.”adds Kubica. “In the end, I’m glad we ended up in the same place and I’m glad we’re continuing what we did last year.”
Despite not having much experience in endurance sports, at 37, Kubica is behaving like a wise old man compared to Delétraz and Colombo, who are 25 and 20 respectively. “Of course my age and experience helps in a way”admits the former Formula 1 driver. “I have a different perspective on some things than I did 15 years ago. I was also 23, 22, 21. The approach to racing is relatively different. Sometimes I say things that they don’t really understand, maybe sometimes they don’t understand. ” If I don’t accept them, they don’t understand what I’m saying. And that’s normal: I wouldn’t have noticed it 15 years ago either.”
“The line-up is a kind of football team: you have to have different positions, different roles. There’s a goalkeeper, a defender, a midfielder and a striker and of course you have to cover your own position, but everyone is trying to work in the same direction. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable, they say so. When you’re young, you tend to hide your weaknesses. With my experience – it’s not about my teammates, it’s general – I don’t understand why we always tend to think that we are perfect and that everything is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone has days with and days without. But that comes with experience – not just racing experience but life experience.”
The Prema #9 on the track during the day of testing
Prema is also a brand new structure in the world of endurance, with engineers coming from there and others coming from the Formula 2 structure. “Of course this mix has to make mistakes to learn, to take time to get through the stages, but there’s really a lot of potential behind it.”Judge Delétraz, who welcomed the influence of race engineer Jean-Philippe Sarrazin, who joined Prema last November after three years with Algarve Pro Racing, as well as Kubica’s development talent and line-up “very solid” which makes it possible to form the fast “amateur” pilot Colombo.
So far the results are in, with two ELMS wins and fourth and seventh places in the first two rounds of the WEC. On the test day of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the #9 Prema was also in the top 10 of the LMP2 and was satisfied despite a more than uncertain ranking.
So what can we expect for the rest of this week? Despite his ambition, Robert Kubica is not putting himself under any pressure. “I think I approach this race with immense respect, not only for this event but also for our competitors. I always try to think about what I need to do and focus on getting the best out of myself. If that’s enough, all the better.” . If that’s not enough, it means someone did a better job. The priority and the goal is to go home with a good job and even if there are things we can improve on, with a good performance.”he believes.
However, it is impossible not to see the 2022 edition in the spirit of revenge. “That’s one of the reasons we got back together with Robert – we can’t do it with Yifei because he’s gone [catégorisé] Unfortunately silver – because we have to take revenge.”announces Deletraz. “A lot of people come up to me and say: ‘Yes, but you won Le Mans for us’; no, unfortunately I didn’t win it. I took the lead at 23:58 but not 24: We’ll come back.” Now you also have to remember that you have a championship and the points at Le Mans are very important, so if you finish second or third that’s fine too, but I’m not happy about that. “
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