Team WRT drivers Robert Kubica, Yifei Ye and Louis Deletraz clinched the 2021 European Le Mans Series title with a round to spare by winning Sunday’s four-hour race at Spa.
The drivers of the No. 41 Oreca 07 Gibson put their LMP2 championship lead mathematically beyond dispute with their third win from five ELMS races held so far this season, in addition to their main rivals at G-Drive Racing retiring on the first lap.
Deletraz took the checkered flag 5.3 seconds ahead of the Duqueine Team Oreca driven by Tristan Gommendy, Memo Rojas and Rene Binder.
Panis Racing’s Will Stevens, James Allen and Julien Canal completed the podium after Stevens made a late overtake on United Autosports’ Job van Uitert out of Bruxelles.
WRT started from third on the grid but Kubica was quickly up to second after Phil Hanson’s second-placed No. 22 United Autosports car fell back due to contact.
A safety car impacted the early proceedings as Roman Rusinov’s No. 26 G-Drive Racing Aurus-badged Oreca came to a halt on the Kemmel Straight with a loss of drive.
The problem occurred shortly after Rusinov pitted for repairs from being hit and turned around by Racing Team Turkey’s Salih Yoluc at the opening corner.
G-Drive’s retirement gave WRT a prime opportunity to clinch the title ahead of next month’s season finale which the Belgian squad ultimately capitalized on.
WRT took the lead just before the 45-minute mark when Kubica stayed behind the wheel at the team’s first pit stop, whilst the leading Cool Racing crew performed a driver change from pole-sitter Charles Milesi over to Bronze-rated pilot Alexandre Coigny.
Those pit stops occurred under Full Course Yellow conditions due to Yoluc spinning at the exit of Les Combes.
A second safety car then capped a hectic opening hour, when Algarve Pro Racing’s Diego Menchaca clipped an LMP3 before rejoining the track in the path of the Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE Evo, which struck the back of the Mexican’s No. 24 Oreca.
The ensuing restart saw Kubica defend from Patrick Pilet, who had overtaken Coigny in between the FCY and the safety car.
Pilet challenged Kubica on the run down to Les Combes, but the WRT driver fended off the Frenchman’s attack and remained ahead through to the next set of pit stops.
At the next stops WRT briefly fell behind the No. 32 United Autosports Oreca, which had been given a new chassis following Nico Jamin’s heavy accident at Raidillon during Saturday qualifying.
However, Ye managed to close the gap to Manuel Maldonado before dispatching the Venezuelan with a neat move into Les Combes using GTE traffic to forge a path.
Ye duly extended his lead over Maldonado to more than half a minute, which proved beneficial when WRT and Pilet’s IDEC Sport car lost some ground by pitting under green flag conditions shortly before a second FCY period midway through the third hour.
Aidan Read’s Inter Europol Competition LMP3 Ligier had clattered the tire barrier on the exit of Courbe Paul Frere, causing the left-front wheel to detach from the car.
Ye continued his stint with Maldonado now a reduced 10 seconds behind, with Allen and Gommendy chasing them for Panis Racing and Duqueine Team respectively.
The WRT driver was around 17 seconds clear of second place when he made his car’s final stop for fuel, tires and a driver change to Deletraz with 49 minutes to go.
Again, Ye’s increase of the lead gap aided WRT’s cause as United gave its No. 32 car fuel without tires, heralding a 14-second gain in the pits.
However, Deletraz was able to pull out the margin on his new set of Goodyears, while van Uitert dropped behind Gommendy who had already overtaken Allen before making a slightly later final stop than the other front-runners.
Stevens and Cool Racing’s Milesi also successfully hunted down van Uitert, who settled for fifth alongside Maldonado and Jamin as WRT wrapped up its maiden LMP2 title.
Pilet, Paul-Loup Chatin and Paul Lafargue were sixth for IDEC Sport, ahead of G-Drive Racing’s sole finishing crew of Gustavo Menezes, Rui Andrade and John Falb.
Tom Gamble, Phil Hanson and Jonathan Aberdein took eighth in their United Autosports Oreca after starting from the front row of the grid.
DKR Reduces LMP3 Points Gap with Third Win
In LMP3, Laurents Hoerr and Mathieu de Barbuat claimed a third consecutive win for DKR Engineering which closed the points gap to championship leader Cool Racing.
Hoerr brought the No. 4 Duqueine D08 Nissan to the line one minute clear of the second-placed Cool Ligier JS P320 Nissan of Matt Bell, Niklas Kruetten and Nicolas Maulini.
The crucial moment of the race occurred with two hours to go when Hoerr drafted past Kruetten on the Kemmel Straight before pulling his DKR machine beyond reach.
Cool Racing’s focus shifted elsewhere for the closing stages as Bell managed to hold off United Autosports’ Wayne Boyd for second position by less than two seconds.
The GTE win went to AF Corse Ferrari drivers Alessio Rovera, Francois Perrodo and Emmanuel Collard who maintained their 100 percent podium streak this season.
Rovera finished 25 seconds up the road from Miguel Molina in the No. 80 Iron Lynx Ferrari 488 GTE Evo which one of several GTE cars to take a turn in the lead.
AF Corse drew clear after Collard got ahead of Sarah Bovy in the No. 83 Iron Lynx machine with an hour and 40 minutes to go. The No. 80 Iron Lynx machine also got ahead of the No. 83 Ferrari to bank another podium and maintain its points lead.
Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey ended up taking third after Frey got the jump on Felipe Fernandez Laser’s Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR-19 at the end of an FCY period in the final minutes.
Christophe Cresp’s LMP3 Ligier struck the left-side barriers at Raidillon, causing a slow period that ended with a single-lap dash to the checkered flag.
Frey beat Laser by less than half a second, handing the ‘Iron Dames’ crew its first podium of the campaign.
RESULTS: 4 Hours of Spa