Robert Kubica says he’s relishing the “additional excitement” of preparing for his upcoming debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, an event that the Polish ace has likened to a World Rally Championship round due to its unique set of demands.
After making his LMP2 race debut earlier this year, Grand Prix winner Kubica is contesting the French enduro in the same class next weekend, sharing a Team WRT Oreca 07 Gibson with his fellow European Le Mans Series points leaders Louis Deletraz and Yifei Ye.
Kubica entered the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January with LMP2 squad High Class Racing, however gearbox trouble early in the race meant that he didn’t get to drive.
He nonetheless felt that the experience provided an interesting insight into the mindset and approach required to tackle a 24-hour race in the prototype ranks, while he’s keen to put his ideas into practice in the build-up to Le Mans.
“I was very curious to see how my body would react and how I would mentally approach it,” Kubica told Sportscar365.
“You can try to simulate it: go on the simulator, sleep for three hours, go back on. But it’s not the same. There is no adrenaline, no noise. I cannot put the sounds of 60 cars in my bedroom to simulate the noise.
“There are many things which are driver-dependent but not about driving itself. You have to stay sharp when it’s necessary, but when you are driving you have to just switch off your brain and try to rest, recover and minimize energy losses for the next stint.
“I joke that if you keep focusing so much since yesterday or today, by the time the race starts [next weekend] you are already cooked!
“For sure there will be things that are easier the second time around than the first. The difference of Le Mans is that it’s once a year. Whatever you learn this year, you might only use once again in 12 months.”
Kubica suggested that the one-off nature of Le Mans, which stands as an additional race bolted onto WRT’s full-season ELMS program, gives it a similar feel to WRC events.
“It’s a bit like rallying,” said the 36-year-old, who competed in the WRC between 2013 and 2016. “The WRC calendar is 10-14 rallies, but each rally is so different.
“The experience you gain one year, you can only see how valuable it is in 12 months when you get back to the same event. I would expect similar here in Le Mans.
“When you start 40 or 50 grands prix, it becomes like drinking water.
“Some will say, ‘F1 is F1’… yes, but you get used to it. I am not used to racing at Le Mans, and I’m relatively young to endurance racing also.
“There are lots of things bringing additional excitement, which is nice.”
Kubica, Deletraz and Ye won the opening two rounds of the ELMS season and currently lead the LMP2 drivers’ standings by nine points with two races remaining.
Despite a strong start to the campaign, Kubica indicated that he and his co-drivers are only focusing on themselves at Le Mans., meaning they are not considering where they stack up against the competition which includes full-time WEC entries such as their WRT teammates in the No. 31 Oreca.
Kubica noted that one major factor at Le Mans will be how the No. 41 WRT crew adapts to the low-downforce LMP2 aero kit, which is required in the WEC but not in ELMS.
“There are a lot of question marks and unknowns which we will only answer by spending time on track and living the week,” he said.
“The Le Mans kit is new for us and the race will be 20 hours longer than what we have in ELMS. The whole event is much more complex. I have massive respect for the event and the track.
“We will try to focus on our job and try to deliver but knowing that something can go wrong at any time. You really have to protect yourself and the car from unnecessary risks, starting from lap zero. It’s fundamental to build up confidence.
“The track evolution will be massive. The biggest part of the track is normal roads.
“On the track walk it was quite dirty. There will be a lot of things that normally happen at Le Mans which, for us, will be happening to us for the first time because we are rookies.”
Kubica Downplaying Sports Car Racing Future
Kubica remains involved in Formula One as an Alfa Romeo test driver, although his current LMP2 role with Team WRT – an outfit with known LMDh aspirations – has put him in the right environment to participate in sports car racing’s future top classes.
However, when asked if he is angling his career towards a top-tier prototype drive in LMH or LMDh machinery, Kubica suggested that his main aim at the moment is to determine his future place in F1.
“With the new classes and factories joining in 2023, I think generally endurance racing will take a good direction,” he said.
“I think it’s a place where potentially there will be good opportunities for professional drivers.
“I have a bit of a different situation because I am linked to Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen, so I also have my duties in Formula One. First of all, I would like to sort out the situation there and see what will be possible and what I can do. And then I will follow up with what might be my future.
“By being linked with more than one program, sometimes it’s quite difficult to match everything. Also with COVID and the calendars, it can get quite tricky.
“For sure this year and last year I have been racing parallel to my F1 duties. Thanks to Alfa Romeo that they gave me quite a lot of freedom for my racing programs.
“I’m a racing driver, so my main priority will be racing somewhere. Where it will be, and what it will be, I still don’t know. So let’s wait and see.
“First of all, I would like to see what will happen in F1, and then I will follow up.”