After a successful 23-year career that’s spanned Formula One and sports car racing, Alex Wurz hangs up his helmet following today’s FIA WEC season-ending Six Hours of Bahrain.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing driver, a two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, announced his retirement last week, a decision Wurz said has been building up for “for many months” during this season.
Wurz arrived at Bahrain International Circuit this week to a number of commemorations, including a standing applause during his final driver’s meeting and Toyota presenting him with a framed race suit.
“Before the race weekend I was busy and flat out with so many things to deal with,” Wurz told Sportscar365. “I came here and for the first time I was really thinking about it when it hit me.
“It’s completely cool when I’m with my teammates or working on the car, I’m very relaxed about it.
“It’s my decision. Obviously it’s been in my head for a while.
“When I got quite emotional, which is not usual for me, was during the drivers’ briefing when they all stood up and gave me applauds, and the team organizing the surprise [photo shoot].
“Then I’d have to say it was a bit emotional. Otherwise, I’m quite relaxed.”
While the 41-year-old Austrian — joined by his wife Julia, and sons Oscar, Charlie and Felix this weekend — enjoyed a 12-year stint in F1, two of his most memorable moments in his career came in sports car racing.
Wurz credits his 1996 victory at Le Mans for saving his career, while his second triumph with Peugeot in 2009 also ranks high on his list.
“Obviously it was the two Le Mans victories,” he said. “The first one was amazing when I was so young. I didn’t really know what was happening.
“It was just so easy. Only later I realized that the Le Mans victory [was a big achievement].
“There was strong competition against the factory Porsche team. It was very special. It gave me a Formula One career.
“Just a few months before I went to Le Mans, I thought my racing career was finished because I had no money and then this present of Le Mans came along from Reinhold Joest. That was special.
“Also the second [win] with Peugeot. It was a very intensive battle inside the team, also against Audi. Winning it was just amazing because the podium at Le Mans is so special.
“When you have 60,000 people celebrating with you. They’ve been through the same hard 24 hours with you. Winning it is amazing.”
Despite not claiming victory at Le Mans for Toyota, Wurz played an integral part of the Japanese manufacturer’s program, having been the first driver hired for its factory LMP1 effort.
He claimed Toyota’s first pole and victory in WEC competition, in only its third race, at Sao Paulo in 2012, before going onto claim four additional wins and numerous podium finishes.
“We have proven that it’s not always the money that’s winning,” Wurz said. “We always had less resources than the competition. Until last year, we really understood how to get the maximum out of it.
“To be the main driver in the development of this program, I’m very happy. It was a fulfilling job, but sometimes frustrating too.
“Losing the lead at Le Mans after 14 hours [in 2014] after being dominant… Losing some other victories with technical failures… But hey that’s sport.
“That’s why I love it. The highs and lows are so close together.”
While Wurz and Toyota have faced the lows throughout the 2015 season, with the TS040 Hybrid unable to match the pace of the pace-setting Porsche 919 Hybrids or Audi R18 e-tron quattros, it hasn’t dampened his final weekend as a driver.
“Whatever [the race] brings, I just want to enjoy it and finish maybe with a good result,” he said. “But if that’s a podium, I don’t know. We will see. It doesn’t change anything.
“My average, so far, in sports cars is 40 races with 10 victories. So that’s 30 victories short of where I wanted to be! If it’s 41 and 10 victories it doesn’t matter.”