WRT's Habsburg 'repaid Le Mans debt' with Monza WEC win

Ferdinand Habsburg feels he has ‘paid off his debts’ to WRT by leading the squad to LMP2 victory in Sunday’s FIA World Endurance Championship race at Monza.

#41 Realteam by WRT Oreca 07 - Gibson of Rui Andrade, Ferdinand Habsburg-Lothringen, Norman Nato

Habsburg, Norman Nato and Rui Andrade took their #41 Realteam by WRT Oreca 07-Gibson to victory by 12 seconds over JOTA rivals Antonio Felix da Costa, Will Stevens and Roberto Gonzalez in a final-hour showdown, scoring their first victory of the season and the second for the two-car WRT team.

It followed a disastrous Le Mans 24 Hours outing for the Belgian squad last month, when both its full-season WEC cars dropped out of contention seconds into the race as Habsburg was involved in a three-way collision with the sister #31 car of Rene Rast and the #22 United Autosports entry of Will Owen at Turn 1.

Although it was Rast and not Habsburg who was deemed responsible for triggering the collision, the Austrian driver feels the #41 crew’s Monza win goes a long way in making up for WRT’s nightmare run at Le Mans.

“We had third in Sebring, second in Spa, [but at] Le Mans I took too much risk and put the team in danger and we lost the race, so I feel I was able to pay off the debts I had with the team,” said the 25-year-old, who won last year’s LMP2 title with Charles Milesi and Robin Frijns in the #31 WRT car.

“Quite often the engineer was trying to explain the situation to me, but I said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m just gonna drive as fast as I can!’ That was probably the best choice anyways. 

“At the end it was getting clearer, when I was fifth in the second-last stint; unless a FCY or something happened I knew I had to pass the four cars in front of me. We won the race, so that was really cool.”

#41 Realteam by WRT Oreca 07 - Gibson of Rui Andrade, Ferdinand Habsburg-Lothringen, Norman Nato

#41 Realteam by WRT Oreca 07 - Gibson of Rui Andrade, Ferdinand Habsburg-Lothringen, Norman Nato

Photo by: Eric Le Galliot

The #41 Oreca first moved into the lead of the race at the beginning of the third hour when Habsburg snatched the top spot from the #22 United Oreca of Filipe Albuquerque into Turn 1.

A major moment for Habsburg at the Ascari chicane following a mid-race safety car period sent him tumbling down the order, but the #41 crew returned to contention by stopping under a late full-course yellow that followed a collision between the #7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid and the overall race-winning Alpine A480.

This set-up a two-horse race between Habsburg and the #38 JOTA car of Stevens, which was decided in WRT’s favour after its pit crew completed a quicker stop than the Le Mans-winning squad to send Habsburg out on track in first position.

Nato, who helped the team regain lost ground after the safety car, echoed Habsburg’s comment that the victory - and the 25 points that come with it - could prove important for WRT’s hopes of retaining the teams’ title in the LMP2 division.

“It was a roller-coaster race to be honest,” he said. “ We were P1 at some points, P7, back to P3… I was asking our strategy guy, ‘where are we?’ because it was impossible to know exactly where we were.

“We just tried to follow our strategy, stay calm, we knew it would be a race which was quite demanding for the tyres and difficult to overtake the GTEs.

“It wasn’t an easy one but it was really important to bounce back from a difficult Le Mans. In terms of pure pace we were really quick but we made too many mistakes and lost a lot of points. So this race was also quite important for the championship.”

Read Also:

Given WRT had completed the Le Mans/title double on its first season of endurance racing in 2021, expectations were high for the Belgian squad as its returned to Circuit de la Sarthe last month for a second crack at the LMP2 class.

The team even entered an additional car driven by factory Lamborghini driver Mirko Bortolotti, works Audi racer Dries Vanthoor and Rolf Ineichen, but it could best manage an 11th place from its three entries.

Team principal Vincent Vosse stressed that it was important to show what WRT is capable of after its disastrous outing at Monza.

“After Le Mans, it was important to show that Team WRT is back and that’s what we did," said Vosse.

"There is always a little bit of frustration when one of the cars has an issue or is forced to retire, but that should not cast a shadow over the fact that we were very quick and the whole team did a fantastic job, in strategy and in the pits.

"Same for the drivers and I really want to single out the great performance of Rui [Andrade], the silver driver in the trio of the #41, because his excellent initial stint paved the way for the success.”

Related video

Previous article Alpine's Monza win "really important" for WEC title hopes
Next article Peugeot happy to prove speed of new hypercar on Monza WEC debut