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Kubica's "crucial" Fuji stint puts WRT on cusp of WEC LMP2 title

Former Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica believes his opening stint was crucial in WRT recovering from an early setback and securing an emphatic LMP2 victory in the Fuji World Endurance Championship race.

Podium: #41 Team WRT Oreca 07 - Gibson: Rui Andrade, Robert Kubica, Louis Deletraz

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

The #41 WRT ORECA-Gibson 07 shared by Kubica, Louis Deletraz and Rui Andrade dropped from second to sixth early on after Andrade was hit by the #23 United Autosports entry of Josh Pierson, an offence for which Pierson was slapped with a 10-second time penalty.

While the incident put the #41 crew on the back foot, Kubica, Deletraz and Andrade clawed back the lost ground and returned to the front by the end of the fourth hour, eventually taking a comfortable 16s class win over the #22 United crew of Filipe Albuquerque, Phil Hanson and Freddie Lubin.

Kubica completed 50 percent of the #41 WRT crew’s tally of 218 laps, first jumping aboard in the middle of the second hour after silver-rated Andrade had completed his minimum driving time.

Joining the track in a net fourth, Kubica gradually propelled the team to the front of the pack, getting within 10 seconds of the race-leading #22 United car.

Speaking in the post-race press conference, Kubica said that it was during this part of the race that proved key to victory, as it put team-mate Deletraz in a position where he could pass Hanson for the lead.

“Before managing to get the lead I think the crucial hours were after Rui [drove], when I took over,” he explained.

“We managed to bring the car within eight seconds of the lead from 52 behind, so it was a crucial 90 minutes behind the wheel. 

“The degradation was high, we managed to take care of the tyres very well. We have been in the fast first stint but especially the second one, then of course we were back in the game.

“Louis did a good job saving fuel more than United so we knew we have a bit of an advantage. Even when we were behind them, we knew that we could make it work our way in the pitstop area, so there was no big panic. It was a lot of management.”

#41 Team WRT Oreca 07 - Gibson: Rui Andrade, Robert Kubica, Louis Deletraz

#41 Team WRT Oreca 07 - Gibson: Rui Andrade, Robert Kubica, Louis Deletraz

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Kubica returned to the wheel for the final 90 minutes, when the #23 United car cycled to the front by stopping early.

However, Kubica had little trouble passing Ben Hanley for the lead, reinstating WRT into the lead of the race.

“In the last one-and-a-half hour I got the car in P1, then we got undercut by #23 but it was a big gamble because they were missing two or three laps [of fuel],” the 38-year-old recalled.

“So I knew they had to save fuel a lot and we managed to overtake them and managed to pull away a 20s gap and bring it home.”

Fuji marked WRT’s second win of the season after triumphing at Spa, and it puts the team 33 points clear at the top of the table with only 39 points on offer inNovember's Bahrain finale.

The squad’s closest challenger, the Inter Europol team that won at Le Mans with Albert Costa, Fabio Scherer and Jakub Smiechowski, finished down in ninth.

“Of course this put us in a very good place for the championship,” said Kubica. “Inter Europol, which was close to us, didn't score a lot of points. United #22 finished behind us.

“This brings us in good shape, good points lead before Bahrain and we have to execute another clean weekend in Bahrain and bring it home hopefully.”

#22 United Autosports Oreca 07 - Gibson: Frederick Lubin, Philip Hanson, Fillipe Albuquerque

#22 United Autosports Oreca 07 - Gibson: Frederick Lubin, Philip Hanson, Fillipe Albuquerque

Photo by: Andy Chan

Disappointment for United

United Autosports held a 1-2 for the first half of the race, with the #23 ORECA crewed by Pierson, Hanley and Oliver Jarvis holding second behind the sister #22 entry even after serving their penalty.

But both the team's cars lacked the pace to remain in the fight for victory, with the #23 car slipping to fourth at the finish, not helped by a spin caused by Vanwall Hypercar driver Joao Paulo de Oliveira hitting Hanley in the fourth hour.

Speaking afterwards, Jarvis was clear that the result was below what the team had expected going into the penultimate round of the season.

“Disappointing race," Jarvis told Autosport. “The pace was strong all weekend, it looked good in the first couple of stints, but then we struggled compared to the WRTs in particular. 

“We had a couple of incidents, we were hit by the Vanwall and got turned around, and we had a 10s penalty for an incident at the start of the race [when Pierson hit Andrade]. These things just built up.

“I think we could have won it, I don’t think we were the quickest car, but to come away fourth is not what we expected or what we were hoping for.”

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