Inter Europol Competition travelled to the FIA World Endurance Championship season finale in Bahrain, aware that it would require extreme circumstances to claim the LMP2 title. Sixth in Saturday evening’s race meant that the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans race winners had to be content with second in the championship standings.
It was a positive season in so many respects, with the team making significant gains with the performance of the #34 Oreca 07 raced by Kuba Smiechowski, Fabio Scherer and Albert Costa to such great effect over the season. The pinnacle was, obviously, the Centenary edition of Le Mans, but that’s to take nothing away from many other superb performances over the seven-round world championship.
Having led a race for the first time at Sebring, taken the first podium at Spa-Francorchamps, won at the Centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and then finished second in the LMP2 standings, there was a feeling of great pride late Saturday night as the chequered flag flew to wrap up the 2023 season.
“Coming here to Bahrain for the last race of the FIA World Endurance Championship and still being able to fight for the title is a great achievement from the team,” stated Team Manager Sascha Fassbender. “If someone said at the start of the year that we would be here in Bahrain in P2 in the standings, I would have signed up for that immediately!”
The race week got underway with uncharacteristically high humidity, blustery winds, and then rain in the Sakhir desert, disrupting the opening 90 minutes of practice. The night session followed as the conditions settled for the remainder of the race week. The team worked its way through the three practice sessions before Albert headed into the 15-minute qualifying session ahead of the eight-hour race.
Kuba had a clean start from seventh position, gaining a place as the pole sitter hit trouble on the opening lap. His opening two stints saw him press on, passing rivals at Alpine and Jota to run fourth place as he handed the car over to Albert.
Soon after, there was trouble as the Gibson lost power early in Albert’s stint, the #34 coasting to a halt before re-firing. The first time cost the team 45 seconds, then it re-occurred a second time, and that was an additional 25 valuable seconds lost.
As our title rival had no such issues, it was clear that our race was for second overall in the championship, and that meant we had to finish ahead of the #22 Oreca to be sure of success.
Following the opening run, Kuba was soon back in the car to complete his drive time before the ever-rapid Fabio had his three stints at the wheel. This left Albert with the bulk of the driving duties, and with perfect pit work from the IEC crew, gains were made as the race progressed.
The eight-hour race ran without a single Safety Car intervention, and despite the early time loss, the #34 Oreca remained on the lead lap for most of the race, before taking the chequered flag P6 on the 237th tour.
With 12 points from Bahrain, the tally for the season was 114 and second position in the LMP2 Championship, ten clear of our nearest rival. While a return to Le Mans beckons, it was the final race for the LMP2 category in the FIA World Endurance Championship and Inter Europol, therefore now focuses its attention on the 2024 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in January.
Sascha Fassbender, IEC Team Manager
“Coming here to Bahrain for the last race of the FIA World Endurance Championship and still being able to fight for the title is a great achievement from the team. If someone said at the start of the year that we would be here in Bahrain in P2 in the standings, I would have signed up for that immediately!
“In the race tonight, we had a technical issue where the power from the engine cut twice. Performance-wise, we should have expected a safe podium position as the drivers didn’t make any mistakes, and the car was very strong. So, we now need to investigate the reason behind the engine power cuts; so far, we do not know.
“In our last race here in the FIA World Endurance Championship, we gave our best, and over the season, it’s P2 overall, we won Le Mans, and I am happy tonight. Now we look forward to the next big race that we have at the 24 Hours of Daytona.”
“It was an incredible season; the Le Mans win and then to achieve P2 in the championship, it’s more than we could have dreamed of at the start of the season. In general, it was a good season, and everybody did an amazing job and worked really hard to get where we are today. This is the key to our success.”
Albert Costa Balboa
“I am really happy tonight. We knew from the beginning that the championship win was very difficult, so we just focused on ourselves. Our pace in the race was mega, but we did lose a lot of time with a car issue. I woke up this morning saying that I wanted to finish on the podium and to seal second in the championship; this is the realistic result. Podium? That didn’t work out, but it could have. So, we recovered well from a difficult position to finish P6 and second in the championship.
“In February, when I signed to race with IEC, if you told me we would be second overall and win Le Mans, I wouldn’t have thought it possible. It’s a dream come true, and I am really happy and proud of this team!”
“Today didn’t bring the race we were hoping for, and Le Mans aside this year, I think we have been a little unlucky, but we still finished in second position [in the championship], and we are all very happy with that.
“Everyone in the team would have signed up for the results we achieved ahead of the season, so it was an impressive year. It’s been a great effort, so thank you to the whole team. I think with a bit more luck, we could have won the whole thing!”