By Jeff Olson IMSA Wire Service
Technically, he’s a rookie in the Rolex 24. Practically, he’s anything but.
Robert Kubica, whose career bonafides include six seasons in Formula 1, four in the World Rally Championship and a season in Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM), will race in the famed 24-hour endurance race this weekend for the first time.
The will to compete at Daytona has always been there. The opportunities, until now, hadn’t panned out. Once they did, he almost passed on the chance. A lengthy 2020 season and busy offseason left Kubica feeling like he needed a break, but when Anders Fjordbach asked him to join, Kubica couldn’t resist.
“To be honest, I wasn’t thinking I would come because I felt like I needed to rest,” Kubica said. “But then I had a phone call from Anders. We knew each other from four or five years ago. He offered for me to come here and help out. At the beginning, I was not so convinced (because) I was exhausted, but I think it’s a great opportunity for me, and I’m happy I’m here.”
Kubica will team with Fjordbach, Dennis Andersen and Ferdinand Habsburg-Lothringen in the No. 20 High Class Racing ORECA LMP2 07. In a career defined by different cars and different experiences, Kubica is equipped to experience more differences.
“Driving every car is a bit different,” he said. “It’s a question of getting to know the car. Within a few laps or a few sessions, more or less you know exactly what the car’s characteristics are and what it’s capable of doing and how things are feeling. There will be a lot of things I will have to discover and learn this weekend.”
Kubica’s story is nothing short of exceptional. He signed with the BMW Sauber F1 Team in 2006 as the first driver from Poland in F1 history. Likewise, his victory at the Canadian Grand Prix in 2008 was the first F1 win by a Polish driver.
He had seven podium finishes and finished fourth in the F1 World Championship that year. But three years later, disaster struck. Kubica was severely injured in a crash at a rally race in Italy; seven hours of surgery were needed to repair his right forearm, which was partially severed by a guardrail that pierced the car’s cockpit.
Recovering from the surgery and other injuries – including compound fractures of his right elbow, shoulder and leg – cost Kubica the remainder of the 2011 season and most of 2012. He eventually recovered and resumed full-time rally competition in 2013, winning the WRC-2 championship.He returned to F1 with Williams Racing in 2019, then joined BMW in DTM for the 2020 season. The offer from High Class Racing to compete in the Rolex 24 emerged. Kubica debated, but in the end, racing won out.
“I did have an offer the last two years to race here, but I had different priorities,” Kubica said. “I had things to focus on in Europe. I wanted to come here, but with Covid-19, it has been quite difficult and quite busy.”
The intricacies of endurance racing – sharing a car with other drivers, multiple stints over a long period of time – are new to Kubica, but he’s eager to learn.
“I’ve been driving a long time. Once you have done your job in a race, it is over,” he said. “You are not jumping back into the car again. In a 24-hour race, this is happening. You have to learn how to recover and be ready for your next stint. You can’t waste energy.”
Live coverage of the Rolex 24 kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC. Throughout the 24 hours, coverage shifts to NBCSN, TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold and the NBC Sports App before returning to NBC at 2 p.m. Sunday for the concluding hours.
IMSA Radio also offers flag-to-flag coverage on IMSA Radio.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio (Sirius channel 216, XM 202 and Internet 972).