Porsche LMP Team secured the FIA WEC LMP1 drivers and manufacturers world championships today at the Shanghai International circuit, with a second- and third-place finish for its 919 Hybrids.
The No. 8 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 HYBRID of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson took a comfortable victory, the Japanese team dominating the race with both its cars, but late drama for the sister car meant neither title race would be decided at the Bahrain finale.
The manufacturers title went the way of Porsche late in the race, after the No. 7 collided with the No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR at Turn 13. The incident damaged the suspension, losing the car the lead, and it spent most of the final 30 minutes in the garage for repairs. It meant the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard took second, and the No. 1 sister car – which suffered a throttle sensor issue early in the race – moved into third.
By winning both titles, it marks Porsche’s third sweep of the Drivers and Manufacturers crowns in a row; it’s also Hartley and Bernhard’s second WEC title and Bamber’s first.
“It’s an awesome feeling, awesome year, Not the best race of the year, but we’ll celebrate,” Hartley said. “With Timo and Earl, I’ll remember this forever. To win with these guys is incredible – a second with TB and a first with Earl, who I grew up with, has made for an incredible story.”
As a spectacle, LMP1 wasn’t a thriller, but it was decisive. Toyota had the pace, but the results prior to the trip to Shanghai meant that Porsche just needed to find consistency and have a quiet run to secure both championships, which it did. Two of the other three classes though, were thrilling to the end.
The LMP2 battle was frantic throughout. The No. 31 Vaillante Rebellion ORECA of Julien Canal, Bruno Senna and Nicolas Prost eventually took the win, the trio’s third in four races. The car led comfortably early, after Senna pulled away from the start, but by the halfway mark, its margin of over 40 seconds was nullified and the faster Ho Pin Tung took the lead from Canal in the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing 07.
From then on the racing was fierce, but Senna and co prevailed after a late splash from the No. 38 and a collision between Tung and Nico Muller at Turn 1 which cost the car further time. It led to a battle for the lead between himself and Senna, the Brazilian eventually taking the top spot at Turn 7:
“Our car was fantastic, really good balance,” Senna commented after the race. “We did very little testing before the season, so we’ve had to develop during the course of the season. Now we’re on top. We’re strong now, and are ahead in the championship. It’s crazy to think how far back we were after the Nurburgring.”
In the end the No. 38 of Oliver Jarvis, Thomas Laurent and Ho Pin Tung would finish fourth, despite taking the lead at the halfway mark and battling hard in the closing stints; Nelson Piquet Jr. in the sister No. 13 Rebellion ORECA robbed them of a podium with 10 minutes remaining, getting past at Turn 8 to take third.
Finishing fourth puts the No. 38 team four points off the Rebellion crew in the standings going into the finale, an incredible turn of events after leading by almost 50 points after the Nurburgring.
Promoted to second after the No. 38’s splash was the Signatech Alpine A470, which had a solid run to the flag and was always in contention for a podium, although never for the win. Completing the top five, behind the No. 38, was the No. 25 CEFC Manor TRS Racing ORECA.
GTE Pro was also a thriller. The No. 67 Chip Ganassi UK Ford GT of Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx took their second win of the season, re-igniting their title hopes as a result. It was a hard-fought race of two halves, Priaulx shining in his drive through the field early on, taking the lead with a gutsy move at Turn 13 from Fred Makoweicki, before Tincknell had to defend hard against Richard Lietz’s No. 92 Porsche in the final hour on old rubber, before changing for a fresher set at the final stop after Lietz was hit by the Toyota.
“We were very aggressive with our tire strategy, and knew we’d have to pay the price for that at some point,” Tincknell explained. “Andy did a fantastic job to take the lead off the Porsche in the first place, because we were struggling for straight-line speed. Then in my stint, I kept focused and calm, I had to draw on every ounce of experience I’d had since I was in karting to place the car in the right place at the right time and hold him off. I knew the race was going to be won or lost there.”
By finishing second, the 2017 911 RSR was therefore denied its first WEC win once again. It was clearly the faster car for good portions of the race, with the sister car leading early on, too, before retiring with engine issues.
Taking the final podium spot was the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari, which recovered to third, after Alessandro Pier Guidi muscled past Olivier Pla in the No. 66 Ford GT in the final hour. Pla and teammate Stefan Mucke will leave disappointed with fourth. The car was second after five hours Pla and Mucke battling hard to stay in the top three, but on older rubber couldn’t hold off Lietz and later Pier Guidi in the No. 51.
Aston Martin will also leave Asia frustrated. After starting from Pole, the No. 95 “Dane Train” Vantage of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen quickly faded, finishing fifth, ahead of the sister Le Mans-winning No. 97 which never featured and crossed the line seventh.
The race result leaves Pier Guidi and British teammate James Calado with a two-point championship lead over Makoweicki and Lietz, with Priaulx and Tincknell now 8.5 points back in third.
“We can’t be confident despite being back in it,” Priaulx told RACER. “This championship will be so close at the end, and all about tires in the heat at Bahrain. It’ll probably come down to the final stint, and go to the most ballsy driver.”
A title in GTE Pro was decided though; the GT Cup Manufacturers World Championship going the way of Ferrari – a positive result for AF Corse despite not taking the win in China.
“It’s an amazing achievement for Ferrari to take the championship with one race to go,” Calado said. “It’s not a strong circuit for us, but we’re leading the drivers championship still, and now have to celebrate this manufacturers championship.”
GTE Am was a quiet race. The eventual victors were Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda in the No. 98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage, who with the win opened up a 10-point lead in the standings, and celebrated the 50th class win for the Vantage in WEC competition.
From pole, they finished almost two minutes clear of the Gulf Racing UK Porsche, which took second, and a lap clear of the Dempsey Proton Porsche which took the final podium place.
“It’s a big rebound from Japan, after frustrating events there. It’s the third win for Pedro and I here – we love China and keep getting the results. We’re going to celebrate tonight, that’s for sure!” Dalla Lana exclaimed.
For Singaporean team Clearwater Racing, fourth place will come as a big disappointment. Weng Sun Mok, Matt Griffin and Keita Sawa lost six laps in the pits for repairs after a being shoved into the Spirit of Race Ferrari at Turn 1 by the No. 37 DC Racing ORECA of Tristan Gommendy during the first half of the race.
Spirit of Race’s Ferrari retired with accident damage from the collision, and Clearwater limped home, scoring points but losing its lead in the Teams Championship.
The final race of the FIA WEC season, the 6 Hours of Bahrain, is set to take place on Nov. 18.
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