Toyota Gazoo Racing’s No. 8 TS050 HYBRID of Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson cruised to victory in the 6 Hours of Bahrain, their fifth win of the 2017 World Endurance Championship season. The trio finished a lap clear of the other LMP1 class runners.
The winning car was the only car in the LMP1 class to have a clean run to the flag, the other three having various issues throughout, resulting in Toyota’s No. 8 crew taking a commanding win to conclude the season.
“It was a great race,” Davidson said. “All three drivers, plus the engineers and pit crew, deserve credit for this. Everyone did a perfect job this weekend; we hit the ground running and got the tire choice just right, so a big thanks to the team. Thanks also to Porsche who have helped us to raise our level to new heights; it was a pleasure to race against them.”
For Porsche, today’s race wasn’t the fairy-tale end to its LMP1 program it had hoped for, the German marque having to settle for a second- and third-place finish, the world champions in the No. 2 finishing second after a recovery drive that lasted almost the entire race, ahead of the No. 1 sister car.
Both Porsches were delayed significantly in the race, the No. 2 losing time early due to a lane marker getting wedged in the nose, forcing Timo Bernhard into the pits for a front-end change. The No. 1 meanwhile, was still in the running for the win until the end of the fourth hour, when Nick Tandy collided with the Gulf Racing Porsche at Turn 1, giving the car a puncture:
The No. 7 TS050 – which, like the No. 1 Porsche, will finish the season winless – was also in the wars. Kamui Kobayashi put the car out of contention after it hit the No. 92 Porsche at Turn 2 at the halfway mark, costing the team a lap after the rear end was repaired in the pits. The 911 RSR, on the other hand, didn’t return to the circuit, and retired due to the damage.
“It was a pity to have the contact with the Porsche GT,” Kobayashi admitted after the race. “I thought I had already got past him but we got the drive through so it was probably my fault. I have been down to see the No. 92 guys to say sorry for finishing their race. We always try to avoid contact so it’s disappointing for that to happen when we were in good shape. I wanted to finish the season in a better way.”
In LMP2, Vaillante Rebellion’s No. 31 crew were crowned LMP2 teams and drivers champions in dramatic fashion. Frenchman Julien Canal and Brazilian Bruno Senna claimed the drivers title, winning the race by just 10 seconds.
It was a really tough win, as Senna had to complete the final hour in the car without power steering after serving a penalty for a collision with the No. 24 Manor ORECA at Turn 1.
Both issues cost the team lot of time and Senna wrestled with the car all the way to the flag, having to reset the power steering multiple times on the fly. The intermittent failure was so bad that the team almost elected to sub in Nicolas Prost for the final 20 minutes due to the physical strain put on Senna.
But, in the end, the Brazillian prevailed and Rebellion took the championships in its first year racing in LMP2; it’s a good consolation prize for coming tantalizingly close to winning Le Mans. Notably, it’s also Canal’s second LMP2 title; he previously won with G-Drive Racing in 2015.
“Until the race is over, it’s never over,” said Prost. “When I heard that Bruno said the power steering was failing, I thought maybe we could still finish. At Paul Ricard at an endurance test in the past I did 20 laps with no power steering, so I remember that you can do it.
“In the end it worked out and the team won the championship by 10 seconds, after so many hours of racing this year.”
The No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA came home second, Oliver Jarvis unable to catch and pass Senna at the end to claim the title. Instead, the Briton and teammates Thomas Laurent and Ho Pin Tung had to settle for the runner-up spot in the standings after leading the class championship for most of the season, at one time by as much as 50 points.
Despite not having any penalties or on-track clashes, the No. 38 did lose time, hampered by the car’s apparent inability to pick up the final 15 liters (four gallons) in the tank. The car completed successive fuel stints of 20, 19, 18, and 17 laps while their main competitors were managing a steady 21 or 22. It meant they had to make an extra stop at the end, creating the showdown between the two contenders.
Third on the road was the sister Rebellion ORECA, making it a double-podium for the Anglo-Swiss team.
AF Corse, meanwhile, stormed to victory in GTE Pro, and the GTE Pro drivers and teams world championships – making it a clean sweep for the team, which took the manufacturers crown for Ferrari at Shanghai.
The No. 51 of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi won the titles, and was due to take the win, but the team switched the two 488s over at the end. They came home second, behind the sister car of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird – who got out of the car and proposed to his girlfriend in pit lane (she said yes) – after the two Ferraris crossed the line in formation:
“We bought the ring last week, so it was coming, either today or in Hong Kong, but I thought, “Why not?” after a win,” Bird said. “I’m glad she said yes – it would have been embarrassing after a loss, that would have sucked!”
Third on the road was the No. 67 Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT, which was in the running for the win throughout but lost 30 seconds at its fourth stop due to the mechanics checking over the car. The GT was due to finish fourth until three-time FIA WTCC champion Andy Priaulx muscled past Fred Makowiecki’s No. 91 Porsche in the final minutes of the race to nab himself and fellow countryman Harry Tincknell a podium.
Notably off the podium were the pair of Aston Martin Racing Vantage GTEs in their final GTE Pro appearance before the new car takes over in 2018. The British team didn’t sign off the car’s time in the GTE Pro class with any silverware due to a lack of pace over long runs; the No. 95 of Marco Sorensen and Nicki Thiim ran at the rear of the field for the entire race, and the No. 97 faded late after climbing into the top three in the fifth hour.
While Aston Martin Racing failed to feature in GTE Pro at Bahrain, its No. 98 Vantage took the win in GTE Am, and as a result, claimed the teams and drivers championships, the first for Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy.
“We’ve had some tough days getting here, but boy, it was worth all of that,” Dalla Lana, the first Canadian WEC champion, told RACER. “The season came together, the boys were faster and faster – this is a life ambition. Pedro and Mathias have been amazing, and generous, that has helped me enormously to find more within myself and to enjoy it too.”
The No. 61 Clearwater Ferrari came home second, capping off its highly successful debut WEC season with another set of trophies. Spirit of Race’s 488 GTE finished third.
While all the races in the FIA WEC season are done, the Bahrain International Circuit is set to host the annual Rookie Test tomorrow. The on-track running will feature Fernando Alonso’s debut LMP1 appearance with Toyota, as well as Porsche LMP Team’s final public run with the 919, with World Series Formula V8 3.5 champion Pietro Fittipaldi set to drive.
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