After Shanghai produced an unpredictable, exciting race in LMP1 with Rebellion Racing winning overall, Toyota Gazoo Racing’s pair of TS050 HYBRIDs stormed to victory in the 8 Hours of Bahrain. The last WEC race of the decade played out like most of the races since the start of the 2018/19 season, the Japanese team finishing 1-2 after a both Rebellion and Team LNT’s cars hit trouble.
On this occasion, the No. 7 of Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi won the race, beating the sister finished ahead No. 8. The No. 7 led lights to flag in this one after taking the lead on the opening tour of the circuit. With a second win this season, the No. 7 trio now lead the title race.
A collision at the start between the two front-row-sitting cars, the No. 1 Rebellion R-13 of Bruno Senna and No. 6 Ginetta G60 of Charlie Robertson, meant Conway was handed the lead by Turn 3. From then on it was a relatively easy victory, with the No. 8 unable to take the fight to the winning trio.
“It was a mess at Turn 2, I weaved my way through and pushed to create a gap. I thought we’d be chasing here,” said Conway. “We expected the Ginettas and Rebellion to be stronger here, but it was like the parting of the red cars at the start, allowing me to take the lead. We didn’t look back.
Kobayashi added: “We had a tough week in the beginning but made it in the race. We had great pace, it was a great performance from all the guys. It was hard with the Success Handicap.”
All three privateer cars hit trouble. Rebellion Racing’s R-13 lost time in the pits due to a gearbox issue, and finished third, three laps down. The issue came after a head-turning recovery drive to second from dead last.
Bruno Senna held the lead from pole through Turn 1 but was turned around by a spinning Charlie Robertson, who lost the rear end of the No. 6 Ginetta and collided with the Brazilian at the entry to Turn 2. The No. 8 Toyota also couldn’t avoid the spinning Ginetta, sustaining front-left damage which forced the team to replace the nose at the first stop.
The incident dropped the Rebellion to the back and forced the No. 6 Ginetta into the pits for repairs during the subsequent safety car which was called for debris on circuit.
“I think the Ginetta missed a memo that’ it’s an eight-hour race,” a disgruntled Senna said of the incident with Robertson (who later apologized for his misjudgment). “I didn’t do anything — I didn’t squeeze him off the track and he hit me.”
Both Ginettas, meanwhile, suffered terminal issues. The No. 6 stopping out on track (and retiring) with an electrical issue. The No. 5 was boxed with a mechanical issue too, which the Team LNT mechanics spent much of the final two hours fixing.
The No. 8 Toyota which finished second, failed to feature. Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima had to settle for second, crossing the line a lap back from the sister car.
“We picked up damage with the beginning — we were hoping to fight the other car even with success handicap. But we also have damage to the floor, so it’s been damage limitation. We couldn’t do much more today,” Hartley said.
LMP2 also featured a dominant run. United Autosports claimed its first WEC class win with its ORECA, that led the way from pole. Paul Di Resta was superb as were Phil Hanson and Filipe Albuquerque. They created a comfortable lead of almost a minute during the middle of the race and didn’t ever seem in trouble.
The margin did shrink to under 20 seconds in the closing stages, but the team managed its Michelin tires, and the race. When Anthony Davidson in the JOTA ORECA came within striking distance of Di Resta, the Scotsman gapped him again before Albuquerque got in for the final stint and created a lead of over 21 seconds by the end of the race.
In what Hanson said was the biggest victory of his young career, he revealed that the team “lost time in the pits” and still powered to victory. The Goodyears looked to be stronger than the Michelins when the temperature dropped, but by then it was too late for JOTA’s two ORECAs.
After losing significant ground at the start, JOTA’s ORECA — which won in Shanghai — finished second and picked up vital championship points. Davidson, Roberto Gonzalez and Antonio Felix da Costa finished ahead of JOTA’s sister car, the Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA, which completed the top three and scored JOTA and Goodyear a double podium.
The guest-entered G-Drive Aurus finished fourth, recovering well after struggling with tire degradation early. Jean Eric Vergne came close to snatching third from Will Stevens at the end, but the Frenchman couldn’t quite catch him.
The best racing was found in GTE Pro, which delivered plenty of on-track battles and championship drama.
Winning the race was the No. 95 Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen. It was a roller coaster race for the Danish duo, who were in the fight one stint, and at the bottom of the order the next, but they won here and were thrilled by the performance after the checkered flag came out.
“We came from the back, and it was a hard race. The brakes were going in the end. It was all about managing the last hour. We jumped them in the pit stops and Nicki and I did everything to keep ourselves up there,” said Sorensen.
The second half of the race was a dogfight between AF Corse’s Ferraris and Aston Martin Racing’s Vantages. Sorensen led home the win, under no pressure in the closing minutes after a stop-go penalty was handed to the chasing No. 71 Ferrari of Miguel Molina for spinning wheels at a pit stop.
Finishing third behind the No. 71 was the No. 97 Aston Martin, Maxime Martin claiming the final podium spot after the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari was ordered to hand back third to Martin for overtaking him while exceeding track limits.
What about Porsche? It came in confident in the reliability of the 911 RSR 19 in its first race over 8 hours, but both cars hit trouble, and within 10 minutes of each too. The No. 92 911 RSR 19 came in with mechanical trouble first. “Kevin Estre reported some issues with car behaviour in last two laps, so we had to look at the car, we’ve had to change a damper,” Michael Christensen said.
Moments later the No. 91 was also forced to pit for hasty repairs after a puncture.
“I don’t know what happened as I was out of the car, after the stop Gianmaria (Bruni) reported a puncture, we have damage on the underfloor now. Now the time lost is so much that it’s just about finishing,” Richard Lietz explained.
This was huge in the championship fight, as the two Porsches were sitting 1-2 in the standings heading into this race. Both cars finished, but off the lead lap in the class in fifth and sixth. Thiim and Sorensen now lead the GTE drivers’ championship and Aston Martin leads Porsche in the manufacturers’ title race.
GTE Am, like the LMP classes, saw a dominant performance too. This time it was from the No. 57 Project 1 Porsche. Larry Ten Voorde and American IMSA regulars Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen didn’t put a foot wrong.
Keating starred here, driving almost three hours at the start of the race, which put the team in position to ease to victory. The Texan was so fast through his time in the car that the team opted to keep him in for longer than the other Ams in the class, meaning they saved a stop. It was a drive that Bleekemolen termed “heroic” in the post-race conference.
“That made the difference,” Keating said to RACER, “because the gap between us and the No. 98 was about a pit stop at the end.”
The No. 98 Aston Martin led for a while but finished second despite the best efforts from Paul Dalla Lana, Darren Turner and Ross Gunn (who spent the weekend recovering from food poisoning the night before practice), with the No. 86 Gulf Racing Porsche taking a hard-fought podium.
In championship terms, this was a nightmare outing for TF Sport. It headed into the meeting hoping to take a third straight win, but the pace wasn’t quite there in the race before a gearbox issue forced its Aston Martin Vantage into the garage and retirement.
To make matters worse, its closest rival before the weekend, the No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari, finished fourth and the No. 57 scored maximum points.
“I think we’re tied with the No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari for second place in the standings now — amazing when you consider we only scored one point at Silverstone,” Keating related. With two circuits he knows inside out, COTA and Sebring, up next on the schedule, the Texan is thinking championship heading into the second half of the season.
UP NEXT: The FIA WEC resumes with Lone Star Le Mans at Circuit of The Americas on February 23, 2020.