Conway/Kobayashi/Lopez reign in Bahrain 6 Hours for Toyota

JEP/Motorsport Images

Conway/Kobayashi/Lopez reign in Bahrain 6 Hours for Toyota

Le Mans/WEC

Conway/Kobayashi/Lopez reign in Bahrain 6 Hours for Toyota

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Toyota claimed a comfortable 1-2 finish in the FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Bahrain, sealing the Le Mans Hypercar manufacturers’ title in the penultimate round of the season. Despite sweltering heat at the Sakhir-based circuit, there were no major incidents and all 32 cars finished the race.

Taking Toyota’s eighth straight overall win in WEC competition was the No. 7 GR010 HYBRID of championship leaders Jose Maria Lopez, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi, who were rarely challenged by the sister No. 8 which struggled throughout the race with tire degradation and also lost crucial time to a slow pit stop.

Early on the two Toyotas traded the lead multiple times, though the swaps were orchestrated by the team as it attempted to work out which car had the outright pace to win on the day. Once the No. 7 took control in Hour 2, the race result never felt in doubt. With only next weekend’s second galf of the Bahrain doubleheader race to go, there is a 15-point gap between the No. 7 and No. 8 crews in the driver’s standings, with the No. 7 trio now leading the way.

“Great job by all my teammates,” said Conway. “All the pit stops for us were flawless — we needed to win this one. If we get pole next weekend, it’s still all to play for.”

Alpine finished third, a lap behind with Matthieu Vaxiviere, Andre Negrao and Nicolas Lapierre, their valiant effort not enough to challenge for the win, especially with the team forced to run shorter stints than Toyota. In the opening hour of the race throttle issues and later an unfortunately timed full-course yellow lost the team time it could never recover. During Hour 4, the No. 8’s slow stop briefly vaulted the Alpine to second, but Brendon Hartley made short work of Vaxiviere on the pit straight to retake the place.

As has often been the case this season, LMP2 and GTE Am provided the most entertainment as, like Hypercar, GTE Pro was a rather quiet affair, with Porsche taking a comfortable win over AF Corse.

Pole-winning Porsche 911 RSR-19 of Kevin Estre and Neel Jani were in command for most of the six hours. Motorsport Images

The German marque finished in formation with its No. 92 911 RSR leading the No. 91 home. AF Corse was outspoken before the sessions started, claiming it would be down on power after the pre-event BoP change. Through qualifying and the race itself this certainly seemed to be the case, as the Porsches seemed untouchable.

The No. 51 Ferrari of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi — who led the championship heading into the race — finished third but 35 seconds behind the second of the Porsches. During the mid-point of the race, Calado looked capable of catching the No. 91 and breaking up the Porsche stranglehold, but the Porsche drivers were being told to save fuel and tires at the time, and pulled away again later in the race.

The biggest storyline to emerge from Pro is the state of the title race heading into the finale. Kevin Estre and Neel Jani’s win has put them within a single point of Calado and Pier Guidi heading into the finale. If the organizers can get the BoP right, it could be an exciting end to the season. There is also only a single point separating Porsche and Ferrari in the manufacturers’ title classification, so it’s still all to play for.

“We needed that win for the points, and the championship. It’s wide open. The No. 91 was all over us but they let us live,” said Jani. “It was good teamwork.”

Team WRT came on strong again to take the LMP2 crown with Robin Frijins, Ferdinand Habsburg and Charles Milesi. Motorsport Images

WRT was the best of the bunch in LMP2. Superb performances in the opening hours from Ferdinand Habsburg and Robin Frijns, fresh from their last-gasp Le Mans win, saw the team take the lead from eighth on the grid gave the Belgian team a platform to hold station until the end while the remaining contenders fought for the remaining podium places.

“After stint three we were in the lead and managed the gap and the tires in the end,” said Frijns. “We just controlled the gap — it was over a minute. I had some fun getting the fastest lap; a good day for the team.”

Second and third were not decided until late in the race, JOTA’s Tom Blomqvist, who started from pole, fought hard and muscled past Filipe Albuquerque to hand the No. 28 crew second. Then in the closing stages, Albuquerque fell to fourth after Antonio Felix da Costa in the sister JOTA entry dived up the inside at Turn 1 with just over 10 minutes to go, to make it a double podium for the British team.

Inter Europol looked set to fight for a podium spot all the way to the end, but after a strong stint from Alex Brundle early in the race, complimented by a faultless run from Kuba Schmiechowski, it all unravelled. Renger van der Zande, in Hour 5, was clattered hard at Turn 1 by a hard-charging Albuquerque in the No. 22 United ORECA, just before Brundle was installed for the end.

After the spin, Brundle climbed aboard and lost further time due to the driver door opening while he was out on track, multiple times. Then to make matters worse, the race officials handed the team a four-minute stop and hold for a tire allocation infringement, dropping the Polish team from a podium place to a distant ninth in class.

Racing Team Nederland was also competitive in the first half of the race, courtesy of yet another signature charge from Geido van der Garde, who snatched the lead on the opening lap and tried to gap the field. As is often the case, Frits van Eerd later in the race was unable to keep pace with the Silver drivers in the field, and the team dropped back. But a fifth-place finish and a win in the Pro/Am category was a well-deserved outcome.

Another stellar performance by Ben Keating lifted TF Sport’s Aston Martin Vantage AMR to the GTE Am class win. Motorsport Images

GTE Am saw a heroic effort from Ben Keating set up a TF Sport victory. The Texan, as he has been in the past in Bahrain, was the class of the Bronze drivers in the field, keeping the team in contention while he burned through his drive time early in the race in among higher-ranked company. His efforts meant that Felipe Fraga and Dylan Pereira were able to take control to the flag.

“I’m really proud of the TF Sport team; we didn’t qualify that well, but we had a better race car,” he said after his stint. “Our car isn’t very good at getting the peak out of the tire for one lap, but as long as you take care of them you can do decent times at the end of the stint.”

In the final hour, Matt Campbell was on a charge and looked in with a shot at snatching the win for Dempsey Proton after a quiet outing in the No. 77. But his pace against Fraga wasn’t quite quick enough to reel the Brazilian in and make the pass before the end. Campbell crossed the line just five seconds back.

Third on the road was Team Project 1 after Matteo Cairoli was involved in a lengthy battle with Marcos Gomes in the No. 98 Aston Martin at the end of Hour 5. In the end Cairoli was able to take third from the Aston crew, which had been in and around the podium places for the entire six hours.

For the Am championship leaders in the No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari, it was a tough outing in which all three drivers struggled for outright pace. Francois Perrodo, Nicklass Nielsen and Alessio Rovera finished fifth. This puts TF Sport firmly in the battle for the title heading into the finale, as Tom Ferrier’s drivers are just 21.5 points off now.

Elsewhere in the hotly contested Am class, on a day in which the Vantage AMR appeared to be the car to have, the D’Station Racing Vantage had a hugely disappointing outing, finishing 11th.

After leading the race in the opening stint following an astonishing drive from 10th to the lead by Tomonobo Fujii, the team’s chances of victory were dashed when the engine cover blew off, before the team was forced to bring the car in for a long bout of repairs to the front end.

The season finale of the 2021 season is set to take place next weekend with an eight-hour race in Bahrain, in which the drivers will be racing into the night.

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