WEC title battles on the line in Bahrain finale

Photo courtesy of Porsche

WEC title battles on the line in Bahrain finale

Le Mans/WEC

WEC title battles on the line in Bahrain finale

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The FIA World Endurance Championship closes its season this weekend, and the teams and drivers that form the 37-car entry for the 8 Hours of Bahrain on Saturday include a handful of changes since the last race at Fuji.

In Hypercar, there are five cars listed, with the pair of entries from Toyota and Peugeot joined one final time by Alpine’s grandfathered A480. In terms of driver changes, Nico Mueller jumps to the No. 94 Peugeot 9X8 from the LMP2-class No. 10 VectorSport ORECA, in place of James Rossiter who has left the team to take up a Formula E team principal role.

The real story in Hypercar this weekend, however, is the title battle. Alpine’s crew is set to go head to head with the No. 8 Toyota trio of Brendon Hartley, Ryo Hirakawa and Sebastien Buemi. It really is all to play for, as the two crews head into the final on 121 points apiece, with two wins during the season. The No. 7 Toyota sits third on 95 points.

Can Alpine steal the show with its grandfathered A480? Motorsport Images

While there are no championship implications for Peugeot as its season didn’t get underway with its new car until after Le Mans, a strong result here would do the team a world of good heading into the 2023 season, which promises to be extremely competitive with the addition of multiple new manufacturers.

In terms of BoP, Peugeot has received a break for this weekend — the 9X8s will now run at a minimum weight of 1049 kg (2313 lbs), marking a 12 kg reduction from the configuration last time out.

Elsewhere, the Toyotas will have a 4 kW decrease across top power levels along with a 4-megajoule reduction in maximum stint energy, while Alpine’s A480 Gibson has been handed a 4 kW power increase and 11 MJ boost in maximum stint energy.

In the 14-car LMP2 class, the promotion of Mueller to the top class means that Renger van der Zande jumps into the VectorSport ORECA seat.

The No. 44 ARC Bratislava lineup, meanwhile, features Mathias Beche and Richard Bradley alongside Miroslav Konopka. Beche rejoins the team after racing in the No. 44 at both Sebring and Monza. For Bradley, it is a return to the WEC (aside from Le Mans), for the first time since 2016.

Elsewhere, with no DTM clash, Rene Rast returns to WRT in the No. 31 ORECA, which won last time out in Japan.

GTE Pro, like the Hypercar class, will be one to keep a close eye on this weekend, as it is the final race of the category in the FIA WEC. GTE Pro will be replaced by a single GTE category for Am entrants only next year ahead of the championship’s adoption of GT3 in 2024.

For the final GTE race, the five-car field remains untouched in terms of entries, however Nick Tandy will drive the No. 64 Corvette for what looks set to be his final race for the American manufacturer. The former Porsche factory man’s 2023 commitments are yet to be formally confirmed. Corvette, on the other hand, has confirmed that it will continue to compete in the FIA WEC as part of the GTE field in 2023. Ben Keating and Nicky Catsburg have been confirmed as the first two drivers for the program.

Another change of note is the livery of the two factory Porsches, which will compete sporting tribute liveries (pictured, top). Both cars will feature the colors carried by the factory Porsches across the decade of GTE Pro competition the Porsche Motorsport design language through to the Le Mans winning “Pink Pig” tribute. On the windscreen, the windscreen shade banners will carry “goodbye.”

The 16 class victories achieved since 2013 are also recognized on the rear fenders of the cars with the names of each driver from the decade of racing remembered on the roof together with the word “goodbye” in the national language of the world championship venues where the 911 RSR raced.

“The season finale in Bahrain evokes a lot of emotion for the whole team,” said Alexander Stehlig, director of Factory Motorsport for the WEC, ahead of the final appearance of the 911 RSR works squad. “In recent years, the mechanics, engineers and drivers have experienced many highlights in the GTE-Pro class. Our Porsche 911 RSR was always one of the most distinctive, popular and successful racing cars in the fiercely contested manufacturer team category. As this great program comes to an end, we’d like to add another highlight — in both a sporting and optical sense. I think we’ve created the perfect design. It is the ideal combination of modern styles and historic colors.”

As for AF Corse, Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado are searching for the GTE Pro title and AF Corse’s 31st GTE Pro victory in the FIA WEC. The duo have 120 points to their names and are 11 points clear of Porsche pair Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen in the standings.

The BoP for the class has also been tweaked for its final FIA WEC race. Ferrari’s 488 GTE Evo, along with the Corvette C8.R, have received power reductions. It has had a turbo boost decrease and a 1-liter reduction in its fuel capacity. The ’Vette. meanwhile will run with a 0.4mm smaller air restrictor and 1-liter increase in fuel capacity. No changes have been made to the Porsche 911 RSR-19.

In GTE-Am’s BoP, both the Ferrari and Aston Martin Vantage GTE have been hit with turbo boost and fuel capacity reductions, with the Aston also gaining 8 kg in base weight. As a result, the championship-leading No. 33 TF Sport Aston will run at a weight of 1267 kg (2793 lbs), when factoring in success ballast, compared to title rivals Paul Dalla Lana, David Pittard and Nicki Thiim whose Northwest AMR entry will run 10 kg lighter. The gap in points between the two crews is 20 points heading into the race. The heaviest GTE-Am car at Bahrain will be the No. 77 Dempsey-Proton 911, which will compete with a weight of 1289 kg (2842 lbs).

As for driver changes in the class the No. 56 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR-19 sees Ben Barnicoat joined by Americans Phillip (PJ) Hyett and Gunnar Jeannette. The pair are set to join IMSA for a full 2023 season with their new AO Racing effort in the GTD class with a new Porsche 911 GT3R. It will be Hyett’s WEC debut with Jeannette returning to WEC competition for the first time since Sebring in 2019 when he raced a Larbre Competition Ligier JS P217 LMP2 car.

The FIA WEC season finale on Saturday is set to get underway at 2:00pm local time in Bahrain. The post-season rookie test will then take place on Sunday, with many interesting names set to take part.

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