Toyota Gazoo Racing’s No. 8 GR010 HYBRID of Brendon Hartley, Ryo Hirakawa and Sebastien Buemi claimed the Hypercar World Endurance drivers’ dhampionship by cruising to a second-place finish in the 2022 FIA WEC season finale in Bahrain.
The trio, who were level on points heading into the race meeting with Alpine Elf Team’s trio of Andre Negrao, Matthieu Vaxiviere and Nicolas Lapierre, finished behind the sister No. 7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez, who led a 1-2 for the team and scored their second win of the season and their first since Spa.
“The team did a great job. We had a 1-2 in the end and won the team title and the No. 8 won the championship,” summed up No. 7 driver and team principal Kobayashi.
For Toyota, it was a relatively comfortable formation finish, which came after the No. 8 led early before the No. 7 came to the fore and took the lead with just under five hours remaining in the race. The pair ran to the finish unchallenged after the opening stint, claiming some significant milestones. Notably, Hartley becomes the first driver to win a world championship in the top class of the FIA WEC with two different marques (his previous having come with Porsche) and Hirakawa takes the crown in his debut season.
The gap in the points to the Alpine trio was just five points in the end, though in the manufacturers’ championship went Toyota’s way by 42 points.
Alpine — in what was a fine season competing with a single grandfathered LMP1 car — didn’t have the pace in Bahrain, and finished a distant third, two laps off the lead. The team didn’t have the pace today and as a result had a quiet race, finishing up so close but yet so far to claim a shock championship win. It was nevertheless a memorable swansong for its A480 Gibson which will now be retired, fully ending the LMP1 era.
As for Peugeot, the French marque’s 9X8s looked strong enough on pace to challenge Toyota early in the race, but mechanical woes let them down again. The No. 94 was the only one of the two to finish, though it was fourth, six laps off the winners and delayed by the need for a system reset. The sister No. 93 car, meanwhile, was the first to hit trouble in the second hour of the race, when Paul di Resta stopped at Turn 1 with gearbox issues. It managed to limp back to the pits eventually, but not before a full-course yellow period was called. It eventually retired after 171 laps.
“We had a bit of a shutdown –we had to reset the car. It’s a shame. But this is why we are here, to test durability. We will take lots from it, we have a lot to learn still,” di Resta said after the first issue. He is right — there is plenty of work to do if Peugeot is to challenge for wins and go the distance in the longer races next season, against what looks to be a significantly larger field.
Ferrari perseveres to final GTE Pro crown
The other classes provided plenty of action in this season finale. Of the three other categories, it was GTE Pro — in the category’s final outing — that provided the most drama, particularly in the closing stages.
Let’s begin with class winners, the No. 52 AF Corse Ferrari duo of Antonio Fuoco and Miguel Molina, who scored their first race win of the season. They were not in the fight for the drivers’ title on this occasion, but helping their sister car win the overall title, claiming second place in the standings and Ferrari to secure the manufacturers’ title provided plenty of motivation for a strong performance. And they delivered just that.
Even so, winning their third world championship required nothing short of a herculean effort from the No. 51 pairing of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi under the floodlights in Bahrain. The duo were forced to nurse their No. 51 488 GTE EVO to the finish after a major gearbox issue cropped up in the final two hours.
Prior to that issue, the No. 51 appeared to be set to cruise to the title, as an early FCY enabled them to claim a comfortable lead, gaining time by pitting under the caution period after their main competitors stopped just before it began. The No. 51 controlled the race until the second half, when AF Corse opted to move the No. 52 into the lead via team orders to help it claim second in the standings.
But these best-laid plans from the Italian outfit unraveled fast as Calado was spotted running slowly and complaining of a gearbox issue shortly after getting in for his final stint.
Disaster for the Ferrari #51 as James Calado is reporting gearbox issues. @Ale_PierGuidi is now at the wheel and running P4 in class. Are the championship hopes over for the 2021 champions?#WEC #8HBahrain @FerrariRaces pic.twitter.com/ZBk3RZ93VA
— FIA World Endurance Championship (@FIAWEC) November 12, 2022
After last season’s title finale saw late controversial drama that swung the result from Porsche to AF Corse, this time it looked like the opposite was going to happen. The gearbox issue appeared terminal initially, as the car sounded extremely unhealthy, was losing chunks of time each lap and slipped down the order to last, with Calado forced to improvise as the car struggled on. Pier Guidi then had to take over for the run to the flag, and was able to manage the issue and bring it home.
“This is our life,” an emotional Calado said after the race. “We do everything we can for this. The car was fine when I jumped in, and I heard a funny noise on fourth gear. Then we didn’t have any gears and we were stuck in fifth. I thought it was over, but we didn’t give up and we are three times world champion.”
Coming home second in class was the No. 64 Corvette, which enjoyed a surprise run to the podium after struggling for pace throughout practice and qualifying and the opening portion of the eight hours. Tommy Milner and Nick Tandy drove a calculated race and also benefited from the same FCY as the No. 51 early in the race, which allowed them to battle their way to a podium finish.
“That was definitely a lot better than we were anticipating!” said Milner. “It’s great to be back on the podium in the last race of the year and the last GTE Pro race. It’s a little bittersweet.
“If you look at our season as a whole, we had a great year. There was still a lot to be had. If Le Mans had gone the way it was going for us, Nick and I would be world champions as drivers, so that’s a bit of a bummer. But that’s racing. I’m happy to end this class on a high note and be back on the podium for Corvette Racing.”
Porsche, which started the race from pole position with its No. 91 car, faded in this one, both cars struggling with tire degradation and unable to keep pace as the temperatures around the circuit dropped. As a result, the German marque was unable to capitalize on the misfortune that struck the No. 51 crew, and finished up third and fourth, with no titles to show for their efforts. A splash of fuel for the No. 91 on the final lap at least promoted the No. 92 to third in the race and second in the standings. That will be a disappointing result for the team, which will be out for revenge next season when both manufacturers move up to the Hypercar category.
WRT wins LMP2, as JOTA takes title
LMP2 was another topsy-turvy encounter, with WRT’s No. 31 of Sean Gelael, Robin Frijns and Rene Rast taking a commanding win by 49 seconds over the No. 23 United Autosports ORECA, both cars ending the season on a high but unable to beat JOTA’s “Mighty 38” to the title. All the No. 38 crew of Antonio Felix da Costa, Roberto Gonzalez and Will Stevens needed was a sixth-place finish to secure the title — so third place today made for a comfortable win in what was a quiet but confident run. The team rose steadily up the order, moving up to third at the very end when the PREMA team had to pit for a splash-and-go with five minutes left.
It completed a hugely impressive run of consistency for the No. 38 trio this year. They claimed just one victory — at Le Mans — but a streak of five top-three finishes after the season opener at Sebring where they finished sixth, was the key to this title.
PREMA took fourth on the road in Bahrain, ahead of the No. 41 Realteam by WRT ORECA that completed the top five.
Further down the order, a 10th-place finish in class by the No. 83 AF Corse ORECA secured the Pro Am title for Nicklas Nielsen, Francois Perrodo and Alessio Rovera, who claimed their fourth Pro Am win of the season in the process and another title-winning success for Bronze-rated Perrodo, who now has fourth titles under his belt in WEC competition after GTE Am wins in 2016, 2019-20 and 2021.
Keating and Sorensen raise the crown in GTE Am
GTE Am’s title went the way of TF Sport’s Ben Keating and Marco Sorensen, in what was TF Sport’s first WEC title win after two consecutive second-place finishes in the standings for Tom Ferrier’s team. Interestingly, Sorensen becomes the only driver in WEC history to win GTE Am and Pro titles with this result.
The duo — along with Henrique Chaves, who didn’t compete in every race and therefore missed out on a title — finished just off the podium in fourth, but crucially ahead of their title rivals in the No. 98 Northwest AMR Vantage of Nicki Thiim, Paul Dalla Lana and David Pittard, who took fifth. A string of bad results cost the No. 98 this season. After claiming a win in Sebring and podiums at Spa and Le Mans, two fifth places and an eighth in the second half of the season cost them dearly.
Up front, the Iron Dames Ferrari looked like the favorite to win this one, but Team Project 1’s Porsches slowly crept up the order and took control, claiming a 1-2 finish and leaving the all-Female Ferrari third.
The No. 46 Project 1 911 RSR 19 finished first, after strong drives from Mikkel Pedersen, Matteo Cairoli and Nicolas Leutwiler, while Ben Barnicoat snatched second for the sister No. 56 Team Project 1 Porsche in the final moments, muscling past Michelle Gatting. It was a close finish in the end, the top three within 20 seconds of each other.
That’s another FIA WEC season in the books. The championship, sporting a new look in 2023 with no GTE Pro class and what is set to be a bumper Hypecar class with multiple new factory teams, gets back underway with at Sebring next March.