Toyota Gazoo Racing claimed a one-two finish as the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season reached its halfway point at the Bapco 8 Hours of Bahrain on Saturday 15 December.
A crowd of 38,000 people were present at Bahrain International Circuit over the weekend as the country celebrated its Bahrain National Day festivities with a variety of entertainment including popular music artists in the WEC Fan Zone.
The No.7 trio of Mike Conway, José María López and Kamui Kobayashi took their second win of the season and Toyota’s fourth success in Bahrain since 2013.
Mike Conway capitalised on an opening corner incident between front-row starters Rebellion Racing driven by Bruno Senna and Team LNT’s Charlie Robertson after Robertson spun and made contact with pole-sitter Senna.
For Conway, it marked his 10th WEC victory in what was also Toyota’s 60th WEC event.
Afterwards, the No.7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid never looked back as its trio of drivers produced flawless stints to take a conclusive victory which promoted them to the top of the points standings.
Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Kazuki Nakajima took the runners-up position as the trio fought back from a delay on the opening tour avoiding the incident between Senna and Robertson.
Rebellion Racing also came through to take a podium position as Senna, Gustavo Menezes and Norman Nato overhauled the Team LNT Ginettas to stay in relative touch with the Toyotas in the points table.
Team LNT suffered a double retirement after mechanical issues intervened in their race but the British manufacturer took some consolation as Jordan King set the fastest lap of the race.
Maiden WEC win for United Autosports in LMP2
United Autosports took a breakthrough WEC victory in the LMP2 category after Paul Di Resta, Filipe Albuquerque and Phil Hanson took a controlled victory.
Converting their first pole position, earned by Di Resta and Hanson on Friday, the British-entered team were barely challenged as they took a maximum points score from the weekend.
The victory came after the team had shown skill and speed at the three previous rounds at Silverstone, Fuji and Shanghai but had suffered misfortune which compromised chances of a class victory.
Shanghai victors, Antonio Felix da Costa, Anthony Davidson and Roberto Gonzalez took second place in Bahrain for
JOTA to take the lead in the LMP2 standings.
The trio were just unable to mount a bid for victory in the last hour in their Goodyear-shod ORECA-Gibson, despite getting to within 15 seconds of the United Autosports car before the final pit stop.
Completing the podium was the Jackie Chan DC Racing-entered car of Will Stevens, Gabriel Aubry and Ho-Pin Tung. The crew fought back from a difficult opening lap when Tung dropped to the rear of the field.
Double podium for Aston Martin after LMGTE Pro thriller in Bahrain
Bahrain International Circuit saw enthralling on-track battles in the GTE categories for round 4 of FIA WEC – the Bapco 8 Hours of Bahrain.
The LMGTE Pro class provided nose-to-tail race action between Aston Martin Racing and AF Corse Ferrari as both crews swapped position on numerous occasions throughout the eight-hour race. Aston Martin were the overall victors, however, as the No.95 Vantage V8 AMR of Marco Sørensen and Nicki Thiim finished 13.798s ahead of the No.71 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO driven by Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina.
During the race’s closing stages, a stop and go penalty for Ferrari proved monumental as Aston Martin were able to capitalise on its rival’s time penalty to reach the chequered flag first. The win marked Thiim and Sørensen’s second victory together in Bahrain and Thiim’s fourth in the Kingdom.
The No. 97 Aston Martin Vantage driven by Maxime Martin and Alex Lynn crossed the line third in LMGTE Pro, making it a double podium for the British-based team. Meanwhile, the No. 51 AF Corse car driven by James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi claimed fourth – the crew forced to give a position back to the No. 97 crew following an earlier incident.
Meanwhile, Porsche had a difficult race with the No. 91 and No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR – 19 cars were both more than two laps down on the winning crews following lengthy pit stops during the race following damper and puncture issues.
Aston Martin’s dominance in Bahrain sees the marque catapulted to the top of the overall standings – nine points ahead of Porsche with 142 points.
No. 57 Team Project 1 storm to LMGTE victory
Team Project 1’s No.57 Porsche 911 RSR driven by its trio of drivers Ben Keating, Larry ten Voorde and Jeroen Bleekemolen stormed to a dominant victory in the LMGTE Am category.
America’s Keating led the charge after a phenomenal stint behind the wheel, ably supported by ten Voorde and Bleekemolen in the race’s final hours which fell to darkness. Keating’s three hour marathon at the start of the race undoubtedly assisted in the team pitting only seven times – unlike its competitors who averaged eight or nine.
Runner-up in LMGTE Am was the No.98 crew of Paul Dalla Lana, Darren Turner and Ross Gunn after the trio put in a stellar effort to bring the Aston Martin Vantage V8 37.327s behind the winning crew. A further 22.942s behind was the No. 86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR – the team fighting back from a spin and a drive through penalty to secure the final spot on the podium.
AF Corse Ferrari secured fourth and fifth with its pair of Ferrari 488 GTE EVO cars, the No. 83 crew finishing 20.275s ahead of the No. 54 sister car. Rounding out the top six was the No. 77 Dempsey Proton Racing car while its sister No. 88 car was forced to retire mid-race following an off-track excursion at Turn 14.
Seventh place was awarded to the No. 78 MR Racing Ferrari 488 GTE EVO ahead of Red River Sport and the No. 56 Team Project 1 entry.
Round 2 and 3 winners TF Sport were forced to retire in the final hour of the race, the British team taking a 71-minute pit stop earlier in the race as the Aston Martin Vantage AMR suffered both gearbox and fuel-related issues.
What the winners said:
Mike Conway – No.7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid LMP1: “We thought that the Rebellion would have the pace today and the Ginettas as well but, once the incident happened in Turns 1 and 2, and the cars parted, I just got my head down and pulled away.
“I managed to pull quite a nice gap after those first two stints and I was surprised really. It looked like Rebellion were going to come back at some point as they were catching us a little bit but then after about hour three it seemed like they were not going to hinder us too much. We pushed as hard as we could, and it was a great job by my teammates who all did a great job today.”
Marco Sorensen – No.95 Aston Martin Racing Vantage AMR LMGTE Pro: “It was all about managing the tyres today. I wouldn’t say it was fun in the car but it was interesting to see how different the opposition were using the tyres and where you could push and where you couldn’t push.
“There was not one stint where you were not fighting with other cars. Our boys did an amazing job regarding pit stops because I think it was almost every time we came in to the pits with some of the other cars on track that we jumped them [for position]. Strategy was on point; it was on the limit all the time, but in the end, everything worked out to our favour so we’re pretty happy.”
Paul Di Resta – No.22 United Autosports ORECA-Gibson LMP2: “We’ve had a car at most races that could have won a race. This was one race where we wanted to energise our championship, with it being a bit longer and more points on offer. We put ourselves in a good position yesterday [with pole position].
“We managed to control the race although we had a few hiccups in the pits, but at the same time I think everyone gets that in the race. It was just nice to finally get it done before we go into a break now, but hopefully momentum is on our side and we can continue this progress when we get to COTA in a few months.”
Ben Keating – No.57 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR: “We did not expect this for sure but, with the additional points for the longer race, this was an important race for us. We keep getting a little bit better and it was an interesting race. We had the whole strategy worked out to where we would get my two hours and 20 minutes done, but then that would put us with having to do a stop with 15 minutes of the race to go. We didn’t get any of the Full Course Yellows in the first couple of hours that we expected to get.
“So this changed our strategy and I ended up doing a triple stint at the beginning and my pace was good. It was nice to be out front and not to be fighting a bunch of the other GTE Am drivers, and that enabled us to eliminate a stop. We were the only ones in class to do the race on seven stops instead of eight.”
Round 5 of the WEC will take place at COTA, Austin, from 22-23 February 2020.