In Porsche LMP1 Team‘s last race of the World Endurance Championship, they would have liked nothing more than to end with a one-two, having secured pole position yesterday. But it was not meant to be and they had to settle for a double podium whilst Toyota Gazoo Racing claimed their fifth victory of the season. It was a close call at the end of the race, with strategy playing a big part in LMP2, but Bruno Senna and Julien Canal managed to claim the LMP2 Endurance Trophy and the class victory with Nicolas Prost in the 6 Hours of Bahrain. GTE Pro had been a tight battle at the start of the race, but as the hours ticked by AF Corse pulled out an advantage, taking a one-two and the second victory of the season for Sam Bird and Davide Rigon. However, the glory was also shared in the other side of the paddock as James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi claimed the first GTE Driver’s Championship that recognises them as champions of the world. After four years of trying and twelve race victories, the #98 Aston Martin Racing Am car finally claimed the Am Endurance Trophy they have been fighting for, signing off the year with a class win.
Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson were the only trio to have had an incident-free race in the LMP1 class, that is if you ignore Davidson breaking his toe in a rush to climb aboard the car during it’s Full Course Yellows’ stop. Excluding that incident, the race was trouble-free and the dominate pace they had over the Porsche left them as the only car on the lead lap when the chequered flag fell.
Porsche could do nothing to steal the victory, but the 919 Hybrid celebrated a double podium in its final race. The championship winning #2 crew of Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber had their chance of victory stolen early on in the race when, in the opening few laps, Bernhard got one of the track bollards stuck under his car. He had to pit to remove the debris, leaving him a stop extra and 1m20s off the leading trio before the first ten minutes had passed.
The two Toyotas were fighting at the front of the lead of the race when disaster struck for the #7. Being in the lead, Kamui Kobayashi was was passing through traffic when he judged it wrong in passing the #92 Porsche GT Team and making the GTE car the sole retiree of the race. Trying to make the move on the inside, Kobayashi did not leave enough room, making contact with the #92 at Turn 2. The #7 had to pit for brief repairs that dropped it two laps down. Late on in the race a stop/go penalty for the incident cemented their chances of a final podium of the season as impossible.
It was a brilliant start from the #31 Vaillante Rebellion team who, in the first dew laps, came from sixth to place third on the grid. Their pace was good in the setting sun, and they were challenging for second with determination. The best start came from Vitaly Petrov in the #25 CEFC Manor TRS Racing who jumped to the lead of the class and was able to hold it for the first hour and a half.
However, as the race progressed, the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing crew came back into the light, reminding everyone why they have been leading the LMP2 championship for the majority of the season. It looked like it was their race until we went into the final hour. Oliver Jarvis was in the car, and with the pit cycles they looked like they could end with a small but enough of an advantage over the Rebellion duo. It was at this stage that the race changed; Jarvis took an unexpected ‘splash and dash’ fuel stop.
This gave the #31 Rebellion a much bigger window to pit in and retain the lead. Not wanting to take any chances and Senna claiming that although he believed there was a power steering issue he was OK to continue, the team triple stinted their final set of tyres taking a short, fuel only stop. With a crack in their fuel tank affecting their pace, Jarvis could do nothing to close down the gap enough to take the win, meaning the #31 crew took victory and the title by ten seconds. It was a good end to the season for the Rebellion team as the sister #13 car rounded off the podium, giving them a 1-3 to finish their season on.
Team orders to switch the cars at the end of the race saw Bird and Rigon take victory in the GTE Pro class. There appeared to be no real need to swap the cars, but according to AF Corse they had sacrificed the #71’s strategy earlier on in the race so it was only fair to allow them the race victory they predicted they would have had if they had not mess with the strategy. Bird and Rigon had dominated the first two hours of the race, looking to have the consistency to easily take it to the flag, but a Full Course Yellow for the taken-out #92 Porsche came at the wrong time for them. Having just pit, the car when from leading by 20 seconds to being down the order, 30 seconds off the leader.
There had been a moment where it had looked like the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car was going to come from behind and steal the title on the last race. A 7.5 point gap was all that was between the two cars when it came to race day, and when Andy Priaulx was a comfortable first with the #51 down in third, there were enough points between them to give the #67 the title. But a slow pit stop towards the end of the race saw them lose 30 seconds on their competitors and end up third, but over a minute behind the leaders with only 15 minutes on the clock. It was a shame for the team who have lead most of the GTE Drivers’ World Endurance Championship this season, but a solace that they, at least, got to end their last race on the podium.
However, the Am Aston Martin crew excelled in their final race of the season. Having tried and failed for the last four years of the series to claim the title, Mathias Lauda, Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla Lana took the top step of Am and the Am Endurance Trophy at the end of the final six0hour endurance race of this season. After a slow start where the #61 Clearwater Racing looked like it might have the edge to take the top step of the podium, the Aston Martin trio jumped on the pace, ending with a dominant 1m17s lead. The two Ferraris joined the Aston Martin on the final podium of the year. Dempsey-Proton Racing never looked to be much of a challenge for the Aston Martin crew this weekend, and ended up finishing fourth. After a climactic last few races between the two teams it was a shame to see the championship not end in an ‘edge-of-your-seat’ style battle. The #86 Gulf Racing finished bottom of the grid after contact with the #1 Porsche just after the halfway mark of the race.