Toyota take the spoils at Bahrain season finale

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The #8 Toy­ota TS050 of Sébastien Bue­mi, Kazu­ki Naka­ji­ma and Antho­ny David­son took vic­to­ry at the final race of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Cham­pi­onship, the Six Hours of Bahrain, fin­ish­ing over a lap ahead of the cham­pi­ons-elect Bren­don Hart­ley, Earl Bam­ber and Timo Bern­hard in the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid.

The Porsches got the jump on the pair of the Toy­otas as the six-hour race began, but Sébastien Bue­mi in the #8 car caught and passed the lead Porsche and built up a 20-sec­ond lead by the end of the sec­ond hour with the sis­ter #7 machine in sec­ond.

Con­tact between the #7 car dri­ven by Kamui Kobayashi and the #92 Porsche 911 RSR of Michael Chris­tensen – which saw the #7 car hand­ed a stop/go penal­ty – put the #7 car out of con­tention and left Bue­mi, Naka­ji­ma and David­son to pick up their fifth vic­to­ry of the sea­son and the six­teenth for Toy­ota since WEC began in 2012.

It was a great race,” said Antho­ny David­son. “All three dri­vers, plus the engi­neers and pit crew, deserve cred­it for this. Every­one did a per­fect job this week­end; we hit the ground run­ning and got the tyre choice just right, so a big thanks to the team.”

Porsche failed to secure vic­to­ry in their final appear­ance in LMP1, with the Toy­otas appear­ing to just have the edge on long-stint pace around the 5.4km Bahrain Inter­na­tion­al Cir­cuit. “The start was good and at the begin­ning we could more or less match the pace of the Toy­otas,” said Neel Jani, “but as soon as we were in traf­fic, they just had this lit­tle bit more than us and over the dis­tance we had to let them go.”

Porsche dri­vers Bren­don Hart­ley, Earl Bam­ber and Timo Bern­hard had already tak­en the dri­vers’ title at the pre­vi­ous race in Shang­hai, but their third-place fin­ish meant they only failed to fin­ish on the podi­um on one occa­sion in 2017 (Fuji). The Porsche 919 Hybrid era has now come to an end after 17 race wins, three Le Mans vic­to­ries and three World Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ Cham­pi­onships.

GTE Pro pro­vid­ed the nose-to-tail bat­tles we are accus­tomed to, but with the added spice of a world cham­pi­onship title being on the line. The con­tenders were the #51 AF Corse Fer­rari 488 of James Cal­a­do and Alessan­dro Pier Gui­di, the #67 Ford GT of Andy Pri­aulx and Har­ry Tinck­nell and the #91 Porsche 911 RSR of Richard Lietz and Frédéric Makowiec­ki. The #71 AF Corse Fer­rari of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird led off the line, but the #67 Ford of Andy Pri­aulx and then Har­ry Tinck­nell was in hot pur­suit and actu­al­ly passed the Fer­rari for the lead just before the two-hour mark – a result that would have hand­ed the Ford dri­vers the world title.

How­ev­er, as the race pro­gressed, the ulti­mate pace of the pair of Fer­raris began to tell, and by the halfway stage the #51 car held the race lead ahead of the chas­ing Ford. Despite the Ford bat­tling hard, the Fer­raris were able to extend their lead, with Cal­a­do and Pier Gui­di fin­ish­ing sec­ond behind Rigon and Bird to secure the inau­gur­al FIA World GT Dri­vers’ Cham­pi­onship.

It looked like we could be in with a chance at the begin­ning but we just didn’t have an answer for the Fer­raris today,” Pri­aulx said. “We had good tyre degra­da­tion but we just didn’t have enough speed. Hav­ing said that I’ve had a great race. I real­ly enjoyed my three stints and man­aged to make some good pass­es. We’ve had a bril­liant sea­son: two wins, sec­ond at Le Mans and fought to the very end of the cham­pi­onship.”

The pair of GT Porsches appeared to strug­gle in the Bahrai­ni heat, with the teams’ for­tunes com­pound­ed by the #92 car’s retire­ment after con­tact with a Toy­ota LMP1 car. The #91 of Lietz and Makowiec­ki fin­ished fourth to secure sec­ond place in the dri­vers’ title.

Anoth­er title bat­tle that went to the wire was in LMP2. Anoth­er top­sy-turvy race end­ed with vic­to­ry for the #31 Vail­lante Rebel­lion crew of Bruno Sen­na, Julien Canal and Nico­las Prost – hand­ing Sen­na and Canal the dri­vers’ title in the process. Sen­na and Canal had led the dri­vers’ title by four points going in to the final round, know­ing that they would have to bet­ter the result of the chas­ing #38 Jack­ie Chan DC Rac­ing car of Oliv­er Jarvis, Thomas Lau­rent and Ho-Pin Tung to be in with any chance of tak­ing the cham­pi­onship.

The #25 CEFC Manor TRS Rac­ing Ore­ca took a sur­prise ear­ly lead in the race after a strong first stint by for­mer F1 dri­ver Vitaly Petrov, but the #31 and #13 Vail­lante Rebel­lions and #38 Jack­ie Chan DC Rac­ing Ore­cas were nev­er too far behind and made their class tell as the race pro­gressed. The LMP2 bat­tle was on a knife-edge going into the final few hours, with the #31 car hold­ing a 45-sec­ond advan­tage over the chas­ing #38 but suf­fer­ing from a com­plete loss of pow­er steer­ing.

With the car evi­dent­ly extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to dri­ve, Bruno Sen­na was los­ing time hand over fist to the hard-charg­ing Oliv­er Jarvis. In the end, the Brazil­ian crossed the line just 10 sec­onds ahead of the Brit to take the title.

Vic­to­ry and title hon­ours in GTE Am went to the #98 Aston Mar­tin Rac­ing crew of Paul Dal­la Lana, Math­ias Lau­da and Pedro Lamy after four years of try­ing. “To describe the feel­ing of win­ning this cham­pi­onship in one word… final­ly!” said Dal­la Lana. “I’ve seen Nic­ki and Mar­co enjoy this moment last year and Dar­ren, Jon­ny and Daniel at Le Mans this year, so I can appre­ci­ate what they went through because this real­ly is com­plete and total sat­is­fac­tion.”

Dal­la Lana, Lamy and Lau­da took the race vic­to­ry by just two sec­onds ahead of the #61 Clear­wa­ter Rac­ing Fer­rari of Griffin/Mok/Sawa, giv­ing the Aston Mar­tin Van­tage V8 the send-off it deserved in its final WEC appear­ance.

Images © Tom Kerdijk / WEC-Mag­a­zin