The #7 Toyota TS040 of Mike Conway, Stéphane Sarrazin and Alex Wurz leads the 6 Hours of Bahrain at the halfway mark, but drama has hit the championship-leading #8 car. The #20 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Timo Bernhard is in second, with the #2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro rounding out the top three.
The #14 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Romain Dumas led off round 7 of the FIA World Endurance Championship in Bahrain from pole, with Brendon Hartley in the #20 car getting the jump on second-placed #8 Toyota into turn one from third on the grid. Despite making the early running, the Porsches were quickly challenged at the head of the field by both Toyotas, and Sébastian Buemi in the #8 car duly took the lead on lap three. In LMP1-L, the two Rebellions were left unchallenged after the #9 Lotus CLM P1/01 stopped on the track on lap one with an as-yet-unidentified problem.
There was drama in the LMP2 championship battle on lap one, with one championship contender, the #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier JS P2 Nissan driven by Olivier Pla, making contact with the #37 SMP Racing Oreca 03 Nissan of Kyril Ladygin on the run out of turn three. A broken right rear wishbone forced the G-Drive car into the pits, where it lost around six minutes on the rest of the LMP2 field. The KCMG Oreca 03 Nissan of Richard Bradley leads in LMP2 at the halfway, having made up some 30 seconds on the early leader, the #27 SMP Racing car, in the cooler conditions of the past hour.
In GTE, the pole-sitting #97 Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage drive by Darren Turner was beaten to turn one by the second-placed #51 Ferrari 458 of Gianmaria Bruni. The pair then quickly built a substantial lead as the rest of the GTE pack squabbled among themselves. The two factory Porsche 911 RSRs put a disappointing qualifying behind them and showed good pace over the course of a stint. The #91 and #92 cars made it a Porsche 1-2 at the head of the GTE Pro field after the first pit stops, with the #51 Ferrari and suffering from harder tyre wear. So far it’s been a game of cat-and-mouse, with the #97 Aston Martin entry proving much quicker towards the end of the stint.
The #71 Ferrari of Davide Rigon leads at the halfway stage, although he is yet to make his third stop. Richard Lietz in the #91 Porsche 911 RSR is in second, 14 seconds behind, with Stefan Mücke in the #97 Aston Martin 20 seconds further back, having jumped the #51 Ferrari of Toni Vilander during the third round of stops.
A full-course yellow to remove debris at various locations around the track put the cat among the pigeons in LMP1. The #14 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Romain Dumas was the only car of the front-runners not to take advantage of the 80km/h on-track speed limit and pit for tyres and fuel. With the #14 out of kilter on pit stops, it’s still unclear whether it was the right strategic call.
After the first pit stops on lap 17, the two Toyotas made good their escape from the rest of the LMP1 field, building a lead of around half a minute on the Porsches. Surprisingly, it was the Audi R18 e-tron quattros that proved to have the pace over a single lap, with both Marcel Fässler and André Lotterer in the #2 car and Lucas di Grassi in the #1 setting a string of fastest laps throughout the first half of the race. Lotterer’s 1.46.126 remains the fastest of the race so far, but the Audis continue to trail the Porsches and Toyotas after three hours.
The LMP1 battle was then turned on its head on lap 57, with the championship-leading #8 car of Anthony Davidson and Sébastian Buemi pitting after just ten laps of Davidson’s first stint. It was soon clear that the problem was of a serious nature, with the TS040 reversed into the garage. An alternator issue ended up costing the #8 some 30 minutes in the pits, putting it dead last in the field. The goal now for the championship leaders will be to complete 75% of the race distance and hope that the only other championship contender, the #2 Audi, fails to win the race. The Audi must win to take the drivers’ title to the final round in Sao Paulo.
Image source: WEC-Magazin / David Tunnicliffe