Toyota wins final race of the season. Porsche says goodbye to WEC racing

The final hurrah of the Porsche 919 Hybrid was dented by Toyota’s determination to outscore their German rivals in the number of victories this season, which they did by scoring the fifth win in Bahrain to end the season on a high. Porsche returned to Le Mans with a car worthy of the overall victory in 2014 after a 16-year hiatus, and it promptly went on to bag three consecutive world titles (manufacturers’ and drivers’) and three Le Mans victories, albeit making the best out of Toyota’s misfortune, especially in 2016. This page of sports car racing history was to have its last lines written this weekend at the final round of the FIA WEC – The Six Hours of Bahrain.

The track in the middle of the desert posed nearly unique challenges in terms of tire management, but Porsche was confident they could score a farewell victory, which would have brought their total tally to a record-breaking 18. Audi, mind you, have gathered 17 between 2012 and 2016 and that’s exactly how much Porsche got between 2014 and 2016. Toyota, meanwhile, had gathered 15 and had the ability to get the 16th in Bahrain, thus derailing Porsche’s final WEC gig. The two teams were, roughly, on equal terms, so who got it?

It wasn’t a matter of championships being decided, at least not in LMP1, since Porsche got the job done with races to spare so, at the top, it was just about the last installment of the Porsche vs. Toyota duel. Lower down the order, however, there was very much still to play for as titles were undecided in LMP2, GTE-Pro, and GTE-Am.

Continue reading for the full story.

Toyota to continue in 2018

Toyota just announced their commitment to the 2018-2019 super season that will start next May

Now that we know how the stage was set, let me tell you a little bit about what’s to come. First of all, Toyota just announced their commitment to the 2018-2019 super season that will start next May at Spa-Francorchamps. And here’s the even juicier part: Fernando Alonso took part on Sunday in the annual “Rookie test” that brings potential new-comers into FIA WEC machinery and his car of choice was the Toyota!

He’s said a number of times before that he aims to participate at Le Mans and now, with Toyota confirming their plans for the near future, we might just see the two-times F1 World Champion tackle the WEC – if there won’t be clashes with his F1 commitments (and Indy?).

Now that I’ve said all this, you’re probably wondering if Toyota will just walk away with all the silverware since they will be the only team running with a hybrid car. Indeed, as I’ve said before, the hybrid cars will always be more efficient than the all-petrol P1 cars but, the rule-makers say, next year, things will be much more even-steven between the non-hybrid and the hybrid cars so I don’t think that it will be all that easy for Team Toyota Gazoo Racing. Indeed, we’ve seen announcements and already an unveiling of a privateer all-petrol car, the BR Enginneering prototype for SMP Racing (and not only). We will also witness the launch of the Ginetta LMP1 car at the Autosport International Show next January (Dragonspeed and Manor Racing interested in that at the moment) and, also, AER presented their LMP1 engine this week as well and it’s quite something.

Qualifying

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The No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid went on to start from pole position with an average of 1:39,383

Now, back to the desert of Bahrain and the final qualifying session of 2017. Porsche’s Neel Jani and Nick Tandy were the ones to beat in P1 and, since no one rose to challenge them, the No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid went on to start from pole position with an average of 1:39,383. Toyota’s Mike Conway and Jose-Maria Lopez were second in the No. 7 TS050 with a 1:39.646 average, just ahead of the No. 2 Porsche, which came short with a 1:40.011 average.

Down in LMP2, championship rivals in the No. 31 and No. 38 ORECAs were beaten by the No. 36 Alpine, which managed a 1:47.227 average by Andre Negrao and Gustavo Menezes. Jarvis and Laurent were second in the “Mighty 38” with a 1:47,612 combined lap time while Senna and Prost were third thanks to a a 1:47,721. G-Drive, Manor and TDS Racing followed suit in the basically spec P2 class.

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Usual suspects Ferrari and Aston Martin took poles in GTE-Pro and GTE-Am

Usual suspects Ferrari and Aston Martin took poles in the GTE-Pro and GTE-Am classes, respectively, with Rigon and Bird quickest for AF Corse aboard the No. 71 Ferrari with an almost perfect (both drivers within one hundredth of a second) average of 1:56,033. Meanwhile, Paul Dalla-Lana had to be the quickest Am driver to give himself and Pedro Lamy another pole in the retiring no. 98 Vantage. I say retiring as that was going to be the last race for a car which finds its roots in the 2008 GT2 model. AMR and Prodrive prepare a new Vantage for 2018.

LMP1

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Toyota won the final episode of their season-long duel with Porsche aided by their superior pace

Toyota won the final episode of their season-long duel with Porsche aided by their superior pace and, as well, by lady luck. First of all, Toyota’s update on their high-downforce package helps them bridge the gap to Porsche whose decision to wait on the release of their own setup helped them in the second half of the season. This is why the No. 1 and the No. 2 cars were superior on pure pace and why Porsche had to “roll the dice” on strategy, as Neel Jani puts it. An aggressive strategy also proved imperative after Timo Bernhard lost time with just 15 minutes elapsed of the six hours when a bollard got stuck within elements of the floor area at the front. This required an unscheduled stop to change the nose which took the car out of the fight for victory.

Left with only the No. 1 machine of Andre Lotterer, Nick Tandy and Neel Jani, Porsche gave it all. The Swiss first lost his pole-earned lead in the early part of the race, before the end of the first hour. In the second stint, Jani left the wheel to Nick Tandy but the Briton’s pace wasn’t on par with that of the sister Toyotas and he’d lost some half a minute by the time he deserted his 919.

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Team Gazoo Racing froze the development of their 2018/2019 contender due to lack of proper competition

However, a crash for Kamui Kobayashi with one of the GTE-Pro Porsches, which took out the German car (No. 92 of Micahel Christensen), kept Porsche’s hopes alive as far as the overall victory went). A fuel-only stop just after the race got into its second portion saw Porsche leap ahead of the No. 8 Toyota (while the No. 7 lost six minutes with floor repairs).

All hopes went up like the cloud of sparks which erupted from the contact between the leading Porsche of Tandy and the GTE-Am No. 86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche. The incident happened with less than a couple of hours left to run and it meant that Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima could cruise to a one-lap victory over the No. 2 Porsche of Bernhard, Bamber and Torro Rosso F1 man Brendon Hartley. As for Tandy’s 919? Well, his ambitious attempt at a pass down at Turn 1 resulted in him, Jani and Lotterer finish third overall. Yes, it was a final double podium finish for Porsche but they were looking for a win and that win went to Toyota.

Also, since Toyota will keep being a part of the WEC, it’s almost certain that Porsche and Audi’s record amount of wins will be surpassed with ease by Toyota. It has to be said, though, that Team Gazoo Racing froze the development of their 2018/2019 contender although that shouldn’t affect too much their results against a fleet of brand-new and also arguably slower cars... but it all remains to be seen!

LMP1 Results

Pos. No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Buemi / Davidson / Nakajima Toyota TS050 - Hybrid 199
2 2 Porsche LMP Team Bernhard / Bamber / Hartley Porsche 919 Hybrid 198
3 1 Porsche LMP Team Jani / Lotterer / Tandy Porsche 919 Hybrid 198
4 7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Conway / Kobayashi / Lopez Toyota TS050 - Hybrid 196

LMP2

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LMP2 offered a much wider variety of wheel-to-wheel duels

While we did witness some battles in LMP1, especially early on, LMP2 offered a much wider variety of wheel-to-wheel duels. Alpine led from pole with their No. 36 car as Bruno Senna and Oliver Jarvis fought over P4 in class. The Brazilian won that skirmish but the order was reversed after the first round of pit stops. Jackie Chan DC Racing arrived in Bahrain with a slim four-point advantage ahead of the Vaillante Rebellion crew, a vestige of their once massive forty-points advantage right after Le Mans. It looked like Thomas Laurent, Ho Pin-Tung and Oliver Jarvis were already champions-elect after leaving leaving France but Rebellion Racing kept chipping at their rivals’ lead until it was a matter of who finished ahead in the final race.

After the first trip to the pit lane, Jackie Chan DC Racing went on to create a gap over Vaillante Rebellion as Ho Pin-Tung was comprehensively beating Julien Canal on pace. Jackie Chan’s outfit wasn’t, though, having a dream run as their fuel runs were shorter than those of Team Rebellion so an extra stop had to be made at the end.

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Senna crossed the line with a cushion of only 10 seconds over the “Mighty 38," winning the title

Ultimately, these two cars ended up being the ones fighting for the victory in class and, after the final stop, it was Bruno Senna in the lead with Oliver Jarvis behind. The Briton had newer tires as he got’em at his last stop and, on top of that, Senna was struggling with a failing steering assist system. The Brazilian lost chunks of times while he struggled to reset the system but time ran out on Jarvis and, after six hours, Senna crossed the line with a cushion of only 10 seconds over the “Mighty 38”.

This gave the title to Vaillante Rebellion and drivers Bruno Senna and Julien Canal (Prost missed the Nurburgring round of the championship so he did not gather as many points as his team-mates and missed out on all the glory). Jackie Chan DC Racing missed out on the title by the smallest of margins but one driver in particular from the runner-up crew had something to look forward to. That’s Thomas Laurent who drove on Sunday in the Rookie Test the Toyota TS050. The fastest man in that test wasn’t, however, the 19-year old Frenchman, nor Alonso, but Pietro Fittipaldi who was off a high after winning the final Formula V8 3.5 World Series title.

Top 5 LMP2 Results

Pos. No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 31 Vaillante Rebellion Canal / Prost / Senna Oreca 07 - Gibson 186
2 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Tung / Jarvis / Laurent Oreca 07 - Gibson 186
3 13 Vaillante Rebellion Beche / Heinemeier Hansson / Piquet Jr. Oreca 07 - Gibson 185
4 36 Signatech Alpine Matmut Lapierre / Menezes / Negrao Alpine A470 - Gibson 185
5 25 CEFC Manor TRS Racing Gonzalez / Trummer / Petrov Oreca 07 - Gibson 185

GTE-Pro

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Ford and Porsche never looked like they could challenge Ferrari, which took a 1-2 win

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and Porsche Team Manthey both had a chance at overthrowing Ferrari from the top spot in the driver’s championship if they did well in the final round. It wasn’t to be, though, as the AF Corse 488 GTEs were the strongest in Bahrain and they finished in formation after six hours, No. 71 ahead of the championship-winning No. 51. It was a good day for the race winner as Sam Bird jumped out of the car and, while still helmeted, proposed to his girlfriend. He and David Rigon then went on to celebrate on the podium alongside their team-mates and new champions, James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi.

Ford and Porsche never looked like they could challenge Ferrari and, indeed, Tincknell and Priaulx could do no better than the last step of the podium while Porsche’s Makowiecki and Lietz brought the No. 91 Porsche home in P4. It was an even sadder day for the two Aston-Martin crews in GTE-Pro as No. 97 and No. 95 rounded out the class.

Top 5 LMGTE-Pro Results

Pos. No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 71 AF Corse Rigon / Bird Ferrari 488 GTE 175
2 51 AF Corse Calado / Pier Guidi Ferrari 488 GTE 175
3 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Priaulx / Tincknell Ford GT 174
4 91 Porsche GT Team Lietz / Makowiecki Porsche 911 RSR 174
5 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Mucke / Pla Ford GT 174

GTE-Am

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The No. 98 Aston Martin won the title, also making the Vantage platform the most successful in WEC history

Still, there were many smiles in the AMR camp as Mathias Lauda, Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla-Lana finally achieved what they seemed poised to since the beginning of the WEC (at least for the first two guys). Yes, finally, the No. 98 Aston Martin won the title in GTE-Am, also making the Vantage platform the most successful in WEC history (across all four classes that is).

It was an apparently comfortable win although we did enjoy a beautiful duel between Christian Reid and Mathias Lauda early on in the race, before Lamy and Dalla-Lana got the job done. It was, however, not completely effortless because Clearwater Racing led the way for the first couple of hours and seemed on target for a victory before losing time during the stints of their slowest driver. Ultimately, the Silverstone winners came home second just ahead of the No. 54 Spirit of Race Ferrari and the No. 77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche.

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It was an apparently comfortable win, but we did enjoy a beautiful duel between Christian Reid and Mathias Lauda early on

There are, though, good news concerning the GTE side of things for next year. First of all, BMW will be back with a works team in GTE-Pro that will campaign the new M8 GTE. Also, Porsche is looking to sell its mid-engined 991 to customers and that could mean an increase in GTE-Am runners. Also, Jack Leconte’s Larbre Competition team might return for a last hurrah of the C7.R GTE, although it is unlikely it will ever get the blessing from GM to run a GTE-Pro effort so we will probably see the V8-engined Corvette in GTE-AM once more.

There is, though, a potential cap to be put on the numbers of cars in each class as the FIA look to balance the numbers between the prototypes and the GTs. Honestly, it would be sad if potential teams would be shown the doors due to an imbalance on the grid but we all know how rule-makers are...

LMGTE-Am Results

Pos. No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 98 Aston martin Racing Dalla Lana / Lamy / Lauda Aston Martin V8 Vantage 170
2 61 Clearwater Racing Mok / Sawa / Griffin Ferrari 488 GTE 170
3 54 Spirit of Race Flohr / Castellacci / Molina Ferrari 488 GTE 169
4 77 Dempsey - Proton Racing Reid / Cairoli / Dienst Porsche 911 RSR (991) 169
5 86 Gulf Racing UK Wainwright / Barker / Foster Porsche 911 RSR (991) 163

Full results

Check out the full results from Bahrain. http://fiawec.alkamelsystems.com/Results/07_2017/09_BAHRAIN%20INTERNATIONAL%20CIRCUIT/210_FIA%20WEC/201711181600_Race/Hour%206/05_Classification_Race_Hour%206.PDF

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