Toyota wins, but loses championship to Porsche

Toyota brought to China a new update to their aerodynamic package in a last-grasp attempt to push the championship battle all the way to the Bahrain finale, but Porsche’s steady run meant the Japanese fell, yet again, in the “close but no cigar” category – and not for lack of trying. It was strange and — while some blamed pollution for making their vision fuzzy — hard to believe, but after FP2 it started to sink in: Toyota were dominating in Shanghai. And not with half measures – properly!

The No. 7 TS050 of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose-Maria Lopez led every free practice session and then, in qualifying, nobody could topple Conway and Kobayashi. The duo managed a shattering 1:42.832 average, almost half a second quicker than what Andre Lotterer and Neel Jani could achieve aboard the No. 1 Porsche. Toyota’s other car was third, some 0.6 seconds adrift while the other Porsche filled up the second row after a botched run for Earl Bamber who got delayed by a P2 car and then spun on his hot lap.

Continue reading for the full story.

Qualifying

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Bruno Senna and Julien Canal made things even tighter in LMP2 by taking the class pole in the No. 31 Vaillante Rebellion ORECA

Bruno Senna and Julien Canal made things even tighter in LMP2 by taking the class pole in the No. 31 Vaillante Rebellion ORECA. That’s because securing the pole gives you one point which means that, even before the race had gotten underway, the gap between the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing crew and the No. 31 trio was down to nine points. It’s notable that this was the case in LMP1 as well, with the No. 7 Toyota, the title contender in the driver’s championship. Anyway, Senna and Canal’s 1:49.217 average was merely two tenths quicker than that of second-placed G-Drive Racing No. 26 ORECA (Leo Roussel/Nico Mueller). Meanwhile, The "Mighty 38" started the race from fourth in class.

Somewhat unexpectedly, both GTE classes fell in the hands of Aston-Martin Racing

Somewhat unexpectedly, both GTE classes fell in the hands of Aston-Martin Racing. First, in GTE-Pro, it was the Dane Train No. 95 Vantage which was quicker while, more predictably, the No. 98 took pole in GTE-Am. It was the sixth pole of the season for Lamy and Dalla-Lana, the two hoping for a third win in a row in China. They also kept alive a streak of pole positions at the Asian venue.

The Race

Toyota rolled out a new aero update to its high-downforce package for this race

Following Porsche’s announced departure from the FIA WEC, Toyota decided to freeze any development for next year’s car while they weigh in on their options. This allowed the Japanese outfit to roll a new aero update to its high-downforce package which debuted at the opening round, all the way back in March. The improvement was visible in race pace (tire wear and such) and Toyota Gazoo Racing was leading 1-2 at the end of the first stint. However, the No. 8 took new tires besides there being a driver change, so it dropped to third after the stop. The No. 7 also had trouble, Lopez tagging the No. 26 G-Drive LMP2 car 15 laps into the six-hour race.

Porsche was even worse off after 60 minutes with the No. 1 car limping around with throttle problems. The Briton got back underway after rebooting the system, but the car was still a hefty 90 seconds behind the Top 3 after its first scheduled stop. Down in P2, it was the pole-sitting No. 31 which led the way while Porsche grabbed the lead from Aston-Martin in GTE-Pro thanks to the No. 92 car. Ferrari and Ford entries also looked at ways to capitalize on their pace in the first half of the race. The No. 98 Vantage, though, faced little opposition and was still out in the lead after an hour.

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Porsche was unable to challenge Toyota, so the two TS050s ran back to back

The next couple of stints came and went without much to report at the front. Porsche was unable to challenge Toyota, so the two TS050s ran back to back with no more than 15 seconds of cushion between them at half distance. The No. 2 Porsche which led the championship ran third but over a minute behind. At that point in the game, if the No. 7 would’ve won and the No. 2 would have finished no higher than third, the battle for the title would have continued into the season finale – just barely!

LMP1 Results

Pos No. Drivers Team Car Laps
1 8 Buemi / Davidson / Nakajima Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 - Hybrid 195
2 2 Bernhard / Bamber / Hartley Porsche LMP Team Porsche 919 Hybrid 194
3 1 Jani / Lotterer / Tandy Porsche LMP Team Porsche 919 Hybrid 194
4 7 Conway / Kobayashi / Lopez Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota TS050 - Hybrid 188
Vaillante Rebellion continued to flex its muscles in LMP2 as it retained its lead

Vaillante Rebellion continued to flex its muscles in LMP2 as it retained its lead. Also still in the lead after three hours was the No. 98 Aston-Martin. Drama hit around the stroke of the second hour when the No. 92 GTE-Pro Porsche of Kevin Estre, which had consistently been in the lead since after the start retired with an engine failure. It wasn’t, however, the only retirement recorded in the first 180 minutes. A three-car accident between the No. 37 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA of Tristan Gommendy and two GTE-Am Ferraris claimed the No. 54 Spirit of Race 488 GTE. The other two cars managed to limp back to base. Clearwater Racing were gutted after the event as it meant their car could finish no higher than fourth in class which, in turn, meant that Aston-Martin Racing took over the lead in the team’s championship in that category.

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Estre and Christensen’s retirement opened up a battle in GTE-Pro between the No. 67 Ford, the No. 91 Porsche and the No. 51 Ferrari

Estre and Christensen’s retirement opened up a battle in GTE-Pro between the No. 67 Ford, the No. 91 Porsche and the No. 51 Ferrari which had a grandstand view of the two ahead at times. The Porsche was the quicker car, but Fred Makowiecki lost the lead to a determined Andy Priaulx who had to carve his way through the pack in the Chip Ganassi Ford GT. After the exchange, it was Harry Tincknell’s job to keep Richard Lietz at bay. The Briton kept ahead by aggressively double-stinting the car’s tires, knowing they had little to win out on track since the GT lacked top end speed.

As everyone made their way into the final 60 minutes, it looked like a Toyota 1-2 is a certainty – but when is it, really? The team’s proverbial (by now) bad luck struck again, with barely 30 minutes left, when Lopez crashed into the No. 91 Porsche of Lietz as he tried to pass the GTE-Pro car in Turn 13. The Argentine was leading the race at the time but, after the crash, he had to crawl to the pits with damaged suspension. This obliterated all of Toyota Gazoo Racing’s chances as the No. 8 soldiered on to win but, more importantly, Porsche finished 2nd and 3rd with the No. 2 runner-up.

Top 5 LMP2 Results

Pos No. Drivers Team Car Laps
1 31 Canal / Prost / Senna Vaillante Rebellion Oreca 07 - Gibson 183
2 36 Lapierre / Menezes / Negrao Signatech Alpine Matmut Alpine A470 - Gibson 183
3 13 Beche / Heinemeier Hansson / Piquet Jr. Vaillante Rebellion Oreca 07 - Gibson 182
4 38 Tung / Jarvis / Laurent Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07 - Gibson 182
5 25 CEFC Manor TRS Racing Gonzalez / Trummer / Petrov Oreca 07 - Gibson 182
The result made Brendon Hartley, Earl Bamber and Timo Bernhard world champions, same accolade going to Team Porsche LMP

The result made Brendon Hartley, Earl Bamber and Timo Bernhard world champions, same accolade going to Team Porsche LMP. It is the first title for Bamber and the second for both Bernhard and Torro Rosso F1 driver Hartley. It also marks an amazing feat for Porsche as the German brand has taken both titles in the last three years as well as winning Le Mans in the last three years: a genuine hat-trick of hat-tricks!

Down in P2, things got not-so-easy for the No. 31 during the second half. For starters, Am driver Julien Canal’s pace was nowhere near enough to keep Ho Pin Tung behind him so the switch was made well into the third hour and the championship-leading No. 38 moved ahead. Tung’s fighting stint in which he clawed back Canal’s 40-seconds lead proved in vain asa the team had to stop for a splash late on, while Rebellion didn’t. What is more, Tun collided with an oblivious Nico Mueller in Turn 1. This meant that, in the end, Senna, Prost, and Canal won ahead of the No. 36 Signatech Alpine crew and the sister No. 13 Rebellion. Fourth was all that remained possible for Tung, Laurent, and Jarvis.

Top 5 LMGTE-Pro Results

Pos No. Drivers Team Car Laps
1 67 Priaulx / Tincknell Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT 170
2 91 Lietz / Makowiecki Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR 170
3 51 Calado / Pier Guidi AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE 170
4 66 Mucke / Pla Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT 170
5 95 Thiim / Sorensen Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage 170
Ferrari finished third in the class with the No. 51 which was enough to seal the deal in the manufacturer’s standings

As I’ve already mentioned, Toyota’s chances were dashed after Lopez crashed into Lietz’s Porsche. The latter party didn’t fare much better either since Richard was in full attack mode to try and pass Tincknell. He, though, had to drive around with some damage which meant a drop in pace. This helped Priaulx and Tincknell to grab the win easier and, in turn, reignite their championship hopes. Ferrari, meanwhile, finished third in the class with the No. 51 which was enough for the Italian manufacturer to seal the deal in the manufacturer’s standings, beating Ford. This was the only other title that was decided in Shanghai.

With the two Ferraris kicked out of the fight after the incident with the No. 37 ORECA, Aston-Martin’s Dalla-Lana, Lamy and Lauda only had to keep it on the island to win. That’s precisely what they did and, by the end of the six hours, their gap was a gigantic two minutes over the second-placed Gulf Racing UK Porsche. Dempsey-Proton’s No. 77 finished third making the best out of the attrition since the old 991 GTE had none of the pace to be challenging for the podium otherwise.

LMGTE-Am Results

Pos No. Drivers Team Car Laps
1 98 Dalla Lana / Lamy / Lauda Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin V8 Vantage 166
2 86 Al Qubaisi / Barker / Foster Gulf Racing UK Porsche 911 RSR (991) 165
3 77 Ried / Cairoli / Dienst Dempsey - Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR (991) 164
4 61 Mok / Sawa / Griffin Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE 158
NC 54 Flohr / Castellacci / Molina Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE 37

What’s Next?

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The final round of the FIA World Endurance Championship will take place in Bahrain between November 16th and 18th. Many titles are still up for grabs, such as both in LMP2, all available in GTE-Am and the driver’s and team’s titles in GTE-Pro. So it’s certain we’ll have an "end-of-an-era" thriller in the desert heat!

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