The World Endurance Championship (WEC) reaches its final stop of the 2017 season, Bahrain. And once more the venue bids a farewell to another top flight manufacturer, Porsche. Audi had been broadly dominant in the face of Peugeot and then Toyota opposition, Audi rose to those opponents and sharpened its game from one season to the next. Porsche’s arrival proved different, and the petard that did for both of them in the end proved to be the diesel mill-stone that Audi soldiered on with against the technological might of the multi-hybrid Porsche clock-like V4.
Porsche arrive in Bahrain having sealed firstly the Manufacturers, and last time out the Drivers championship. Hence this round is something of a Cup Final in LMP1 and it is set-up beautifully. Toyota have been resurgent at the last two rounds, and Porsche has languished, securing the Championship wins, but somehow playing out the game checking their collective watch for the final whistle.
Yet two things matter very greatly in LMP1. Porsche will want to say ‘au bientot’ to top flight Endurance Prototypes, as they have a few times before, from the top step. What better way to set the seal on their current period of dominance? Toyota will of course have a very different perspective.
We expect Toyota are returning in the 2018/19 ‘Super’ season, they have the last two wins, and will want to go into this winter with a hat-trick, bragging rites etc.. To finish like that will give Toyota Motorsport Group the confidence that against top manufacturers they held their own, indeed they were in the accendancy. In the boardroom you might consider the high morale standards of Japanese business culture will have won out against some dubious practices off-track, in the industry, that have culled the Volkswagen brands from this level of competition.
If you are still with us, we are getting to the good stuff and a bit of race relevance and data analysis. Indeed SportscarGlobal have brokered a new partnership with the team at B-Pillar to hopefully provide a deeper and timely insight into races. First up, LMP1 Bahrain –
The above graphic (click to enlarge) should give you some insight into how close we expect the LMP1 battle could be. The data comes from Free Practice 2 as the closest session in terms of time of day to race conditions. It focuses on the Top-30 laps by each car arriving at an average, a variance from that average, with different colour dots in each swim-lane representing different drivers. Note the #8 Toyota has the best average (farthest to the left), but also the highest variance around that average.
With the #7 Toyota having the best average and tightest variance, closely followed by the #2 Porsche and the #1 Porsche having taken pole, the potential tomorrow for a door handle banging race is in our opinion high! Certainly there is zero reason for the 919 Hybrids to leave anything in the locker, or for one to look out for the other. Every man for themselves!
For the LMP2 runners the story could not be more different. The championship is closely balanced between three contenders across three distinct teams. On pole in the category is the championship third placed car #36 of Signatech Alpine Matmut, 22 points adrift in the standings, but with 25-points for the win mathematically still in with a shout. The line-up of Lapierre, Menezes and Negrao are working well together and the pole completed a class hatrick for the car at Bahrain.
Second on both the grid and in the championship is Jackie Chan DC Racing #Mighty38 of Tung, Jarvis and Laurent, who trail the championship leader by just 4-points after trouble in Shanghai last time out. Third on the LMP2 grid are championship leaders with 161-points the #31 Valliante Rebellion Oreca of Canal, Prost and Senna.
Looking to the analysis provided by The B-Pillar below, it is all much of a much-ness. If it comes to the Silver driver in each car, there is little to pick between Negrao(#36), Laurent(#38) and Canal(#31)… Laurent edges it but Negrao has been improving latterly.
Most likely LMP2 will come down to a battle between the #31 Rebellion and #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing by Jota Orecas, but with all the other cars so close expect fireworks! A cool, calm approach will likely win out.
That concludes our assessment of the Prototype battles. It is a sociable (1300uk start) afternoon race from the UK, but into the lit-darkness in Bahrain. Check your local listing for TV coverage, sign in to the FIAWEC app or if you have to be out and about headphones and the Tunein app with Radio LeMans on it will be a wise choice.
Of course between @SportscarGlobal and @TheBPillar you can expect plenty of twitter comment, info, interaction, shots and insight.
Enjoy the Race, see you trackside!