Bahrain welcomed the FIA WEC 4th round with its inimitable hospitality and enthusiasm. The circuit is a gem in the desert that comes alive at night, and held on the Bahrain National Weekend you would expect a more substantial crowd than was evident. Perhaps the inclement weather forecast, including rain storms kept people away from the venue, the racing of course was full-blooded from lights out!
The #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid of Conway, Kobayashi and Lopez took their second victory of the season with a dominant win at the Bapco 8 Hours of Bahrain. The #7 Toyota finished over a lap ahead of their heavier (by success ballast) #8 teammates Hartley, Nakajima and Buemi and three laps ahead of the pole-sitter but immediately delayed third placed #1 Rebellion Racing R13-Gibson.
The race started with pole sitter Bruno Senna in #1 Rebellion being spun around by out of control #5 Ginetta in the hands of Charlie Robertson. Senna recovered to third place but both cars suffered minor damage in collision. The incident handed the lead to the #7 Toyota driven by Mike Conway with the #6 Ginetta of Mike Simpson in second and chasing the lead Toyota.
Sebastien Buemi in the no8 Toyota was clipped in the opening corner incident. The TS050 suffered front bodywork damage with the nose section replaced at its first pit stop. The recovering #5 Ginetta was fifth and fought back after a long pitstop at the end of the Safety Car period.
The #7 Toyota maintained control throughtout the race while Sebastien Buemi dropped back after the #8 Toyota needed to make further changes to its rear section at a further scheduled stop. The #5 Ginetta retired in the sixth hour due to an electrical fault. The #6 Ginetta also retired due to a technical issue whilst in the hands of debutant Chris Dyson.
Mike Conway (#7) commented “It is a fantastic result to get a one-two here. We pushed as hard as we could all day and got a result which we weren’t expecting at the start of the week. That is thanks to a great job by everyone; my team-mates and my team. We struggled earlier in the week but together as a team we got the car dialled in. It’s brilliant to win and it’s nice to lead the World Championship again.”
It was a debut FIA WEC win for United Autosports #22, with Paul Di Resta, Phil Hanson and Filipe Albuquerque finishing the 8 Hours of Bahrain over 20 seconds ahead of the 4 Hours of Shanghai winning #38 JOTA Oreca-Gibson of Anthony Davidson, Roberto Gonzalez and Antonio Da Costa.
At the start of the race the #22 United Autosports Oreca converted the category pole position into the lead of LMP2 as Di Resta headed the guest entry #26 G-Drive Aurus of Job Van Uitert. Di Resta opened up an 18-second gap at the front after the first hour of racing with Guido Van Der Garde vaulting fellow Dutchman Van Uitert in the #29 Team Nederland Oreca at the initial scheduled stop to take second in class.
The #38 JOTA Oreca of Roberto Gonzalez was up to second by the fourth hour with the #22 United Autosports Oreca now in the hands of Albuquerque out in front having taken over from Phil Hanson. United Autosports continued to resist JOTA threat as Albuquerque pulls out 32 second gap over fellow Portuguese driver Antonio Felix da Costa, who was now in the #38 Goodyear sponsored Oreca.
The #26 G-Drive Aurus and #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca were fighting over the remaining podium position in the final stages of the race, with the #37 Oreca getting to the line ahead.
Victory in the LMGTE Pro class went to Aston Martin Racing with the #95 Vantage of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen finishing ahead of #71 AF Corse Ferrari of Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina after an epic eight hour long battle between the manufacturers for the win in Bahrain. Aston Martin took the last podium position when the #97 Vantage of Max Martin and Alex Lynn finished ahead of the #51 Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado.
At the start pole sitter Gianmaria Bruni’s # 91 Porsche is hit at first corner by Alessandro Pier Guidi’s AF Corse Ferrari, with Pier Guidi taking the lead as a result. The Italian led the first hour from second #92 Porsche 911 RSR driven by Kevin Estre, with the #95 Aston Martin Racing of Marco Sorensen was third before making a surprise early pit stop to hand over to Nicki Thiim.
As the race progressed there was a four way fight for the lead as Pier Guidi with the #92 Porsche of Michael Christensen and the two Aston Martins. Pier Guidi managed to break free as the race approached the half way stage after the now out of sync #95 Aston Martin pits and Alex Lynn in the #97 Vantage was clonked by the #29 Team Nederland LMP2 car and lost some time.
However, there was disaster for Porsche GT Team as both cars suffered long pit stops with the #92 Porsche 911 RSR dropped out of contention with a long pit stop for a damper change and the #91 911 had to stop with right front puncture and dropped to fifth in class but ahead of its delayed sister car.
In the final hour the #95 Aston was leading with the #71 Ferrari of Miguel Molina challenging hard, but Molina briefly spun the wheels of the Ferrari in the final pitstop and had to serve a penalty. He rejoined in second place but the #95 Aston Martin now had a free run to the chequered flag. The remaining step of the podium was occupied by #97 Aston Martin of Lynn and Martin after the #51 AF Corse Ferrari was forced to give up position after fraught battle in which James Calado was judged to have unfairly gained position on Martin by exceeding track limits post final hour Full Course Yellow.
“It was one of the tougher ones I have to say,” said Nicki Thiim. “It was one hell of a challenge to race on the limit for eight hours and racing so closely with Ferrari who kept us on our toes. It’s not always the fastest one that wins but the clever one, and today we might not have had the fastest pace, but thanks to the team we are the ones sitting here with the win. What a Christmas gift!”
Marco Sørensen added: “We started from the back of the class grid, but we got a good start and ended up P3. From that point on it was all about managing the tyres. Definitely there was not one stage where we weren’t fighting with other cars. Our boys did an amazing job with the pitstops. It seemed that every time we pitted, we jumped ahead of a rival, so all in all a great clean race from the team. The strategy was on point, on the limit, but always right and in the end, everything worked out in our favour.”
Excitement in the #57 Team Project 1 garage as Ben Keating, Larry Ten Voorde and Jeroen Bleekemolen took the LMGTE Am win from pole position, with Ten Voorde and Bleekemolen claiming the first WEC class win for a Dutch driver. The #57 Porsche 911 RSR finished 37 seconds ahead of the #98 Aston Martin Vantage of Paul Dalla Lana, Darren Turner and Ross Gunn, with the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche taking third.
At the start Ben Keating headed a Team Project 1 Porsche 1-2 in LMGTE AM and moved ahead of the 11 car field with the #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Paul Dalla Lana in second. Ross Gunn took over from Dalla Lana and caught and passed Keating just before the second scheduled stop to take the lead. As the race progressed the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche and the #88 Dempsey Proton Racing 911 held the lead. The #88 Porsche crashed out at Turn 14 as Khaled Al Qubaisi brought out first Full Course Yellow just before 4-hour mark.
The Team Project 1 Porsche went back into the lead as Larry ten Voorde completed a tremendous triple stint and handed over to Jeroen Bleekemolen. The #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Darren Turner was running second but was under pressure from the #86 Gulf Racing Porsche driven by Ben Barker. However, Barker had to take a drive-through penalty for unsafe return to track after an incident but was still able to bring the car home in third.
Click Link to the 2019 FIAWEC 8-hour Bahrain results by category
FIA WEC moves on to the relocated fifth round to be held 23rd February 2020 at Circuit of The Americas for the Lone Star Le Mans, rather than the previously scheduled Thrilla in Brazilia (Sao Paulo)!