Sunday saw the close out of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship with the Rookie Test completing the track action and the Awards Ceremony and After Party wrapping things up that evening.
The venue was the stunning Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq and as we made our way through the entrance, the lush gardens and onto the private beach we brushed shoulders with WEC members past and present; Dindo Capello, Tom K, Alan McNish, Leena Garde – all here to celebrate Audi Sport’s time in endurance racing, not mourn their passing. But perhaps more importantly, this was a moment for the ‘WEC family’, an event for everyone from the team’s truckies to the newly crowned World Champion drivers to celebrate another fabulous season of endurance racing and let their hair down after 9 months of hard work.
It was an emotion filled night; tears of happiness and sadness, laughter, celebration, reflection and looking forwards to 2017. The event, hosted by WEC CEO Gerard Neveu, ‘the voice of Le Mans’, John Hindhaugh and WEC roving reporter Louise Beckett, kicked off honouring the 2016 WEC World Champions, drivers and manufacturers.
With the ‘expected’ formalities out of the way it was time for what were billed as the Special Awards. First off, Neveu took a look back to June and Toyota Gazoo Racing’s heartbreaking finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But most importantly, not the sadness, but the positive attitude shown by all of the team, how the second half of the 2016 season saw the team rebound and overcome issues and take a home win at Fuji in October. Pierre Fillon, President of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, then presented Toshio Sato, TGR’s Team President with a chequered flag from that fateful race, signed by all of the drivers.
Next it was the turn of Ricardo Gonzalez, owner and driver of the RGR Sport LMP2 team and promoter of the inaugural 6h Mexico to take to the stage. Sir Lindsay Owen Jones, President of the FIA Endurance Commission, presented the Mexican entrepreneur with the Gentleman Driver of the year award.
Gustavo Menezes received the Revelation of the Year award, following an amazing season with the Signatech Alpine team which saw him finish his inaugural year as LMP2 Champion and gain a test in the Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 at the official Rookie Test.
It was then time to say goodbye to the enigmatic Aussie, Mark Webber. With Saturday’s race marking his final competitive professional outing the Aussie took to the stage with typical reluctance. The big screens filled with friends from the WEC and F1 paddocks, with humour and, in the case of Fernando Alonso, perhaps a coded message that we’ll see him soon in the WEC paddock? But most of all, with messages of genuine friendship moving the softly spoken Australian to tears as he watched from the stage after receiving a special Award for Excellence.
And finally, it was time to say an emotional goodbye to Audi Sport and to Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich in particular, the head of Audi Motorsport and the man responsible not only for so many of Audi’s successes over the past 18 years but for his work with the FIA and the ACO to achieve what we now know and love as the World Endurance Championship.
And with the formalities over it was time to enjoy what was arguably the best BBQ we have had in 2016 and onto the partying!