The No.1 Porsche 919 Hybrid crew of Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley secured their fourth win of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship today earning Porsche its second consecutive FIA World Endurance Manufacturer title with one round of the Championship, Bahrain, remaining.
In front of a crowd of 55,000 spectators the German marque took a commanding victory leading for the majority of the six hours at the Shanghai International Circuit this afternoon.
The #1 919 Hybrid was fast from the get-go with Hartley leading from the off only to loose the lead briefly on the first lap to Sebastien Buemi’s #5 Toyota. However, the kiwi driver managed to claim it back before the end of the same lap when the safety car was deployed to allow the removal of the stranded #45 Manor Oreca of Mathias Beche. Hartley again ran into a slight issue in the second hour when he had to pit for a new nose section after hitting a large ball of rubber.
By mid-race however the #1 Porsche trio had stretched their lead to over 30 seconds from the chasing pack, helped no doubt by the fact that the #8 Audi of Oliver Jarvis, Lucas Di Grassi and Loic Duval had been struggling with a fuel rig malfunction costing their car precious seconds at each stop and ultimately dropping them back to fifth position; ending Audi’s slim Championship hopes.
The remaining two LMP1 podium places were taken by a resurgent Toyota Gazoo Racing with the #6 TS050 Hybrid of Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi finishing second ahead of the sister #5 TS050 of Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima.
The LMP1 Drivers World Championship will go down to the wire at Bahrain though with the #2 Porsche team of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb still heading the tables. The Toyota crew of Sarazin, Conway & Kobayashi are second in the driver’s championship standings and we are left wondering ‘what if?’ had they not have been afflicted by two punctures today – effectively costing them the race win.
The Privateer LMP1 class saw Austrian team ByKolles taking its first win of the 2016 season, after engine problems and an injector failure saw Rebellion Racing’s #13 R-One slide retirement.
In LMP2 the Anglo-Russian team of G-Drive Racing bagged its second consecutive victory of the 2016 season. A strong series of stints put in by the driving trio of Alex Brundle, Romain Rusinov and ‘super-sub’ Will Stevens ensuring the orange Oreca 05-Nissan was virtually unchallenged throughout the race.
Second step on the podium went to the #30 ESM Ligier of WEC debutant Tom Blomqvist and team-mates Antonio Giovanazzi and Sean Galael. Despite suffering a drive-through penalty for hitting the #36 Signatech Alpine, the LMP2 podium was rounded out by the #43 RGR Sport by Morand Ligier.
However, the big story in the LMP2 paddock was saved for Signatech Alpine who, by finishing fourth (#36) clinched the LMP2 championship. Nicolas Lapierre, Gustavo Menezes and Stephane Richelmi score a ‘dream season’ to follow up their Le Mans 24 Hours triumph with the Championship title.
Ford had a dominant race in LM GTE Pro taking its second consecutive 1-2 on the podium as the #67 Ford Ganassi Team UK #Britpack car of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell took a commanding win over stablemates Olivier Pla and Stefan Mucke in the #66 car.
In the LM GTE Am category, Aston Martin Racing’s Vantage V8 of Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy took their fifth win of the season, ensuring that the title hunt will go down to the last race in Bahrain. The #83 Ferrari F458 Italia of AF Corse took second spot following a post-race penalty which dropped KCMG’s #78 Porsche 911 RSR from second to third, rounding out the podium.
This means that there are still six titles left to be decided at the season Finale in Bahrain in a fortnight’s time. Porsche and Toyota will battle it out for the LMP1 Driver’s Championship.
In GTE Pro it’s all to play for with manufacturer and driver’s titles up for grabs between Aston Martin Racing and Ferrari. Ford have a mathematical chance of lifting the trophy but it would take a terrible race from both Aston (#95) and Ferrari (#71) to happen.
In the Am class, both titles are yet to be decided, but with the #83 AF Corse Ferrari holding a 25 point lead over the #98 Aston Martin. A pole position converted into a win and a DNF for the Ferrari would win the British marque the Teams and Drivers Championships by a single point. It’s all unlikely but when we consider what happened in Estoril a few weeks back, it is still possible!