Audi Back On Top, Toyota Go Bump In The Night

After Toyota scored their first win in Brazil Audi reaffirmed its dominance in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) with victory in the Six Hours of Bahrain as Toyota’s TS030 Hybrid retired in the desert night.

Newly equipped with a pair of Audi R18 e-tron quattro – a set up that will remain in place for the rest of WEC year the Audi crews scored a 1-2, Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler again increasing their championship points lead over Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen. However, on the strength of the opening two hours – and the fastest lap chart – this is another race that Toyota would have won, had it not been for problems.

After starting from third Alex Wurz needed just two laps of the Bahrain International Circuit to take the lead away from polestitter McNish and, much like the race in Interlagos the Toyota began to pull out a gap over the pair of Audis, Wurz’s lead standing at 20 seconds before his first pitstop to hand over to Nicolas Lapierre after a 42 minute opening stint.

The Frenchman regained the lead when the Audi’s made their first stops on successive laps just minutes later – Silverstone concerns about fuel mileage seemingly allayed. His lead had grown to 26 seconds over Andre Lotterer who had replaced Fassler in the #1 car with the second Audi now a lap in arrears after a long pitstop to replace the front bodywork to try and cure an faulty headlight.

After the all daylight races of Silverstone, Interlagos and the pre-Le Mans round at Spa-Francorchamps the WEC field was racing into the darkness once again in Bahrain and illumination concerns were a thorn in the side of several teams, none less than Toyota, who lost the lead in the third hour when the number panes on the flanks of the TS030 failed, a problem which required a mandatory pitstop and cost the team four laps.

From that point on the race win was destined to be Audi’s, that fact only rubber stamped when Lapierre spun while trying to lap the Strakka Racing HPD in the fifth hour, ending the Toyota’s race and handing third place overall to the all British Strakka team of Danny Watts, Nick Leventis and Jonny Kane.

They picked up the privateer lead when the #12 Rebellion Racing Lola of Neel Jani and Nico Prost endured a pitstop of nearly six minutes. They then lost it again as the Toyota regained arguably their rightful place in the top three before taking back the final podium spot after the TS030’s retirement, though the contact between the two resulted in a puncture, Kane pitting the #21 car without losing a position.

The Strakka trio finished five laps behind McNish and Kristensen, their #2 repeatedly delayed by misbehaving headlights, plus the Dane having to curtail a stint because of right rear puncture.

A slow final pitstop for class championship leaders Starworks Motorsports cost them another LMP2 victory, limiting them to just third place behind Pecom Racing and the #23 Signatech Nissan crew of Jordan Tresson, Olivier Lombard and Franck Mailleux who recorded the first podium for the team that won the LMP2 class in last year’s Intercontinental Le Mans Cup but have endured a torrid 2012 in WEC.

Pecom Racing survived their own light based troubles, their problems not deemed serious enough for officials to force them to rectify the issue, and the team of Luis Perez Companc, Pierre Kaffer and Nicolas Minassian swapped the class lead with the Starworks crew through much of the second half of the race.

However, when Starworks final stop lasted nearly six minutes the leader leapfrog sequence initiated when Tom KimberSmith pitted off sequence in the fourth hour was broken leaving Pecom to take victory. With the 25 points they also took over second place in the class championship points at the expense of ADRDelta who suffered another troubled weekend after their Interlagos problems, losing half an hour in the garage to a suspension problem.

AF Corse secured the teams’ title in LMGTE Pro, delivering the manufacturers’ crown for Ferrari as the #51 entry scored a fourth consecutive victory. Toni Vilander replaced regular co-driver Gimmi Bruni in the car alongside Giancarlo Fisichella in car relatively stripped of the obvious fuel mileage advantage seen in previous rounds.

Instead it was mechanical issues that helped the Ferrari pairing to a lap lead over both Aston Martin Racing and Team FelbermayrProton entries at the end of six hours.

Felbermayr-Proton’s combination of Paolo Ruberti, Gianluca Roda and Christian Ried dominated the GTE Am class for the Porsche squad, the three beating the AFWaltrip Ferrari team by a lap.