After seven rounds and 60 hours of racing, the FIA World Endurance Championship will reach its conclusion this weekend at Bahrain International Circuit.
Porsche may have wrapped up the LMP1 manufacturers’ title with a comprehensive victory in China last month, but the drivers’ championship is still to be decided in the Arabian desert.
The #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard currently leads the overall standings and is the favourite to seal the title after the trio’s comprehensive Shanghai win.
This weekend the challenge is provided by the Audi crew of André Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler, which so far holds a 100% podium record in 2015. However, the #7 R18 e-tron quattro has not won a race since the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in May and has subsequently lost its championship advantage, which now stands at 155-143 in favour of the #17 Porsche.
Porsche’s pace has been matched by few in the second half of the season, although Audi arguably had its best attempt at dethroning the dominant 919s at Shanghai when the two manufacturers ran closely during the first half of the race.
Nevertheless, Porsche’s power advantage (running 8 MJ per lap compared to Audi’s 4 MJ) means that the Weissach-based team is in a prime position to seal its maiden FIA WEC drivers’ title.
That will generate echoes of last year for Toyota Racing, when the Japanese manufacturer won its first LMP1 world championship with an 11th place finish for Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi in Bahrain. However, the TS040 Hybrid has been lacking in power throughout 2015 and cannot finish better than fifth in the drivers’ standings, with the #1 car of Davidson, Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima too far behind the #8 Audi to move ahead.
Despite its difficulties Toyota will remain positive this weekend in celebrating the career of two time Le Mans winner Alex Wurz, who will retire after the race on Saturday. Wurz helped Toyota to five FIA WEC race wins in the latter stages of a chequered career that includes three Formula 1 podium finishes with Benetton, McLaren and Williams.
The privateer LMP1 teams enter the final round of the championship with the title already decided following a brace of victories for the #12 Rebellion Racing squad at Fuji and Shanghai. An unassailable 33 points now separates Nicolas Prost and Mathias Beche from the Team ByKolles duo of Pierre Kaffer and Simon Trummer.
Prost and Beche were due to be rejoined in Bahrain by full-season team mate Nick Heidfeld, but the German driver has been forced to withdraw from this weekend’s race after picking up a hand ligament injury at the recent Malaysian Formula E round.
Despite a shaky start to the season Team ByKolles has impressed many with a string of four post-Le Mans podium finishes, including two race wins at the Nürburgring and Austin. The AER-powered team will be aiming to split the two Rebellion R-Ones in the final standings, although it will depend heavily on the Bahrain result as just three points separates ByKolles from the #13 Rebellion.
The battle for the FIA WEC LMP2 teams’ championship was reduced to two teams at the 6 Hours of Shanghai after a retirement for the #28 G-Drive Racing Ligier JS P2 left the #26 G-Drive sister car and #47 KCMG ORECA 05 to duel it out for the class spoils.
The #26 G-Drive crew of Sam Bird, Julien Canal and Roman Rusinov finished second in China, extending their lead over KCMG’s Matt Howson, Richard Bradley and Nick Tandy to 16 points – 153 points to 137.
This means that G-Drive Racing will need a fifth place finish at least for its #26 car to win the championship.
G-Drive Racing has already secured third in the LMP2 standings with its #28 machine, which enters the 6 Hours of Bahrain 46 points ahead of the Signatech Alpine A450b Nissan.
LMP2 will also see a new, yet familiar addition to the grid this weekend as AF Racing (the renamed SMP Racing operation) bolsters the class field to nine cars. The race will mark the awaited FIA WEC debut of the rapid BR Engineering BR01 Nissan, which claimed three podium finishes in its debut season of the European Le Mans Series this year.
ELMS regulars Nicolas Minassian, David Markozov and Mikhail Aleshin will front the single car effort in Bahrain, but bear in mind that they will not be eligible for FIA WEC championship points.
Elsewhere there are no line-up changes to note, although Chris Cumming will return for a second race aboard the Team SARD Morand Morgan that he raced for the first time in China. Tom Dillmann, who made his FIA WEC debut in Shanghai with race winners Signatech Alpine, will also be back, replacing Vincent Capillaire who was only contracted to race in the first six rounds.
In a unique arrangement, the 6 Hours of Bahrain will mark the first time that the GP2 and GP3 Series share a race weekend with the World Endurance Championship.
The GP2 feature race will take place on Friday, November 20 at 15:30 (all times local), while the sprint race will get underway the following morning at 10:45. McLaren protege Stoffel Vandoorne may have already wrapped up the title, but the event will still provide drivers with an important opportunity to impress in front of some of the world’s biggest manufacturers.
Several members of the GP2 field are already familiar with the concept of endurance racing, including Aston Martin GTE driver Richie Stanaway and Porsche LMP1 tester Mitch Evans who will both be gunning for victory in Bahrain.
GP3, meanwhile, will hold its first race at 13:20 on November 20, with the green flag for the second race falling at 09:00 on November 21. Just four points separate championship leader Luca Ghiotto and the chasing Esteban Ocon, who could claim a remarkable tenth second place finish in a row in the opening race.
Additional support will be provided by the Porsche Carrera Cup GT3 Challenge and the MRF Challenge for Dallara-built Formula 2000 cars.
The important times for FIA WEC on-track action are listed below.
FIA WEC 6 Hours of Bahrain Session Times
Note: all session times are GMT +3 hours
Free Practice 1: Thursday November 19 – 15:15
Free Practice 2: Thursday November 19 – 19:30
Free Practice 3: Friday November 20 – 11:00
GTE Qualifying: Friday November 20 – 17:00
LMP Qualifying: Friday November 20 – 17:30
Race – 6 Hours of Bahrain: Saturday November 21 – 15:00