This weekend, the fifth season of the World Endurance Championship will reach its conclusion at Bahrain International Circuit.
It promises to be a landmark event, with several important goodbyes to be said and a number of championships to settle.
The circuit, situated in a remote desert part of the tiny island nation, is an archetypal result of the FIA Grade 1 facility building boom which took place at the turn of the 21st century.
Its 3.3 mile, 15 turn layout makes it one of the shorter tracks on the WEC calendar, although there are still plenty of variable challenges including wind exposure and blind corners which make it a difficult lap to perfect.
See Mark Webber’s guide to Bahrain International Circuit for more.
Bahrain has now firmly established itself as the traditional season-closer of the WEC, with a spectacular night setting and lavish after-party making it a fitting place to round out the long and arduous seven-month campaign.
How the Titles Can be Won
Porsche has already wrapped up the LMP1 manufacturers’ title following a nightmare weekend for Audi in China.
The drivers’ championship is still up for grabs, however, with the #2 919 Hybrid of Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas currently leading the way.
Its only challenger is the #6 Toyota TS050 shared by Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin which has featured on the podium in each of the last four races, with 17 points separating the two entries.
The points gap means the Toyota crew must finish either first or second to snatch the championship from Porsche.
A victory for Toyota means the #2 Porsche would have to finish in the top six – i.e. steer clear of incident or mechanical problems – to take the title. If the Porsche fails to finish, Toyota can afford to finish second but third place or lower would not be enough to bridge the gap.
Signatech Alpine secured the LMP2 championship with one round to spare at the 6 Hours of Shanghai.
The French squad has been dominant throughout 2016, winning four races including the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Its key hallmark to success has been consistency, with fourth place being the team’s lowest finish of the season. There is still a battle for second in the standings, however, with RGR Sport by Morand holding an 11-point cushion over G-Drive Racing driver Roman Rusinov. Third place for the Mexican-entered RGR Sport Ligier would be enough to firm up the existing order in Bahrain, even if G-Drive is able to win its second race in a row.
In GTE-Pro, Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen can become class champions if they score 14 points this weekend. That means if the rival Ferrari entry of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird wins the race, the Danish Aston Martin duo will need to finish on the podium to seal the title. Equally, the Ferrari duo need to finish fourth at the very least if they are to have a chance of dethroning Thiim and Sorensen.
GTE-Am is also a duel between Aston Martin and Ferrari, albeit slightly more spaced out than the Pro category. Emmanuel Collard, Francois Perrodo and Rui Aguas can defend their 2015 title with pole position in Bahrain, and even if that isn’t achievable all they need to do is finish the final race of the season to claim the silverware. Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda and Paul Dalla Lana can snatch the championship away with victory in their Aston, but only victory will do.
News Stories – BoP changes in GTE
Balancing the performance of GTE machinery has been a contentious issue in the 2016 World Endurance Championship. Every race on the calendar so far has seen some form of change to the GTE rulebook, and Bahrain is no exception.
The Ganassi-run Ford GTs dominated the previous two rounds in Japan and China, so it’s hardly surprising to see them pegged back this weekend.
Each car will receive a 20kg weight increase and a reduction in boost pressure, as implemented by the ACO.
There is also a driver change to note in the Aston Martin Racing camp, with Jonny Adam replacing Richie Stanaway in the #97 Vantage.
The reasons for this switch are unclear right now, but expect more information to come from the team in the next few hours. Adam, who made two WEC appearances this year before Aston altered its lineup post-Le Mans, will partner British compatriot Darren Turner.
End of Two Eras
The World Endurance Championship, and the racing world, will part ways with (at least) two of its most successful and revered parties at the 6 Hours of Bahrain.
Audi will contest its final race as an LMP1 manufacturer, while Mark Webber will round-off his stellar racing career spanning over 20 years.
Perhaps the most significant departure is that of the Audi works programme, which is shifting focus to Formula E next season (with its GT customer unit set to continue). The German manufacturer will leave Bahrain as one of the most successful racing teams of all time, with 13 Le Mans victories to its name and two World Endurance titles. Its influence over a generation of sportscar fans also adds to the gravity of its withdrawal, although the WEC organisation is confident of the LMP1 category’s success into 2017.
Porsche will also be unfurling the farewell banners as it says goodbye to its world championship-winning driver and all-round nice guy Mark Webber. The affable Australian is calling time on his racing career after a lengthy stint in Formula One followed by a hugely successful three-year spell on the Porsche factory roster. Although Webber and team-mates Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard cannot mathematically defend their 2015 championship, they will be aiming to give their grand master a fitting send off with victory this weekend.
The WEC season-closer is a night race, but the three-hour time difference to the UK makes it a comfortable Saturday afternoon tilt for British fans.
Free practice takes place on Thursday, before a final shakedown and qualifying on Saturday evening. The race itself will get underway at 16:00 local time on Sunday afternoon, with the 22:00 finish allowing for a heavy chunk of twilight racing in between.
Bahrain International Circuit is powered by a grid of 495 light poles containing over 5000 lights to help guide drivers through the transition to night.
The 6 Hours of Bahrain weekend will be supported by the single seater MRF Challenge and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East.
Thursday, November 17
Free Practice 1 – 15:00
Free Practice 2 – 19:30
Friday, November 18
Free Practice 3 – 11:30
Qualifying – 17:00
Saturday, November 19
6 Hours of Bahrain RACE – 16:00
Sunday, November 20
WEC Rookie Test – All day