This weekend, the 2016 World Endurance Championship reaches its conclusion in the desert oasis of Bahrain.
It’s also the end of an era for reigning world champion Mark Webber, who is taking part in his last-ever professional motor race with the Porsche LMP1 team.
Having made nine starts at the Bahrain Grand Prix in Formula One, plus two of the circuit’s six-hour WEC enduros, the experienced Australian is just the person to ask about the challenges of racing in the Gulf.
“Bahrain is a unique circuit on the WEC calendar,” says Webber. “We race at night so there’s a different atmosphere to the other tracks, bar Le Mans of course.”
“It starts with a very fast, long straight before braking hard into a super tight hairpin and flicking through turns two and three. Then the track opens up onto the short little back straight up to turn five which is a fourth gear right hander. The off-camber nature on the exit of turn five means it can be hard to get the traction down.”
“Immediately after that you head into my favourite section of the track with the quick left-right-left combination of corners heading downhill leading into a very heavy braking zone for the tight left hander at turn 10. It’s a difficult corner to get right because visibility is tough; sometimes you don’t see the GT cars until late on the exit.”
“The entry into turns nine and 10 is blind so it’s the hardest part of the track in my opinion. It’s very easy to lock up the brakes there and have a perfect entry so that’s always a challenge for the drivers but the Porsche 919 Hybrid handles that part of the track extremely well.”
“Turn 11 at the back of the track can get quite windy because it’s more exposed than other sections, so that can really alter the performance of the car. You go through there in fourth gear, before heading up through fifth and sixth into the very fast turn 12 right hander just over the crest. It’s very important to turn in early there to get a good run down the long straight before braking heavily into the final corner which closes the lap out.”
The 6 Hours of Bahrain will also carry a personal touch for Webber, who is calling time on his long motor racing career this weekend.
After 12 years of competing in Formula One (during which he accrued nine race wins) and three years at the top echelon of the WEC, Webber is heading to Bahrain with the hope of taking one last shot at a victory with team-mates Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard.
“Bahrain is obviously not a normal race for me,” he says.
“It will be pretty emotional. To arrive there knowing it is the last time I will compete seriously will be a big moment. I’m looking forward to the weekend.”
“I’ve got a lot of friends coming from all around the world, especially from Australia and Europe, to watch me drive for the last time. Of course we would love to go out with a victory, but, irrespective of the result, I think it would be nice for me to have a smooth day and look back on a very, very long career of which I’m, of course, very proud.”
“I thought about it a few times: I will walk away from the car just one more time – take the helmet and balaclava off and the ear plugs out, doing all these things for one last time. That will be very different, but I’m looking forward to not having to do this in the future.”
The WEC 6 Hours of Bahrain gets underway on Saturday, November 19 at 16:00 local time.