The penultimate round of the 2017 World Endurance Championship takes place this weekend as the endurance grid makes its way to China for the 6 Hours of Shanghai. Just 52 points remain up for grabs in all of the classes, meaning that some of the championships could be decided before the WEC makes it to the final round in Bahrain. With some championships on the cusp of being won, others are so close it is impossible to call them even with just two rounds to go. TheCheckeredFlag is here to give you a run down of how the points stand and prepare you for a thrilling six-hour event.
Following a slightly anti-climactic and short-run 6 Hours of Fuji, the grid heads to China with high hopes of decent weather so that full track action can be completed. The weather is due to be dry but cloudy this weekend, so weather should not play too much of a part in the weekend’s race.
The championship that everyone is watching this weekend is the LMP1 class. The title could have been clinched for the third year in a row by Porsche had Brendon Hartley, Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber have won the race, but the rain/fog-affected track was not suited to the Porsche 919 Hybrid and Bernhard and Hartley struggled to keep tyre temperatures high leading to the suffering handling issues and not being able to finish higher than fourth. It was a much better weekend for Toyota Gazoo Racing who claimed their first victory and one-two finish since the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
As it stands, the #2 Porsche only needs to finish ahead of the #8 Toyota to take the championship in Shanghai. The only way that Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima can stop the #2 trio taking Porsche’s third Drivers’ World Endurance Championship is if they win the race and the #2 finished fourth in the race without starting on pole. If the #2 Porsche team take pole position on Saturday they will claim the championship before the race has even taken place.
In LMP2, the stakes are a little closer as Ho-Pin Tung, Oliver Jarvis and Thomas Laurent only have a ten point lead over Bruno Senna and Julien Canal in the #31 Vaillante Rebellion. The only way that the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car can take the championship before the final round of the season is if they win and take pole position whilst the #31 finishes 6th or lower. With the Jackie Chan and Rebellion teams being the two who have been in contention for race wins in the last few rounds, it would be safe to assume that only a major issue for the #31 could make this scenario possible.
If the #36 Signatech Alpine does not win the race, irrelevant if they start on pole or not, Gustavo Menezes will fall mathematically out of contention for the LMP2 trophy and leave it as a two horse race for the #31 and the #38 in Bahrain. Depending on how well the #31 does in comparison to the #36, Menezes could see his third place in the championship under threat from Nicolas Prost, third driver of the #31, as the Frenchman sits only three points off the Signatech driver. Prost is not on the same points as his team mates as he skipped the 6 Hours of Nurburgring due to prior commitments to the Formula E race series.
It all went downhill for Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx in Fuji as they had their worst race of the season. For the first time in 2017 the Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK duo do not lead the championship, submitting their lead to AF Corse‘s James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi. Their thirteenth-place finish in the shortened Fuji endurance race saw the #67 crew only put 0.5 points on the board which, in a championship as close as the LM GTE Pro battle, sees them fall to fifth, now 17.5 points off the leading team.
Porsche GT Team have made a surge in performance lately, with Fuji being a particularly strong race for them. A second-place finish after taking pole saw the #91 crew of Richard Lietz and Frederic Makowiecki jump back to second place, a competitive five points off the leading Ferrari team. The fight at the top of the pro class has been extremely close for the last few rounds, and is pretty much guaranteed to be concluded at the final round in Bahrain. They only way that any of the top five cars can wrap up the championship is if the other cars in the top five do not take pole and fail to score points in this weekend’s event. The likelihood of that happening is extremely low so even if the LMP1 battle is all settled before the WEC takes a trip to the desert the GTE cars will keep us on the edge of our seats.
It had looked like the Aston Martin Racing trio of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda had the GTE Am class title in the bag, but another poor performance from all Aston Martin cars at Fuji brought the Dempsey-Proton Racing team back to the top of the leader board. For the last few races, the Porsche Am car and the Aston Martin Am team have been passing the lead of the Am class back and forth between themselves, so much so that the gap between the two cars is just a single point.
Third-placed Clearwater Racing is just six points off the lead, so for any of them to wrap up the title a race early they need the other two top three cars to fail to score points. It is another championship battle that we are confident will keep going to the end of the season. Such a closely-fought battle should definitely not see it’s conclusion until the chequered flag of the final six-hour race of the season.
The Ferrari-running cars had the edge in the GTE classes at Fuji, but will Shanghai throw up the same advantage or can Aston Martin fight back from what was simply a torrid performance last time out? The first free practice session of the 6 Hours of Shanghai commences at 03:00 am on Friday 3rd November. Make sure to visit TheCheckeredFlag for all the action from the Shanghai International Circuit as it happens this weekend, where we could see Porsche take both titles for the third year in a row.