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Conway, Lopez and Kobayashi Convert Pole to Championship Victory

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World Endurance Drivers' Championship-winning #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing of Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi leading sister car #8 around track at Bahrain International Circuit
Credit: FIA World Endurance Championship

Three of the four drivers’ championships remained to be claimed from the 2019/20 FIA World Endurance Championship 8 Hours of Bahrain, with half of them going to the drivers who were leading the championship before the start of the race. The #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing trio did everything they had to to overcome the points deficit to the sister car to claim the 2019/20 World Championship.

LMP1’s success ballast put the then championship leading #8 trio of Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima on the back foot, being slowed by 0.54s a lap compared to the sister car. This robed any chance of a close battle occurring between the Toyotas and saw the #7 team disappearing down the road to hold more than a lap’s advantage on the #8 by the halfway point. A mid-race Safety Car gave hope that the Toyotas could get closer together on track, but it only brought the #7’s lead down to one minutes rather than nearly two.

The race never came together for the winner-takes-all showdown, and the final outing of the LMP1-Hybrid cars was a little lacklustre, with Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi taking the race win and Driver’s Championship with a pole-to-flag victory.

Toyota sent off their TS050s with a nice gesture, putting both Japanese drivers of the respective teams in the cars for the final stint, so they brought them to the chequered flag for the final time.

With the LMP2 Driver’s Trophy wrapped up by United Autosport at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it was down to who would take the runner’s up place at the chequered flag. There did not ever seem to be any competition for the JOTA #38, however, as where Anthony Davidson, Antonio Felix da Costa and Roberto Gonzalez looked like they were in command of the Bahrain International Circuit, the #29 Racing Team Nederland trio of Nyck de Vries, Giedo van der Garde and Frits van Eerd never looked as dominating.

The LMP2 class victory battle went down to the wire in a thrilling fight between JOTA #38 and JOTA-backed #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing who disposed of United Autosport within the first hour to take the top spot of the class. The two JOTA cars traded places throughout the eight hours of racing, but it all came down to a gutsy move in the final ten minutes of the race to secure the victory for the Jackie Chan car.

In the JOTA car, da Costa had been leading the way after displaying some incredible race craft to climb through the field, but a bold move from Gabriel Aubry saw the lead change hands in the final moments. The Portuguese driver had a run in with a GTE Am Ferrari, opening up the door for Aubry to sneak up the inside at Turn 10 to snatch the lead as the pair sped through Turn 11. Aubry’s pace, having just come out the pits on fresher tyres, was too much for da Costa to challenge, and Aubry led the cars over the line for a well deserved win for him and team mates Will Stevens and Ho-Pin Tung. As it is almost certain that Jackie Chan DC Racing will not return to WEC in 2021, this was a well timed victory for the outfit.

Racing Team Nederland finished off the podium after a stronger second half of the race, but as JOTA #38 was ahead of them in the championship standings going into the final race and finished ahead of them, da Costa, Davidson and Gonzalez secured second place in the LMP2 championship standings.

The champions, however, had an uncharacteristic end to the season, finishing fourth but nearly half a minute behind. The team had been in the fight with the two JOTA cars in the first five hours of the race, but disaster struck when an undisclosed fuel glitch occurred in the #22. Paul di Resta, who was in the car at the time, had a slow stop because of this and a five-second time penalty he had to serve due to team mate Filipe Alberquerque causing a collision. These factors took them out of contention for the podium, leaving them for a lonely race to the chequered flag.

World Endurance GTE Drivers' Champion-winning #95 Aston Martin Racing of Marco Sorensen and Nickin Thiim on track at Bahrain International Circuit
Credit: FIA World Endurance Championship

After three different manufacturers started in the top three of GTE Pro, it was a Porsche GT Team one-two by the end of the eight hours. But even though the #95 Aston Martin Racing finished fifth behind one of its championship contenders, it was still enough for Marco Sorensen and Nicki Thiim to secure the World Endurance GTE Drivers’ Championship.

Sorensen and Thiim had looked to be in a great position in the early stages of the race, keeping the fight honest with the #92 Porsche, but the 8 Hours of Bahrain was stacked against them. Losing time during a yellow flag Virtual Safety Car period was the least of their issues when a brake issue plagued the car. All of the Aston Martins (Pro and Am) were affected by the brake issues, meaning each of them had to go into the pits for a brake disc change towards the end of the race.

The time loss left them two laps down on the GTE Pro field and out of podium contention, but with Maxime Martin finishing only fourth ahead of the #95 and James Calado taken out of the race when stand-in team mate Daniel Serra tagged a GTE Am and broke the wheel, they still claimed the Drivers’ Championship to go along with Aston Martin’s manufacturers’ title that was secured at Le Mans.

Once the #95 had fallen out of contention, it was a lonely race for the two Porsches up front, with no one to challenge them for the top two steps of the podium. The battle between the two Porsche ran the entire eight hours, however, with Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen only taking the class win by 2.8s over the sister car. David Rigon and Miguel Molina finished up the podium, over a minute further down the road.

TF Sport had looked like the GTE Am championship was theirs for the taking until the Aston Martin brake issue hit them. They had been trying to avoid making the brake disc stop, but with one hour left in the race the issue became too bad. TF Sport had to stop in the pits, dropping them out of the podium fight and down to eighth. The team tried to fight to get the car back to fifth to claim the title, but there was too much ground to be made up and not enough time to close the gap. It was a valiant effort from Jonny Adam, Salih Yoluc and Charlie Eastwood, but they crossed the line still eighth in class.

With a great drive up the grid to finish second in the race, Emmanuel Collard, Nicklas Nielsen and Francois Perrodo took the GTE Am Drivers’ Trophy, in the end beating the #90 TF Sport team by 15 points. Team Project 1 #56 in the hands of Jorg Bergmeister, Larry Ten Voorde and Edigido Perfetti took AM class victory, with the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing rounding off the podium in third.

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