Toyota and Audi suffer retirements at the 6 Hours of Bahrain as the #8 Toyota TS030 leads the way entering hour four of the World Endurance Championship finale.[Not a valid template]
Come half distance, assumptions that the 6 Hours of Bahrain would a Toyota whitewash had all but vanished. After taking a commanding lead in the early stages, stretching the gap to more than three seconds at one stage to its sister entry, the #7 TS030 encountered its first issue when a loss of traction entering turn 13, the #8 saying thank you very much and leaping into the lead. Though the positions would swap again during the pit stops, the #7 would fail to make half distance, pulling to a halt at the end of pitroad and a shake of the head from Alexander Wurz confirming all was not well. Unable to recover to the pitlane, and incapable of completing another lap with a busted engine, the erstwhile leader was out.
Further drama was to follow, and was not reserved for the Japanese squad. Rebellion Racing made a big exit from the race, flames shooting from the back of the Lola just after the second hour had struck. Though already well over a minute behind the top four, Rebellion’s hopes of finishing fifth were extinguished along with the exhausts.
As the race entered its third hour, yet bigger contenders would fall. World champions Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Loic Duval’s hopes of finishing a dominant season with a podium came to an abrupt halt when the #2 R18 Ultra jinked at turn eight, immediately losing power and eventually pulling off-track on the back straight. Rumours quickly circulated that McNish, who had yet to drive during the race, would fail to claim the point earned by his teammates for competing and would therefore not be crowned world champion, though this was eventually denied.
Issues for the Toyota and Audi cars elevated the #1 Audi of outgoing world champions Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer from fourth to second, leaving them just 20 seconds behind the lead Toyota and presumably with nothing beyond possibility. Such proved the case when the #1 lost a further 20 seconds when it received a drive-through penalty for passing under yellow flags. Victory for Toyota though, it would seem, is far from secure.
Roman Rusinov, John Martin and Mike Conways’s #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 03 currently lies third overall and first of the LMP2 runners after a solid run ahead of Pecom Racing’s Luis Perez Companc, Nicholas Minassian and Pierre Kaffer in the #49 Oreca 03. Toni Vilander and Gianmaria Bruni hold the lead – and, potentially, championship glory – in the GT Pro standings after problems struck early leaders Jörg Bergmeister and Patrick Pilet in the #91 Porsche AG Team Manthey 911 RSR. Currently 15th overall, Christoffer Nygaard, Kristian Poulsen and Nicki Thiim lead the way in GT Am.
Fate also took a turn for the worse for the #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8 of Stefan Mucke and Darren Turner after the Aston slowed dramatically on-track as the fourth hours approached.
Allan McNish, #2 Audi Sport Team Joest (DNF)
“Overall it’s been a stunning year for us. We won all the big things we wanted ton win, we did a clean job, made no mistakes, and it obviously is disappointing for the team and for everyone back in Ingolstadt that we went out in the final race, but we went out fighting. That’s the thing we have to remember. It’s only the second technical failure I’ve had with Audi in all of my career and so from that point of view I can only thank the Audi reliability. Next Friday when we’re popping the champagne corks at the FIA awards, it’ll be a distant memory.
“If you look last year, Toyota probably should have won: Audi got a 1-2, but Toyota had the legs on us. This circuit definitely suits the fundamental characteristics of their car. We knew they would be quick here, we knew we would be on the backfoot, but I was pleasantly surprised we were sticking at 15s behind. We were looking towards the end of the race.”
Bruno Senna, #99 Aston Martin Racing (13th overall, 4th in-class)
“Well it’s pretty clear that Ferrari has got everything right this weekend. Their car is really quick with race pace, their tyre drop-off is very small compared to us, and they’ve just been very competitive. We’re going to have to push very hard to see if we can be third and fourth behind the Ferraris if they finish as they look like doing. For sure this is the first race weekend where we don’t really look like winning. It’s a long race but we’re going to have to push very hard to get where we want to.
“For sure it’s been the higher tyre degradation we’ve seen all year and it’s quite surprising how bad it is. But I think everyone is having to deal with it and it’s just part of the show.
“You just have to do your best and make sure the car doesn’t fail, because it’s very easy for the car to have a mechanical failure. Anything can happen so we just have to drive sensibly and not make any mistakes.”
Craig Dolby, #25 Delta-ADR (9th overall, 7th in-class)
“We’ve had a few little issues, but we’re a good team so I think we’ll come through. Fifth on the grid isn’t an issue in a six-hour race. Plus as a team we’re really gelling. Robbie [Kerr] and myself have known each other for years and we’ve coached together, so it’s great to be sharing a car with him. And Fabien [Giroix] has come in for this weekend. He’s so professional. He brings a lot of technical knowledge to the team, and I hope that carries on.
“I love it here. When you find out back home that it’s zero degrees(!) and we’re out here, it’s so good. Plus my nights have all been in the dark. It’s the first time I’ve raced in the dark and I really love. Let’s hope I can do the same at Le Mans next year!”
Benoît Tréluyer, #1 Audi Sport Team Joest (2nd overall, 2nd in-class)
“I actually did a double stint, which was fine. It was not so hot and the car has a really goopd cooling system. We knew we were going to struggle in the beginning because the track conditions weren’t that good. Our car better should get better through the race, so now we start to get some good pace and I think we can get more performance out of the car.
“I know that with Ferraris it’s the same problem at every track. You think he’s letting you past, then all of a sudden he turns in. Anyway, it’s happened, we have to be very careful, and we have to avoid contact. I think the race director took the right decision in giving me a warning. It can be very easy to get a penalty, so you always worry when you hit another car. But fortunately there’s no damage. The Audi is a strong car, so we’re not worried about that.
“Actually it was quite difficult in the beginning because the sun was coming right through my tear-off. So it was quite difficult to see the lines after the first few laps.”