Speed Chills - Bahrain

  • 'Practice makes Perfect' in Bahrain

    Thursday brought about the first two practice sessions of the last race for the 2017 World Endurance Championship. Albeit close, Toyota Gazoo Racing had the edge over Porsche LMP1 Team in both sessions and finished the day with two one-twos in their back pocket. There was a mix of teams at the top of LMP2, but Vaillante always featured, giving them a good advantage heading towards the race. Aston Martin Racing surged after their recent few race slumps, with Jonny Adam charging the #97 to an impressive finish. The Am championship fight looked to be on in the first practice session, but the Ferrari-running teams shone in the second.

    Toyota are pushing hard to take their third win in a row and fifth of the season. If they manage this, they will have won more races than Porsche this season without winning the championship, showing how important double points at Le Mans may be. Porsche always remained close to Toyota today, but Toyota’s half a second advantage in both sessions suggests they may have pole position in the bag. It should still be a close battle for the race win if early indicators are anything to go by.

    The #7 took glory for Toyota after a horrid end to their 6 Hours of Shanghai last time out. Mike Conway set a 1:42.313 at the start of the first session that was enough to keep them at the top of the board. Anthony Davidson took fastest lap in the cooler second session with a 1:40.095. The Porsche also swapped order between sessions, with the #1 taking third in session one and the #2 taking third this evening.

    In the second session, Earl Bamber and #26 G-Drive Racing newbie Leo Roussel had a moment of contact at Turn 11. The pair were summoned instantly to the race stewards at the end of the session to discuss what happened. It is unclear exactly what happened out on track and who is in danger of being penalised. At the time of publishing, no verdict had been given.

    Vaillante Rebellion were the team to try and beat in LMP2, looking to be favourites to take race victory on Saturday. The #13 kept the #26 G-Drive at bay in the first session to secure a fastest lap of 1:48.707. The #31 had looked to have a poor first practice session, but resolved that when Bruno Senna put in a staggering 1:47.664, a clear six tenths fastest than the sister car. With a one-two in the second session, it is looking ominous for the Rebellion team to be the ones to beat come race day.

    The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing championship-challenging car had a bit of a quiet day, ending the first session seventh. They came back in the second session to take third behind the Rebellion pair. Having lost the championship lead for the first time of the season last race, the #38 team are fighting to take back the four points to take the LMP2 trophy at the end of the season, something they had thought was theirs until last race.

    GTE Pro is looking as close as it has done all year, with three different manufacturers featuring in the top three at the end of the first session. In the cooler track conditions, the grid settled into a two-by-two order which is hopefully something that will not be repeated when the race goes dark just after the start of the six-hour race.

    James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi, leading the GT Drivers’ World Endurance Championship, ended the earlier session fastest, with Aston Martin’s Adam placing the #97 just behind them. Ex-championship leaders Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell managed to improve to third after an oil leak in their Ford that put a 36-miunte red flag delay on the first session. The additional 30 minutes that were added to the first session to make up for lost time definitely helped the Ford team get back on track.

    In the second session, Adam was back on a mission, taking the wheel from team mate Darren Turner for a couple of laps to set a breath-taking 1:57.014. No teams could get close to that time, not even the sister car that had to settle for second, four-tenths off. Sam Bird in the third-placed AF Corse #71 was a further half a second off Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen, nearly a full second off Adam’s time.

    Aston Martin’s pace should be a cause for concern for the other three teams who are fighting for the championship. The better they place, the harder it will be for Ford and Porsche to stop AF Corse claiming the title. On the flip side, Aston Martin are pushing hard to have a perfect race for the Vantage’s last outing, so a send off in victory would be a fantastic way to end this era’s Vantage’s racing career.

    It seems, from today’s practice sessions, that the Dempsey-Proton Racing car may have an advantage on the #98 Aston Martin. To win the championship, the #77 must win and take pole whilst the #98 has to finished third or lower. Ten points separate the two teams with the Aston Martin ahead after taking race win last race out at Shanghai.

    However, Ferrari could play a part in the championship decider after showing they may have a better pace in the night, when the track is cooler. Ferrari-running cars Clearwater Racing #61 and Spirit of Race #54 took one-two for the manufacturer respectively. If they can get between the Porsche and the Aston Martin fighting for the Am title, they could help or hinder either of the car’s chances.

  • 2016 FIA WEC Season Review

    Welcome to our review of the 2016 FIA WEC Championship. Put the kettle on, make a brew, settle down in your favourite chair and enjoy!

    LMP1 Season Review 

    Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas took the FIA World Endurance Championship crown for the first time with a fifth place finish in the 6 Hours of Bahrain, however this season was by no means easy on the crew. They took the first win of the season at Silverstone after the #7 Audi crew were disqualified, second place at Spa Francorchamps in round 2 before taking a last minute win at Le Mans after Toyota heart break in the dying minutes. With double points at Le Mans, the #2 car held a substantial lead at the mid point, 94 points out of 103 on offer saw them sitting at the top of the championship with a 39 point lead. Le Mans was the turning point for the #2 car, early promising performances were replaced with recurring technical issues, reportedly with the cars hybrid system and a distinct lack of pace. Jani, Lieb and Dumas failed to see the podium again this year. Despite these issues, going in to Bahrain, talking to Neel Jani before the start of the race, he was confident the team had what it took to take the title.

    This fall in pace surely held the door wide open though for the ever consistent Audi team to close the gap and take the lead at some point before the season was out? This season however’ Porsche got lucky. A string of issues for Audi meant they were unable to capitalise on the #2 crew’s bad luck in the second half of the year.

    The #8 Audi crew of Oli Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loic Duval were Audi’s main title hopes this year. They were on the pace and working well together, claiming two victories this season in Spa and Bahrain. Uncharacteristically, Audi were hit with a string of issues this year and as a result, both cars arrived in Bahrain out of the championship. Their pace in Austin was phenomenal but hybrid issues for the #8 and a badly timed safety car took both cars out of contention and gifted the win to the #1 Porsche of Webber Bernhard and Hartley. Mexico was yet another poor race for Audi. The #8 was out in front when Jarvis went off at turn one in tricky conditions. Lotterer then hit the wall during a lock up. Porsche came through to take another solid points hall towards both the teams and drivers championship challenge. Another difficult run to fifth in Shanghai for the #8 further dented their title challenge.

    Toyota came in to 2016 with a brand new car, the TS050. The car was a big improvement on the 2015 TS040, the car was competitive and even took the win on home soil in Fuji. As we headed out to Bahrain, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Stephane Sarrazin were the only 3 drivers capable of challenging the #2 Porsche for the drivers title. Toyota had more than their fair share of difficulty this year though. They were leading the race at Spa before the #5 car broke down and leading the race at Le Mans before heartbreak on the final lap.

    LMP2 Season Review

    The 2016 LMP2 season was dominated by the #36 Signatech Alpine, adding the FIA WEC to their 2014 European Le Mans Series crown. Nicolas Lapierre, Gustavo Menezes and Stephane Richelmi won half the races in 2016 in the Nissan powered Alpine A460 and never once finished outside the top four. They fought hard with the #43 RGR Sport and #26 G-Drive racing cars throughout the season with Strakka and Manor mounting outside challenges in what was arguably the most competitive class of the season. The LMP2 grid was heavily involved in the FIA driver rating changes this year, a number of teams, including the #36 Signatech, found themselves benefitting from "Super Silver" drivers, drivers classified silver but professional drivers rather than amateur racers. Gustavo Menezes was one of those "Super Silvers" who found himself lapping inside the top 10% of the field on a frequent basis. However, it was a dominant performance from the crew and drivers which saw them take the title.

    Silverstone was the season anomaly for the #36 squad with all three drivers complaining of tire ware issues, they took fourth place and their joint worst result of the season. It was one of only two times they would finish off the podium. Their absence from the podium was filled by the newly formed RGR Sport team running the #43 car with Bruno Senna, Filipe Albuquerque and Ricardo Gonzalez who took their maiden victory. One of the standout events of the season however was Spa Francorchamps. Nico Lapierre made a last minute move to pass Pipo Derani around the outside. The Tequila Patron ESM got caught up behind Marino Franchitti’s Ford GT.

    The #36 car quickly found themselves back on the top step of the podium next time out at Le Mans, an incredible performance from the team considering Richelmi and Menezes were in their debut Le Mans and Menezes, who at 21 years old, had never completed a 24 hour race before. All three drivers put in a remarkable performance, Menezes especially who pulled out a quadruple stint in the early hours of Sunday morning to keep the car in site of the podium. A strong drive from Nico Lapierre, who had taken victory just one year before helped the team take the flag.

    A third straight win for the crew at the Nurburgring, round 4 in July, continued to build their lead. RGR Sport took victory in Mexico with a fitting win, driver Ricardo Gonzales the official promoter of the event took the top step of the podium on home soil. Alpine returned to the top of the podium at the Circuit of the Americas with three races left to run. The team took the title in Shanghai finishing second, wrapping up the title with one race to spare, they were never really under threat.

    G-Drive put on a strong showing in the final three races of the season, taking  a hat trick of wins for Roman Rusinov and Alex Brundle. They were joined for two of those wins by former Manor F1 driver Will Stevens, with Rene Rast stepping back on board for the final outing in Bahrain. Rusinov had trouble in Mexico which cost the team the win with a catastrophic brake failure in the final hour. Despite the team coming from the back of the grid to take the win, RGR managed to secure second place in the championship.

    GTE-Pro Season Review

    Aston Martin Racing headed in to the 2016 FIA World Endurance with a heavily upgraded Vantage GTE. They were up against the new Ferrari 488GTE and the new Ford GT run by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing UK. Porsche opted to take a year out to focus on the 2017 car, however, Dempsey-Proton Racing ran a customer team Porsche.

    Aston Martin’s Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen proved themselves more than capable of the challenge, taking the drivers championship in Bahrain with a win in the #95 car. The teams championship however, went to Ferrari, marking a successful first year for the new 488 GTE. The 488 had some big boots to fill. Ferrari own the 2012, 2013 and 2014 GT Manufacturers title with the hugely successful 458 and two drivers titles in 2013 and 2014. The 458 also won Le Mans in 2012 and 2014. No >pressure then.

    Aston Martin stalwart Darren Turner began alongside them at the start of the season, the trio claiming a podium at Silverstone behind the AF Corse Ferraris which dominated the race. Sam Bird and Davide Rigon dominated the race in the #71 Ferrari ahead of Gimi Bruni and James Calado in the #51 which also had to serve a three minute time penalty for an engine change between qualifying and the race. It should be noted, that Bruni set the quickest ever GTE time around Silverstone this year, the first driver to break the 1:59 barrier, going 2.5 seconds quicker than his previous record.

    Disaster struck for the team at Spa, Nicki Thiim was spun in to the barriers by an LMP2 car and came to a rest on his roof at Courbe Paul Frere.

    Ferrari capitalised, however a late engine failure for Calado stripped Ferrari of the projected 1-2 finish they were after. The charge came to a stop at Le Mans though with severe mechanical difficulties. Fourth for the GTE-AM AF Course however gifted the team 24 points, a valuable contribution to the teams title chances.

    Despite not making the podium at Le Mans, the trio took points as the second placed WEC entered car. Both the #51 and #71 cars failed to finish and Aston Martin took the championship lead. Ford put on an incredibly dominant performance at Le Mans which saw them bring home three cars in the top four. The #82 Ferrari of Fisichella, Vilander and Malucelli spoiling a Ford front three lock out with a second place. This dominance would see a BOP adjustment later in the season.

    After Le Mans, Aston Martin had a reshuffle of their driver line up which saw Turner swap to the #97 car. Thiim and Sorensen took third place behind the dominant Ferraris before taking third place in Mexico. Turner and Stanaway took the first AMR win of the season in Mexico which put Turner in to the championship lead. Thiim and Sorensen finally took their first win in Austin at the Circuit of the Americas which put them at the top of the table with three races to run and a 12 point lead. Fords dominance returned for Shanghai and Fuji, taking 1-2 finished in both races ahead of #51 Ferrari of Gimi Bruni and James Calado. Heading in to the final race of the season, AMR had a 12 point lead. Turner and Adam set identical qualifying laps to take pole in the #97 before the #95 took the race and a second win of the season.

    Bruni and Calado lost vital points this season and despite finishing on the podium in every race they finished, including a win at the ‘Ring, DNF’s at Spa and Le Mans took them out of contention for the title. They did however, finish third ahead of both the Fords who finished half a point apart, Muecke, and Pla having the slight advantage over Tincknell and Priaulx. Ford took two victories this year and max points at Le Mans enroute to third in their first season back in endurance racing. Three cars in the top four at Le Mans meant they scored max points, whilst two second places at Fuji and Shanghai meant the #66 bested the #67.

    GTE-AM Season Review

    The stats show that the #83 AF Corse Ferrari 458 was not the quickest car in class. They took one win this season but finished every race and claimed 50 points at Le Mans. They took six second place finishes, only failing to take the podium in Austin. The #98 Aston Martin Vantage was notably quicker. The car with Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda at the wheel took six pole positions including the final race in Bahrain, and five wins. Unfortunately, they took hard knocks at Le Mans and Mexico,not finishing either race. Pole position under the night sky of Bahrain gave them hope.That margin of hope however was incredibly small. Collard, Aguas and Perodo just needed to finish, they crossed the line third whilst the engine failed on the #98.

    The #88 Abu Dhabi Proton took victory on the WEC’s first visit to Mexico and again in Bahrain. The retirement of the #95 gave second in the championship to Al Qubaisi and Heinemeier Hansson. With Klaus Bachler replaced by Patrick Long at Le Mans, Al Qubaisi and Heinemeier-Hansson again came close to beating the Ferrari for the top WEC-registered team, but a late charge from Collard saw the Frenchman take second spot in the final hour, which resulted in a decisive 14-point swing.

    The Porsche crew came on form in the final race, Pat Long put pressure on Lauda which saw the #95 spin, Long then lead the rest of the way fending off Wolf Henzler in the KCMG Porsche. The #78 took their fifth consecutive podium in Bahrain but after technical infringement at Nurburgring and technical failure at Silverstone, they were out of the running. Gulf Racing had a solid performance across the year with some big improvements seen across the season for Ben Barker, Adam Carroll and Mike Wainwright.

  • Porsche Bow Out of LMP1 with Pole

    The fairytale starts as Porsche want it: taking pole position in their final outing of the LMP1 919-Hybrid, but the story is far from over. Toyota are hot on their heels and seem to have the pace advantage in the race. The LMP2 championship battle is going to be one to not take your eyes off. The leading #31 Vaillante Rebellion starts down the grid whilst their rivals in the #38 are on the front row. With just four points splitting them, it will be a tense six-hours. AF Corse have pole for the last race, but not with the championship contending car. In the Am class, #98 Aston Martin Racing may very well be on their way to claiming their first title after claiming another pole position this season.

    Porsche led a one-two into the final practice session of the weekend, giving them an edge before the teams took on qualifying. It was a fairly calm 60-minutes for the LMP1 teams, with Timo Bernhard setting his time board-topping 1:42.438 within the first five minutes of the session. No one seemed to be able to close in on that time, with the closest being Neel Jani in the sister car, six tenths off the pace.

    But this was not the case in qualifying. Toyota used a strategy that saw them leaving the pits five minutes after everyone else in an attempt to get some clear track. It worked, and Mike Conway set the first sub 1m40s lap time of the weekend with a 1:39.517. It was clear after Porsche’s second drivers had climbed in the cars it was going to be a big ask to get them ahead of the Toyotas.

    But Jani was determined to give the Porsche one last pole position. Pushing the car to the limit, he produced a lap time that even his team mates were astounded by, putting the #1 in close contention with the proivional pole-sitting #7 Toyota. Nick Tandy climbed back into the Porsche cockpit, with pressure on his shoulders, with the mind set of not letting Jani’s lap time go to waste. A small personal improvement saw the #1 Porsche take its final pole position by just over two tenths of a second.

    The sweltering heat of Bahrain played its hand on the LMP2 field this morning, with both the #24 CEFC Manor TRS Racing and the #36 Signatech Alpine bringing out a brief Full Course Yellows as they slowed and stopped on track. The Jackie Chan DC Racing cars seemed best equipped for the high morning track temperatures as they secured their first one-two of the weekend, also being the first time either of their cars have been fastest in a practice session this weekend. The 1:48.879 set by Ho Pin Tung in the #38 gave them half a second advantage on the rest of the field. After battling with the #37 for second place, G-Drive Racing #26 had to settle for third.

    The #36 got back on top of the pace after it’s earlier issue and put in an impressive lap average to take pole by four tenths. Gustavo Menezes declared that team mate Andre Negrao had “pulled the boat along” with his lap time, making Menezes job simple when he got in the car.

    Lining up beside them tomorrow will be the #38 Jackie Chan car. A bad qualifying for both Vaillante Rebellions sees the #38 crew on the front foot going into the race. Just four points separate the two and with the #31 Rebellion starting four sixth it is going to need to be the recovery drive of all drives from Bruno Senna, Nicolas Prost and Julien Canal if they are to secure the 2017 LMP2 Trophy.

    After a short red flag period brought out by the #86 Gulf Racing Am Porsche, which caught fire and stopped on track at Turn 9 – leaking fluid, the GTE classes were in qualifying simulation mode for the end of free practice three. The leaders of both classes changed every lap, with lap times tumbling as the end of the session drew closer. James Calado put the #51 AF Corse fastest with a 1:57.972, ahead of championship rival Andy Priaulx in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car. The second AF Corse Ferrari, #71, rounded off the top three, half a second off the sister car.

    Qualifying quickly became a Ferrari affair with consistent laps from the #71 AF Corse pair too much for anyone else to contend with. The prediction had been that the two Astons would be fighting for pole position in the final qualifying session, but in the end there was no stopping Sam Bird and Davide Rigon who had struggled throughout the practice sessions.

    Andy Priaulx was set to place his championship contending #67 second on the row, but the weekend’s rapid Adam put an early end to that, dropping in a lap time that was quick enough to demote the team. Harry Tincknell said after the session that they were happy with the performance, but that it was all to play for tomorrow. As the underdogs for the championship now, they have the least to lose in the race, but starting ahead of the other championship contenders is definitely a positive.

    James Calado explained that they were focused on the race in the championship leading #51. He said that they were happy starting from fourth and were looking to have a nice, simple race to get them back home to the championship. If the race finished with the grid positions as they have qualified, there would not be enough of a points gain for the #67 to take the title. Porsche GT Team #91 starts further down the grid and has the most to do tomorrow if they want any chance of stealing the title.

    It had looked like the #98 Aston Martin Racing car was going to take its first fastest lap of the weekend, but it did not seem to be able to keep up when the fast laps started pouring out at the end of the session. Glory went to the #61 Clearwater Racing team that has recently confirmed it’s return to WEC for the 2018/19 ‘Super Season’. Championship contending #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing was second, with the #54 Spirit of Race taking third.

    After it’s earlier fire, the #86 car sat out of qualifying, using the time to repair the car so it will be ready for the race tomorrow. It was Paul Dalla Lana’s day as his second driver lap pulled the #98 ahead of the #61 Clearwater Ferrari that had looked to have pole position in the bag. In terms of championship battles it’s a positive for the Aston Martin as now they take an 11-point advantage into the final six-hour endurance of the season, making it harder for Dempsey-Proton to steal the title from under their nose. The trio have come close to taking the title in the past, but this would be the first time they had actually secured it if all goes their way in tomorrow’s race.