Rampant Gazoo Racing makes Endurance Racing its own
Toyota claimed its fifth World Endurance Championship on the trot with another typically dominant 1-2 at the 8 Hours of Bahrain on Saturday. The Number 8 crew of Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Ryo Hirakawa claimed their second World drivers titles in succession. Buemi and Hartley took their respective fourth WEC titles. Gazoo Racing won every round except for the double-points Le Mans 24 Hour en route to that fifth maker’s crown.
Second on Saturday, Mike Conway, Gazoo WEC boss Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez had to make do with second in the driver’s race after being taken out of contention for the race and the title. Their Number 7 was bumped off the track to spark a first turn pile-up on Saturday. They however stormed back to second to secure second in the driver’s title. Ferrari crew Italy Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen were third. They pipped Le Mans winning teammates, James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi and Alessandro Pier Guidi in the driver’s title chase.
Cadillac trio, Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn and Richard Westbrook took fifth by a point from Porsche trio, Kévin Estre, André Lotterer and Laurens Vanthoor. Rookies Ferrari ended second in their World Endurance Championship for Makes comeback from Porsche, Cadillac, Peugeot, Glickenhaus and Vanwall. WRT and drivers, Robert Kubica, Louis Delétraz and Angolan Rui Andrade took the LMP2 titles with a win on Sunday. Corvette trio, Nicky Catsburg, Ben Keating and Nicolás Varrone had already won the GTE AM title as Iron Dames Porsche lades, Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting took the class win on Saturday to steal second in the title chase.
Bahrain drama from the outset
The drama started in the first turn on Saturday. Earl Bamber’s Cadillac nerfed the Mike Conway’s 7 Toyota into a spin. That release winners Hartley, Buemi and Hirakawa into the lead of the bonus points title decider. They would never be challenged through the eight hours, but the action was fraught behind them. The 51 Ferrari led the initial charge in second ahead of an on form António Félix da Costa, Will Stevens and Ye Yifei’s Jota Porsche. The Number 8 Toyota fought back and passed the Jota Porsche and Ferrari into second by mid distance. The Gazoo car was too far behind its teammate to make a difference, leaving the fight for third.
That was punchy, as the Ferraris swapped paint at a point. Fuoco, Molina and Nielsen took the advantage to be chased all the way home by the Jota Porsche despite a pitlane penalty. It was also challenged by the Estre, Lotterer and Vanthoor factory Porsche, with the 51 Ferrari in pursuit in sixth. Dane Cameron, Michael Christensen and Frédéric Makowiecki’s second factory Porsche ended seventh. From the Peugeots of Loïc Duval, Gustavo Menezes and Nico Müller, and Mikkel Jensen, Paul di Resta and Jean-Éric Vergne. Gianmaria Bruni, Neel Jani and Harry Tincknell’s Proton Porsche followed from the penalised Cadillac.
All change in the WEC for 2024
Delétraz, Andrade and Kubica took their third LMP2 win of the season in Bahrain to take the title for WRT. Teammates Robin Frijns, Sean Gelael and Ferdinand Habsburg were second on the day. Sixth in Bahrain, Inter Europol’s Le Mans winners Albert Costa, Fabio Scherer and Jakub Śmiechowski ended second in the title chase. The Iron Dames beat the Aston Martins of D’Station trio Tomonobu Fujii, Casper Stevenson and Liam Talbot and NorthWest AMR’s Daniel Mancinelli, Alex Riberas and Ian James to victory in the last ever GTE AM race.
It’s all change for 2024 on the WEC’s road to Le Mans. LMP2 falls away, except for a once-off appearance at Le Mans. A more generic LMGT3 class replaces GTE LM, with two cars per manufacturer expected to bring more diversity. Alpine, BMW, Lamborghini and Isotta Fraschini meanwhile join Toyota, Ferrari, Porsche, Cadillac, Peugeot, Vanwall and possibly Acura/Honda in the Hypercars. Most of whom will bring more privateer cars in the New Year too, to bring a stunning next step on the Road to Le Mans.
But can anyone beat Toyota Gazoo Racing? Bring it on!