After they were comprehensively beaten by Toyota in Brazil, Audi hit back in Bahrain to record a 1-2 finish, although as ever a little bit of luck was to play a role. Strakka Racing recorded their 1st WEC podium finishing 3rd overall, while in P2 it was a far closer battle.
In the searing desert heat, which made things equally difficult for both drivers, teams and cars, only the 1st 2 hours of the race were run in daylight, night conditions present for hours 3-6.
Audi locked out the front row in qualifying, but Alex Wurz used his #7 Toyota TS030’s hybrid system to split the Audi E-Tron Quattros coming into the first corner, passing #1 Marcel Fassler and going in pursuit of pole man #2 Allan McNish. It only took 10 mins for Wurz to make his move, up the inside of McNish on the final turn as both cars lapped the GTE-Am pack.
Wurz then proceeded to pull away from McNish with Fassler looming behind in 3rd place. Harold Primat in the #13 Rebellion Lola-TMG had started from the last row of the grid but was making rapid progress through the GTE pack, but receiving a warning on driving standards from race control, for being a bit over eager to make up positions, having made contact with the #29 LMP2 Lola-Nissan.
Fassler making his move on team mate McNish at T1 around the 20min mark as McNish ran wide clearly having less grip. McNish’s woes were further compounded by a headlight failure, and then being told by race control to repair it at the next stop. When he made his 1st scheduled stop around the 45 min mark the car was pushed back into garage for a new nose and for the mechanics to examine the handling problems, diagnosed as a rear brake issue, this was repaired, the car re-joining with Tom Kristensen onboard, along with a full tank of diesel and fresh tyres, almost 2 laps down.
Wurz then pitted from the lead to hand over to Nicolas Lapierre and fresh petrol/rubber, and Fassler pitted, replaced by Andre Lotterer and a full service. Jonny Kane in the #21 Strakka HPD briefly took the lead as the 2 leading works P1’s pitted, before he pitted. After the 1st series of pitstops; Neel Jani in the #12 Rebellion-Lola TMG held 3rd overall, until a recovering Kristensen took back the position around the 85min mark.
Karun Chandhok in the #22 JRM HPD had a quiet first hour which was a double stint for him, but was penalised with a 30 second stop and go for speeding in the pitlane during his first fuel/tyres stop. The speeding was caused by the cars telemetry system not working and a reset of this system was planned during the penalty stop, as it controls the pitlane speed limiter among other items. This was unsuccessful and the car spent considerable time in the pits with Peter Dumbreck making it out for a few laps later on, but eventually the car was retired, the team resolving to have the car perfect or the next WEC round at Fuji in Japan.
After the 3 hour mark had passed and with a 30 second lead, the #7 Toyota pitted and was immediately pushed into the garage to have its sidepods replaced –as the illuminated race numbers had stopped working, and this would incur a penalty if they were not working, the car losing 4 laps and 4 positions behind the 2 Audis, 2 Rebellion Lola’s and the #21 Strakka HPD. The Toyota re-joined in 6th, 8.5 mins down, team manager Pascal Vasselon describing it as ‘stupid problem’.
Tom Kristensen almost lost his second position with a right rear puncture but held position after a smooth pitstop, handing back to McNish, while Harold Primat also was forced to pit to replace non-illuminating race numbers. Allan McNishs earlier headlight woes returned as he was again forced to pit by race control to repair them, after a nose change only side was working, the car staying out as the mechanics examined the nose despite being ordered by race control to pit and change them, then pitting again to have the first nose refitted which was now working properly.
It clearly was not Audis day regarding headlights, just after the 4 hour mark the #1 Audi pitted for a stop and yet another nose change, but a stumbled change required a 3rd nose section to be fitted, leaving Audi team manager Ralf Juttner furious.
Following a brief safety car period in the 5th hour in which all the remaining P1’s pitted, due to debris ontrack it went totally wrong for Toyota as the #7 car went off-track at T12 after contact with the #21 Strakka HPD of Jonny Kane. Replays showed the #7 taking an awkward line on the inside as the #21 held the racing line on the outside, contact and severe suspension damage for #7 being the result, and subsequent retirement. Kane pitted the HPD for a replacement tyre after a puncture following the incident. The Toyotas retirement elevated Kane to 3rd overall and the team held onto this position at the end, Danny Watts bringing the car to the flag behind the #1 Audi of Fassler/Treluyer/Lotterer and the #2 Audi of Kristensen and McNish
The largest field of the race and the action came quickly. Poleman Stephane Sarrazin in the #44 Starworks HPD quickly lost the lead being overtaken by a hard charging Olivier Pla in the #24 Oak Morgan-Nissan, with Nicolas Minassian in the #49 Pecom Oreca-Nissan almost pushing Sarrazin to 3rd by the end of lap 1 but held back to have a close 3 way battle for the opening 30 minutes of the race. Christoph Zugel in the #41 Greaves Zytek-Nissan ran wide at the start in avoidance of a spinning car and pitted at the end of lap 1 for underfloor plank repairs, the team being mindful of post-race ride height checks.
Dominick Kraihamer in the #35 Oak Morgan Nissan suffered a suspension failure at T1 just before the 30 minute mark, beaching the car in the gravel and leading to the races first retirement, disappointing for him and the teams other 2 drivers; Bertrand Baguette and Alex Brundle, who would not get to race. At the 40 minute mark the first scheduled pitstop of the race occurred, the #49 Pecom car in for a full service with Pierre Kaffer replacing a visibly drained Nicolas Minassian.
ADR-Delta had a race to forget, having previously had good results this season, the #25 Oreca Nissan of John Martin and Tor Graves suffering suspension and brake problems and tumbling down the order as a result. The Lotus Kodewa team are doing better in the latter half of this season, the #32 car driven by James Rossiter leading the class at the end of the first hour, mainly due to a double stint by Rossiter but this would later haunt them with both cars pitting due to driver fatigue around the 90 minute mark, the sweltering heat of Bahrain even at night affecting every driver.
After their strong showing at previous rounds, Starworks had a bit more of a fight on their hands mainly from the #49 Pecom car but also both Signatech Nissans, the #26 car of Nelson Panciatici briefly leading the class and then fighting for 3rd in class with the #44 Starworks car now driven by Enzo Potollicchio. The #32 Lotus was now on the rebound with Vitantonio Liuzzi leading the class in the 3rd hour after a decent fight with the #49 Pecom car, now with Luis Perez-Companc at the wheel.
The #29 Gulf Middle-East Lola-Nissan had another race weekend to forget. After being spun by the #13 Rebellion Lola in the opening laps of the race leading to a puncture, a loose wheel at T14 lead to the cars retirement, worse luck was to follow for the #41 Greaves Zytek with Ricardo Gonzalez, which tangled with the #71 Ferrari of Olivier Beretta at T11, hitting the wall and bringing the safety car out as a result.
Starworks appeared to have the race victory in hand until the last pitstop when the car refused to start, Sarrazin trying frantically to get the car going again, before it was pushed into the garage, where an overheating alternator was giving starter motor trouble, this was quickly resolved and the car re-joined in 3rd place, behind the #49 Pecom Oreca and the #23 Signatech Oreca, 6 seconds behind
Only 4 cars in this class, but as ever some first class racing was provided. The pole position #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage of Darren Turner stayed ahead of the #51 AF Corse Ferrari F458 of Giancarlo Fisichella /Toni Vilander at the start who both pulled ahead of the #77 Felbermayr-Proton Porsche 997 of Marc Lieb/Richard Lietz and the #71 AF Corse Ferrari F458 of Olivier Beretta and Andrea Bertolini. The Ferrari’s were given a performance break before this round, a smaller fuel tank but with a 15kg weight reduction.
The #71/77 cars spent a good percentage of the race bumper to bumper with mostly clean driving although Beretta was hauled before the stewards for being over aggressive against both Lietz and LMP cars while being lapped, tagging the #41 Greaves car into a spin. All 4 cars led the class at least once, with the #51 Ferrari leading the majority but the Aston lost the chance to challenge for the race win after 1 of its silencers disintegrated in a shower of sparks which not only attracted the attention of race control, but also slowly filling the cabin of the car with fumes, forcing Darren Turner to pit early for repairs. This class also had the longest stints, staying out for upwards of 30 laps at a time.
Given the close nature of the class, it was unsurprising that the finish was close too. #51 Fisichella/Vilander won with #97 Mucke/Turner in second, 1 lap down, #77 Lieb/Lietz 44 seconds behind in third with #71 Bertolini/Beretta a further 14 seconds back.
Although lacking the drama and incidents of the other classes, GTE-Pro certainly provided a close race
Like GTE-Pro, low in numbers with 6 cars entering but the close racing was again a part of it. #50 Fernando Rees in the #50 Larbre Corvette C6R providing the perfect foil for Alex Wurz to take the overall lead, not long before the second Larbre Corvette, the #70 of Christophe Bourret hit the barriers hard at T3 while involved in a battle with the #57 Krohn Racing Ferrari F458 of Tracy Krohn. The damaged car limped back to the pits for lengthy repairs.
At the front the #61 AF Corse-Waltrip Ferrari F458 of Rui Aguas led for the 1st hour but had the #88 Felbermayr-Proton Porsche of Christian Ried in close company. Ried eventually getting ahead of the Ferrari and staying there for the entire race, the #61 Ferrari holding onto second place. The #55 JWA-Avila Porsche 997 held onto 3rd for the majority of the race, but cruelly suffered a coolant pipe problem with less than 25 minutes of the race to go. This bumped the #57 Krohn Ferrari up to 3rd overall in class, which made up for their poor showing at the previous round in Brazil.
An interesting, if not exactly thrilling WEC round. Luck gifting Audi the win after the competitive streak of the Toyota was cut short. Toyotas home race is next in Fuji and with fresh running gear being installed in the Toyota they will be determined for a second win.
Story by: Ed Fahey