Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard are the new World Endurance Champions after a thrilling Bahrain finale, won by the sister 919 Hybrid of Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas.
The #17 Webber/Hartley/Bernhard machine could only finish fifth after two unscheduled pitstops to repair its engine actuator, but victory for the second car denied the #7 Audi crew of Marcel Fassler/Andre Lotterer/Benoit Treluyer the victory they required to grab the title.
There was also a feelgood story in third, as Alex Wurz signed off his professional racing career on the podium for Toyota, sharing with Stephane Sarrazin and Mike Conway.
Story of the race
The six-hour race began with the pole-sitting #17 Porsche charging into the lead, pursued first by its sister car and then the charging Lucas di Grassi in Audi #8.
The #17 Porsche suffered its first problem just 30 minutes into the six-hour race, when a actuator problem meant a loss of power, forcing Bernhard to cruise into the pits. The car lost 8m35s, and tumbled to the back of the field.
It charged back into the top six, which became fifth with the second Audi, the #8 car, suffered a left-front brake disc explosion. It required a lengthy stop to replace the entire corner of the car, losing eight laps.
Before that issue, Audi had held a dominant 1-2 thanks to an aggressive pitstop strategy that consistently undercut the #18 Porsche. But the 20s advantage the #7 had pulled out was negated by an ill-timed full course yellow just before the half distance mark.
That provoked the most exciting action of the race, as the lead was swapped between Treluyer (in the #8 Audi) and Lieb on a lap-by-lap basis. Lieb made the move stick in robust fashion at the final corner and pulled away thereafter.
A second full course caution also played into the Porsche’s hands, and it pulled well clear of the Audi in the closing stages. The #7 car also made two extra pitstops to the winning Porsche.
Webber was forced to pit again with just over an hour of the race remaining, a much quicker visit to the garage this time – and although he lost two laps he didn’t concede a place.
Bernhard said: “We had the same issue in my opening stint – we’re aging watching this in the pits!”
With the #18 car winning, that essentially guaranteed the drivers’ title for its sister machine.
The Toyotas finished third and fourth, with the #2 car just a second ahead of the #1. The #17 Porsche finished fifth, a couple of laps clear of the #8 Audi that was given a pitstop penalty near the end.
Fireworks in LMP2
LMP2 featured a fascinating duel between the KCMG Oreca of Nick Tandy, Richard Bradley and Matt Howson and the G-Drive Ligier of Sam Bird, Julien Canal and Roman Rusinov.
The issue was settled in the final pitstops, when although Bird lost a chunk of time to Tandy taking on fresh left-side tyres, and rejoined 22s in arrears, he carved into the gap and passed Tandy with ease with 14m to go.
Porsche and Aston claim GT honours
GTE Pro was dominated by the Porsche 911 RSR of Patrick Pilet and Frederic Makowiecki, as Pilet charged into the class lead during the first 20 minutes.
“It was a great start to the race, and then no problems after that,” said Pilet.
The AF Corse Ferrari of Toni Vilander/Gianmaria Bruni finished a distant second, having suffered brake issues.
In GTE Am, the Aston of Pedro Lamy/Mathias Lauda and Paul Dalla Lana. “The competition was really stiff today, and it’s great to finish the year on a high.”