Toyota dominates Bahrain 8 Hour WEC season finale

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s No. 8 GR010 HYBRID scored a dominant 8 Hours of Bahrain victory Saturday evening from pole position, bringing another highly successful FIA WEC season for the Japanese-flagged team to a close.

With their second win of the season, Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa claimed the 2023 Hypercar World Endurance drivers’ championship, taking the manufacturer’s 45th all-time win as well as six victories from seven races in 2023 for the Cologne-based program.

Behind, the No. 7 sister Toyota came home second to make it a 1-2. It was a hard-fought podium for the No. 7 crew after a superb comeback drive early in the race.

Mike Conway was hit from behind by Cadillac’s Earl Bamber on the entry of Turn 1 at the start, which turned the Toyota around, dropping it to the back of the pack. “Everyone trying to win it in the first corner isn’t working well,” Conway said later.

Bamber explained after the race that he wasn’t trying to make an ambitious lunge.

“I was actually not trying to pass anyone; I was just braking,” he said. “Then, in the middle of the brake zone, both front tires just locked up. I tried to avoid the left-hand side bit just clapped the Toyota. I feel bad we affected their race and we obviously affected our own.”

The Briton had a mountain to climb but put his head down and steered the No. 7 to third in the opening hour. Kamui Kobayashi then took second off the No. 51 Ferrari 499P of James Calado at Turn 1 with just under six hours to go.

From there, the No. 7’s run to the front stalled, with Hartley, Hirakawa and Buemi at the end managing the gap back to the sister car. The winning margin was 47s after eight hours.

“It has been an amazing year,” Hartley said. “I am really proud to be part of the No. 8 crew and this Toyota Gazoo Racing team. Thanks to everyone for a fantastic season. We have had some fierce battles with car No. 7 and the other Hypercar competitors all year and today was no different. There were times when we were not the fastest car on the track so we were really pushing. Seb had the most stressful part of the race today, getting through the first corner cleanly but he and Ryo did a great job. Becoming a four-time world champion is probably going to take a while to sink in, but it sounds really nice.”

The No. 7’s season featured many highs, including wins at Sebring, Spa, Monza and Fuji to keep Conway, Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez in the hunt for the drivers’ title and help ensure Toyota claimed the manufacturers’ crown on home soil. But the No. 7’s woes at Portimao and retirement at Le Mans proved extremely costly and ultimately prevented them from beating the sister car to the title.

Elsewhere, both Ferraris were mathematically in the title hunt for today’s finale, but for either crew to win, they needed both Toyotas to hit major trouble.

Neither 499P had the outright pace on this occasion and, instead, found themselves fighting for third with the Hertz Team JOTA Porsche and each other for much of the race. Frustrations did eventually boil over at Ferrari in the second half, too, when Alessandro Pier Guidi and Antonio Fuoco made contact more than once after the sixth round of stops.

As for JOTA, its privately run Porsche 963 produced arguably the standout performance of the race en route to an impressive fourth-place finish for the British team, after herculean performances from Will Stevens, Yifei Ye and Antonio Felix da Costa.

Culminating after hours of fighting, Stevens crossed the line under a second behind Fuoco, who secured the final podium spot in the No. 50. The sister 499P came home sixth behind the No. 6 Penske Porsche.

A fifth-place finish for the No. 6 came on a day when neither Penske Porsche 963, nor the Proton example, featured in the battle for a place on the podium.. It was a quiet outing for both Peugeot 9X8s and the Cadillac V-Series.R, too. Cadillac Racing’s 11th-place finish in particular will come as a huge disappointment for all involved after showing so much promise pre-race.

The car started third after Alex Lynn’s Qualifying heroics but had to serve a 90s stop and hold for hitting the No. 7 at Turn 1. With no safety car periods during the eight hours, the team couldn’t find a way back into the race.

Team WRT dominated LMP2. Motorsport Images

In LMP2, Team WRT’s No. 41 ORECA of Rui Andrade, Robert Kubica and Louis Deletraz comfortably won the drivers’ and teams’ titles with a win from 10th on the grid. It was a metronomic run from the trio to the finish, while their title rivals from United Autosports and Inter Europol endured tough outings, punctuated by setbacks in the first half of the race.

United’s No. 22 ORECA was handed a punishing 90s stop and hold for hitting the Vanwall at the exit of Turn 1 at the start, while Inter Europol’s car lost chunks of time to a technical hiccup which forced Albert Costa to stop twice and complete power cycles.

This made it a relatively comfortable run to the flag for WRT’s title-winning crew in the final outing for LMP2 as a full-season WEC category. The No. 22 finished ninth, while the Inter Europol Gibson-powered ORECA took sixth. With a lead of over 30 points before the race, it was always going to be a long shot for either United or Inter Europol to clinch the title anyway.

Behind the No. 41 WRT, the sister No. 31 car took second making it a 1-2 for the Belgian team that is set to graduate to Hypercar with BMW next year. It was a heartbreaking final hour for Sean Gelael, Ferdinand Habsburg and Robin Frijns, though. The trio didn’t put a foot wrong and lost the lead after an issue at its final stop. The No. 28 JOTA ORECA finished the night in third.

It was a day to forget for Vector Sport’s ORECA and the No. 23 United ORECA. Both had their races ruined by 90s stop-and-go penalties for running with tyre pressures below the stated limit early in the race and “gaining a huge advantage.”

Both cars were leading at the time the decisions from race control came through. Vector’s car eventually retired in the final hour with a suspected throttle sensor issue, while the No. 23 came home eighth.

The Iron Dames claimed the last ever GTE victory. Motorsport Images

The final ever GTE victory, meanwhile, went the way of the Iron Dames Porsche after a highly-entertaining eight-hour battle for the 13 cars present for the category’s swansong. It was a hugely significant result for the program and the championship, as Rahel Frey, Sarah Bovy and Michelle Gatting’s performance secured the first-ever WEC class win for an all-female crew.

With the titles wrapped up by Corvette Racing in Monza, this was a straight fight with the pressure of a championship battle lifted. The gloves were off, and the category signed off its stint in the WEC, which dates back to the inaugural season in 2012, with a memorable encounter.

The D’Station Racing Aston Martin took second and Casper Stevenson was unable to catch and pass Gatting in the final hour. The No. 98 Northwest AMR Vantage made it a double-podium for the British manufacturer with a third-place finish.

“The final stint was pressured and stressful for me inside the car, but in the end, the feedback I was getting from our engineer helped made me stay calm,” Gatting said after the win. “At one point I could really see the No. 777 Aston Martin was very close. I pushed a bit more to increase the gap a bit, and in the end with the traffic I managed to increase the gap even more and feel pretty in control.

“To be honest, I just enjoyed the last ride in this car. It’s been an absolute pleasure having the opportunity to drive the Porsche this year. Finally getting this win is something we’ve wanted to achieve for a long time, and it’s quite emotional for all of us. This is what exactly what we want to achieve; we want to prove that we can compete on exactly the same terms as everybody else and we are here to win races.”

For much of the race, Iron Lynx’s No. 60 Porsche led the way, after monster stints from Matteo Cressoni and later Alessio Picariello. Sadly, though, the car had to be parked with 2h20m remaining as the team’s Bronze driver, Claudio Schivaoni, was not well enough to drive.

By regulation, the Bronze driver in each car must complete 2h20m during an eight-hour race. Thus, the team switched its driver order and held out as long as possible, but Schavoni felt unable to climb in for the end and the team parked the car early.

The GTE Am championship winners, in Corvette Racng’s final race as a factory with the C8.R, had an uncharacteristically forgettable run to seventh, but nevertheless enjoyed the final chapter of a spectacular season for the program.


Story originally appeared on Racer