With nine titles still open, the final round of the FIA World Endurance Championship 2021 in Bahrain was a race with high intensity.
While last weekend’s race on the same track was six-hours in daylight, this race was eight hours, with only about three hours of those were run in daylight.
Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 with Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez and Mike Conway had taken the last Pole Position of the season in Hypercar, ahead of Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 with Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, while Alpine Elf Matmut #36 with Matthieu Vaxiviere, Nicolas Lapierre and Andre Negrao would start from P3.
In the LMP2 category, United Autosports USA #22 with Filipe Albuquerque, Phil Hanson and Fabio Scherer set the fastest time in the qualifying, ahead of Realteam Racing #70 with Norman Nato, Esteban Garcia and Loic Duval, which was also the best qualified LMP2 Pro/Am car, while JOTA #38 with Antonio Felix da Costa, Anthony Davidson and Roberto Gonzalez would start from third.
Porsche #92 with Kevin Estre, Neel Jani and Michael Christensen started from Pole in GTE Pro, ahead of AF Corse Ferrari #51 with James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi, Porsche #91 with Gianmaria Bruni, Frederic Makowiecki and Richard Lietz, while AF Corse Ferrari #52 with Daniel Serra and Miguel Molina would start from the fourth position.
Cetilar Racing #47 with Roberto Lacorte, Giorgio Sernagiotto and Antonio Fuoco started as the best GTE Am car, followed by AF Corse Ferrari #83 with Francois Perrodo, Nicklas Nielsen and Alessio Rovera, and Iron Lynx Ferrari #85 with Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey and Katherine Legge.
31 cars took the start at 14.00 local time.
There was more trouble at the start than last week.
Alpine Elf Matmut #36 took the lead of the race as the two Toyota Gazoo Racing cars had been busy outbraking themselves in Turn 1. Racing Team Nederland #29 took the LMP2 lead, with extremely late braking by Giedo van der Garde, on the way into Turn 1. Further back, Aston Martin Racing #98 got spun around by their brand colleague TF Sport #33. Both cars ended up with a puncture on the right rear tire and left front tire respectively, so they both had to pit.
ARC Bratislava #44 was in front of the GTE Pro field and slowed down Porsche #92, so AF Corse Ferrari #51 could sneak past it. Estre in #92, however, wouldn’t give up. It was hard to see that it was just the beginning of an 8-hour race, since Estre, Calado, Bruni, and Serra drove as if they were in a twenty-minute sprint race. AF Corse Ferrari #51 even used some of the asphalt outside the white lines to defend itself. The stewards noticed and ordered them to give the position back to Porsche.
AF Corse Ferrari #83 had lost a couple of positions in GTE Am, but with their closest competitor, TG Sport #33, having some problems, they would only need to stay out of trouble during the race.
United Autosports USA #22 had come up to second place in LMP2, while Realteam Racing #70 was third.
D’Station Racing Aston Martin #777 progressed through the GTE Am field again and was quickly up to the second place. Next, they set their sight on the leading Cetilar Racing Ferrari #47.
The lead of the race was about to change when Alpine Elf Matmut #36 got caught behind Iron Lynx Ferrari #60, but Nicolas Lapierre didn’t make it easy for Mike Conway to begin with, before Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 finally took the lead of the race later on the same lap. On the next lap, Sebastien Buemi in #8 also drove past #36 on the same spot – the back straight.
Team WRT #31 did a late dive on JOTA #38 at the end of the back straight, but Roberto Gonzalez spotted Ferdinand Habsburg at the very last second, so there was no contact between the cars.
Francesco Castellacci in AF Corse Ferrari #54 was also on the way up, taking third place in GTE Am.
Team WRT #31 came up to second place in LMP2 as there was a cluster of cars that had to go through the GTE Am traffic, and it slowed down United Autosports USA #22 a bit. At the same time, there was a light contact between Realteam Racing #70 and JOTA #38 behind them.
After some intense first few laps, the GTE Pro field got a bit spread out as people began to nurture tires and probably relied more on pitstop strategy.
The lead in GTE Am changed when D’Station Racing Aston Martin #777 overtook Cetilar Racing Ferrari #47 under braking in Turn 1, with a bit of contact between the two cars.
Suddenly, Alpine Elf Matmut #36 slowed down in the middle of the track, but Lapierre could get the car back to the pits and into the garage. They spent about seven minutes in the garage before they could repair the gearbox.
The stewards had looked into the contact between #777 and #47, and chose to give D’Station Racing Aston Martin #777 a Drive-through. Which meant they would lose their lead again.
AF Corse Ferrari #51 took the lead in GTE Pro, with a very late dive on Porsche #92, on the way into the last corner.
GR Racing Porsche #86 hit the wall after Mike Wainwright had a spin. It damaged the rear wing, as well as punctured one of the rear tires, so he had to go back to the pits. Later, it showed that the suspension was damaged, which had sent Wainwright into the spin. They spent a few minutes in the garage before coming back out.
Second place in LMP2 changed when Realteam Racing #70 overtook United Autosports USA #22.
AF Corse Ferrari #54 took the lead in GTE Am before they pitted for the first time.
Team WRT #31 drove past United Autosports USA #22, where Phil Hanson either was nurturing his tires or had cooked them completely.
Porsche #91 came out in front in GTE Pro as they had a different pit strategy from #92 and AF Corse Ferrari #51.
JOTA #28 had a spin in Turn 11 when Sean Gelael attempted to overtake two GTE Am cars at the same time. He had to brake hard in order not to hit them.
The two Toyota Gazoo Racing cars swapped positions in Turn 1, after one and a half hours.
Cetilar Racing Ferrari #47 was back in front in GTE Am, now followed by AF Corse Ferrari #83 and Team Project 1 Porsche #56.
There was contact between Iron Lynx Ferrari #85 and D’Station Racing Aston Martin #777 in Turn 8, and it took #777 several seconds before Satoshi Hoshino could start the car again. The stewards looked into the incident and gave #85 a Drive-through.
Kessel Racing Ferrari #57 had good progress in GTE Am, having fought themselves up to P5 with Scott Andrews behind the wheel, after Takeshi Kimura had started the race.
Iron Lynx Ferrari #85 had to pit with a punctured left front tire – the tire which Katherine Legge hit Hoshino with. Luckily, it happened close to the pit entry, so the team didn’t lose much time. Unfortunately, the team had to push the car into the garage as there were more damages than they initially thought.
It triggered a Full Course Yellow as there were many Ferrari debris on the track that needed to be cleaned up.
Some of the teams used the opportunity to pit – such as AF Corse #51 and #52, while the two Porsches stayed out on the first lap, but they pitted on the next lap while there was still FCY. It ended up with Porsche building a gap to the AF Corse cars by winning a bit of time during their pitstops.
After the first two hours, Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 was in front of Hypercar, Racing Team Nederland #29 in LMP2 and LMP2 Pro/AM, Porsche #91, and AF Corse Ferrari #83 in GTE Am.
JOTA #38 made a mistake, where Anthony Davidson came into the pits without being called in. It cost them a bit of time, causing them to fall back in the LMP2 category.
To make things worse, JOTA #38 got a Drive-through for speeding in the pitlane. It made it harder for them to win the championship.
There was drama in Turn 1, when Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #88 drove into the side of Aston Martin Racing #98. Axcil Jefferies in #88 misjudged the braking and hit Marcos Gomes. Since #88 couldn’t get away by themselves, it triggered a Full Course Yellow. It got some teams to pit. The stewards gave #88 a Drive-through penalty – but they couldn’t serve it since they retired on the spot.
There were some claws out between Porsche #92 and Racing Team Nederland #29, when Frits van Eerd in #29 pulled right ahead of Neel Jani and brake harder than #92. Luckily, it was just a light contact, so none of the cars got damaged. A few corners later, the Dutchman outbraked himself and fell back behind Jani again. But he could overtake the Swiss again before the next corner.
There was a Full Course Yellow after three and a half hours as there was debris in Turn 8.
Some teams used the chance to pit, and AF Corse Ferrari #51 overtook Porsche #92 with the help of a faster pitstop. At the same time, they changed the drivers: James Calado in #51 and Michael Christensen took over #92.
Team Project 1 Porsche #56 got a one-minute Stop & Go penalty for driving dangerously under Full Course Yellow, getting too close to one of the marshals who were out on the track to remove the debris.
Porsche #91 got a 10-second pitstop penalty for a mistake under their pitstop. Fred Makowiecki had started the engine before Richard Lietz was done fastening the seat belt and back behind the white line.
Halfway into the race, Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 was in front of Hypercar, Team WRT #31 in LMP2, Racing Team Nederland #29 in LMP2 Pro/Am, AF Corse Ferrari #51 in GTE Pro, and Cetilar Racing Ferrari #47 in GTE Am.
Porsche #92 lost their second place in GTE Pro when Christensen almost got hit by Cetilar Racing Ferrari #47 and had to avoid it. AF Corse Ferrari #52 took the chance to drive past.
There was contact between TF Sport Aston Martin #33 and AF Corse Ferrari #54 in Turn 1, where #33 got out of it with a broken front wheel suspension. They had to get the car into the garage for repair.
Racing Team Nederland #29 got a 5-second pitstop penalty due to unsafe release in an earlier pitstop.
There was contact between Kessel Racing Ferrari #57 and Aston Martin Racing #98 in Turn 1, when #98 had just overtaken #57 but was about to outbrake themselves. Then Scott Andrews in #57 tried to get back in front again, but he was surprised by how much Marcos Gomes braked ahead of him. It meant that the front of the Ferrari clipped the diffuser of the Aston Martin ahead, which triggered a Full Course Yellow in order to remove the debris from the track. Many teams yet again chose to pit.
It meant that the lead in GTE Am changed to AF Corse Ferrari #83, who was faster in their pitstop than Cetilar Racing Ferrari #47. Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 was also on the way up, overtaking #47 with just three hours left – and with their Bronze-rated driver Christian Ried already had fulfilled his minimum driving time, while Nicklas Nielsen hadn’t yet been on board #83.
TF Sport Aston Martin #33 got a 10-second pitstop penalty for the contact with AF Corse Ferrari #54. Kessel Racing Ferrari #57 also got a similar 10-second penalty for the contact with AMR #98.
There was a close battle for third place, where Cetilar Racing Ferrari #47 and Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 overtook each other in turn.
Porsche #92 took the lead of GTE Pro again when Kevin Estre and James Calado in AF Corse Ferrari #51 drove a drag race down the start-finish straight.
Unfortunately, TF Sport Aston Martin #33 pulled out of the race as they were so far behind that it was impossible to score points or win the championship.
Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 had to change the steering wheel during their sixth pitstop as Brendon Hartley had reported some problems with gear change.
With two hours left, Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 was in front in Hypercar, Team WRT #31 in LMP2, High Class Racing #20 with Anders Fjordbach and Dennis Andersen in LMP2 Pro/Am, Porsche #92 with Michael Christensen in GTE Pro, and Cetilar Racing Ferrari #47 in GTE Am.
Nicklas Nielsen var netop kommet ombord AF Corse Ferrari #83 on third place in GTE Am, while Mikkel Jensen and Kessel Racing Ferrari #57 was sixth in GTE Am.
Anders Fjordbach in High Class Racing #20 was under pressure by Racing Team Nederland #29 and Job van Uitert. The Dutchman came flying from behind, and it didn’t take many corners before the Dane had to give away the position, as well as the lead in LMP2 Pro/Am.
Cetilar Racing Ferrari #47 and Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 weren’t done fighting. The two cars had stayed relatively close during the majority of the second half of the race, and they continued battling with ninety minutes left.
There was a Full Course Yellow with just under 75 minutes left as there was some debris that had to be removed, so the track would be clean for the last hour of the race.
JOTA #28 changed their nose under the FCY period, which only extended Team WRT #31’s gap.
Porsche #92 chose to put Michael Christensen in the car instead of Neel Jani, who otherwise has been a regular driver in the car this season. Estre and Christensen had driven together in so many years in FIA WEC, and it was a huge shoulder clap to Christensen, at it was him who got in the car instead of Jani.
Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 started the last hour of the last FIA WEC race as the leader in Hypercar, Team WRT #41 in LMP2, Racing Team Nederland #29 in LMP2 Pro/Am, Porsche #92 with Michael Christensen behind the wheel in GTE Pro, and Nicklas Nielsen in AF Corse Ferrari #83.
Nothing was decided in GTE Pro. Porsche #92 was ahead, but AF Corse Ferrari #51 had newer tires. It also meant that Pier Guidi in P2 slowly but surely caught up with Christensen in P1. Whichever one won the race out of the two, would also win the championship, since #92 and #51 had the exact same points before today’s race.
Pier Guidi made a mistake in the traffic when Racing Team Nederland #29 came up to them and was about to overlap them. The Italian was so focused on keeping #29 behind him, and with that, the distance to Porsche #92, that Pier Guidi went off track in the run-off area in Turn 2, losing a second to Christensen in #92.
In LMP2, three cars fought for two podium places. JOTA #28, JOTA #38 and United Autosports USA #22 were within six seconds of each other, with less than twenty minutes left on the clock.
With eleven minutes left, Porsche #92 and AF Corse Ferrari #51 would have to let United Autosports USA #22 get past. #22 overtook #92 in the last moment, where Christensen had to brake a bit harder. At the same time, Pier Guidi come from behind at full speed and knocked the rear end of the Porsche, sending the Dane out in a spin. Luckily, Christensen could restart the car and get going again.
The stewards decided that #51 had to slow down and let Porsche #92 through. Here, Porsche did a smart thing and called #92 into the pits straight away, making sure they could finish the race – and at the same time, forcing AF Corse to waste some more seconds on the track, and still had to pit, as well as give the place back.
The two JOTA cars swapped places with four minutes left when Antonio Felix da Costa in #38 dove very late on Tom Blomqvist in #28, and took second place in LMP2.
AF Corse Ferrari #51 still hadn’t given the position back. Instead, they drove ahead as if nothing had happened.
Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 with Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley won the race, ahead of Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 with Jose Maria Lopez, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway, with Alpine Elf Matmut #36 Nicolas Lapierre, Andre Negrao and Matthieu Vaxiviere in third place.
Team #31 with Ferdinand Habsburg, Charles Milesi and Robin Frijns won the LMP2 category, ahead of JOTA #38 with Antonio Felix da Costa, Anthony Davidson and Roberto Gonzalez, while JOTA #28 with Tom Blomqvist, Sean Geleal and Stoffel Vandoorne finished in P3.
In LMP2 Pro/Am, it was Racing Team Nederland #29 with Job van Uitert, Giedo van der Garde and Frits van Eerd who won the race, ahead of TDS Racing Realteam Racing #70 with Esteban Garcia, Norman Nato and Loic Duval, and with High Class Racing #20 with Robert Kubica, Anders Fjordbach and Dennis Andersen in third place for the second weekend in a row.
AF Corse Ferrari #51 with James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi crossed the finish line first in GTE Pro, ahead of Porsche #92 with Kevin Estre, Neel Jani and Michael Christensen, and with AF Corse Ferrari #52 driven by Daniel Serra and Miguel Molina in P3.
In GTE Am, AF Corse Ferrari #83 with Francois Perrodo, Alessio Rovera and Nicklas Nielsen won the last race of the season, ahead of Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 with Christian Ried, Matt Campbell and Jaxon Evans, who took the second place from Team Project 1 Porsche #56 with Egidio Perfetti, Matteo Cairoli and Riccardo Pera in the very last corner – only 0,123 second from each other.
Toyota Gazoo Racing #7 won the Hypercar championship, ahead of Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 and Alpine Elf Matmut #36. Toyota Gazoo Racing also won the constructor’s championship.
AF Corse Ferrari #51 won the world championship in GTE Pro, ahead of Porsche #92 and Porsche #91.
Ferrari won the GTE constructor’s championship ahead of Porsche.
Team WRT #31 won the LMP2 championship, ahead of JOTA #28 and JOTA #38. Thus, Team WRT has won both the European Le Mans Series and FIA World Endurance Championship, in their first season in LMP2.
In LMP2 Pro/Am, Racing Team Nederland #29 won the championship, ahead of Realteam Racing #70, DragonSpeed USA #21. High Class Racing #20 finished fourth.
AF Corse Ferrari #83 won the GTE AM championship for the second year in a row, with TF Sport Aston Martin #33 in second place, and Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 in third – one point ahead of Team Project 1 Porsche #56. This means that P3 in the championship was decided on the very last metres.
Porsche has, after the race, protested the race result, in regards to how AF Corse acted in GTE Pro, in the last minutes of the race.
It was the finish of an incredibly intense FIA World Endurance Championship 2021. Everything will start again in March 2022 when the new season, according to the plan, will start at Sebring in Florida.