Race Weekend Central

Toyota GAZOO Racing Claims Easy Bahrain Victory

Toyota GAZOO Racing’s Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa started from pole Saturday (Nov. 4) and scored an easy victory in the Bapco Energies 8 Hours of Bahrain, the final race of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship. It is the trio’s second win of the season and earned them the Hypercar World Championship. The No. 8 Toyota was at the front of the field for all 249 laps of the race.

“It’s such a nice feeling,” Hartley told WEC’s Louise Beckett after the race. “Ryo [Hirakawa] and Seb [Buemi]; we’ve been pushing pretty hard for this all year. Le Mans (where crash repairs resulted in losing by 81 seconds) was pretty hard to take, but the rest of the year was faultless.”

The margin of victory was 47.516 seconds over teammates Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez. Ferrari AF Corse’s Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen were third, holding off Hertz Team JOTA’s Antonio Felix da Costa, Will Stevens and Yifei Ye for the final spot on the podium. Porsche Penske Motorsport’s Kevin Estre, Andre Lotterer and Laurens Vanthoor were fifth.

Buemi started from the overall pole and darted off into the distance. Meanwhile, there was trouble at the first turn. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Earl Bamber had contact with Conway, creating a multi-car incident.

Conway spun but was able to resume. Meanwhile, United Autosports’ Phil Hanson went into the runoff, rejoined, then got in the back of Floyd Vanwall Racing Team’s Tristan Vautier, spinning him out and collecting his teammate, LMP2 polesitter Tom Blomqvist. Signatech Alpine’s Matthieu Vaxiviere was also involved.

Bamber, who had locked up his tires under braking for the first turn, was judged responsible for the crash and given a penalty. That, combined with the damage from the contact, ruined the Cadillac’s day. Bamber, along with teammates Alex Lynn and Richard Westbrook would ultimately finish three laps down in 11th.

Buemi was able to open up a decent advantage over the Ferraris of Molina and Pier Guidi. As Buemi pulled away, the teammates began to battle among themselves for second.

Further back, Conway dropped all the way back to 20th after his spin, but quickly made his way back up towards the front. However, he ended up more than 20 seconds behind Buemi. He was never able to make up that ground.

Hartley expanded the advantage up to 45 seconds during the third hour. Once the No. 7 team got back to second shortly before halfway, the margin more or less stayed here for the rest of the race.

Hartley and his teammates still pushed their Toyota GR010 Hybrid and grew their advantage at times. That said, the pressure was off. They were able to maintain their advantage all the way to the finish.

In LMP2, Blomqvist started from pole, then wrecked in the first corner. When the dust cleared, Vector Sport’s Gabriel Aubry ended up with the class lead over Sean Galael.

Vector Sport was able to lead until they developed electrical problems that caused them to drop back. Those issues eventually took them out of the race in the final hour.

Ferdinand Habsburg took the lead after Vector Sport’s issues and ran strong for much of the race. Even despite Habsburg getting a penalty for speeding under a full-course yellow, the No. 31 team was able to stay up front.

With things being so close at the time between the two WRT entries, the race was decided in the pits. The No. 31 team had a bad final pit stop that cost Robin Frijns 20 seconds. That was more than enough for Louis Deletraz in the No. 41 to jump into the class lead.

From there, Deletraz was able to hold on to take the second straight LMP2 victory for himself, Rui Andrade and Robert Kubica and third of the year. The win also gave the trio the final WEC LMP2 championship.

The margin of victory was 9.190 seconds over Frijns, Galael and Habsburg. JOTA Sport’s Pietro Fittipaldi, David Heinemeier Hansson and Oliver Rasmussen were third, then the two Prema entries. The No. 9 of Juan Manuel Correa, Filip Ugran and Bent Viscaal beat out the No. 63 of Mirko Bortolotti, Daniil Kyvat and Doriane Pin.

In GTE-Am, the dominant team for much of the race was Iron Lynx’s No. 60 Porsche that originally started at the rear of the field. Matteo Cressoni and Alessio Picariello did an excellent job moving up the order early on and putting themselves into the lead.

The problem is quite simply that it wasn’t the original plan. The original plan was that Claudio Schiavoni was supposed to start the car and run long enough to satisfy his minimum drive-time before handing off. However, Schiavoni was unable to go Saturday due to illness.

As a result, the race ended up being a farewell to the team’s Porsche 911 RSR-19. By the time that Cressoni and Picariello were forced to retire the car in the sixth hour due to timing out, they had a full lap on the rest of the class.

After Cressoni and Picariello were out, it was the Iron Dames Porsche with Rahel Frey at the wheel that took the class lead. The veteran racer was able to maintain the advantage before handing over to Michelle Gatting for the run to the finish.

In the final hour, D’Station Racing’s Casper Stevenson began to run Gatting down. The gap was down to under two seconds with 15 minutes to go when the two leaders were caught from behind by Peugeot’s Mikkel Jensen and Proton Competition’s Harry Tincknell.

While the Peugeot and Porsche Hypercars are way faster than GTE cars, they’re a little slower in the turns. Stevenson ended up getting held up by Jensen and Tincknell. That was all Gatting needed to hold on to take the first-ever WEC class victory for Gatting, Frey and Sarah Bovy. It is the first WEC victory for an all-female driving lineup in any class.

The Iron Dames’ margin of victory was 5.548 seconds over D’Station Racing’s Stevenson, Tomonobu Fujii and Liam Talbot. Northwest AMR/The Heart of Racing’s Ian James, Daniel Mancinelli and Alex Riberas were third after getting penalized when Riberas spun out Viscaal in turn 1. AF Corse’s Francesco Castellacci, Thomas Flohr and Davide Rigon were fourth, while Kessel Racing’s Takeshi Kimura, Esteban Masson and Daniel Serra were fifth.

The GTE-Am World Championship was clinched by Corvette Racing’s Nicky Catsburg, Ben Keating and Nico Varrone back at Monza in July. They ended up seventh in class.

FIA World Endurance Championship Bapco Energies 8 Hours of Bahrain Unofficial Results

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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