Saturday's race brought to an end Season 8 of the World Endurance Championship, some 450 days after its start at Silverstone in September 2019. While it was not a classic event, none the less it did allow the settling of championship points and finalise the crowning of world champions for drivers and teams in each of the categories.
The final race of the LMP1-hybrid era was a non event, with Rebellion Racing having shut its doors, and Bykolles gone away to continue developing their next car for the new premier championship, so it was a straight fight between the two Toyota Gazoo Racing crews as to who would take the title. Previously, Lady Luck has always gone the way of the #8 crew, the #7 car having the speed but not the sustained reliability needed, but this weekend the tables were reversed, the #7 car being fastest in qualifying and then in the race. Even when the leader lost all of their advantage accrued following the second safety car, they quickly pulled away again to secure the win, and with it the title, the first for the crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López.
The focus for much of the race was the battling between the two Goodyear shod, JOTA Sport run cars of #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing and the #38 JOTA car, and their Michelin shod opposition of the #22 United Autosport Team and the #36 Signatech Alpine teams. In the early stages, it was the #22, #37 and #38 who ran in close formation, and it was the characteristics of the tyre was the major difference. When all teams were double stinting their tyres, the Michelins would appear to be strongest in the early running, but going into the second stint, the Goodyear tyre would prove to be more consistent and the performance edge would swing the other way. The other deciding factor would be the turnaround time of the pit crews, the JOTA crews being seconds quicker every stop.
The #22 crew would suffer from a penalty when contact was made between their car and the #37 car entering the pits directly ahead of them, and a 5 second penalty was enforced, and from there, they would not quite get the rub of the green when overtaking backmarkers, and gradually a gap opened up.
From there, it was a straight battle between the two JOTA crews, which was finally settled in favour of the Jackie Chan DC Racing crew with an audacious overtake running into the hairpin. At the finish, the two crews were less than two seconds apart.
The #29 Racing Team Nederland car had a very quiet, under the radar, type of race, finally taking third place in the last quarter of the race from the United Autosports car to take the last step on the podium.
The position of the #36 car was slightly deceiving due to the fact that they were running with pitstops out of sequence to the others following an early spin, and therefore a later extra pitstop would finally push them down to fifth, ahead of the Cetilar #47 who battled hard just to make the finish.
Porsche cruised to a dominant one-two, the #92 911 RSR-19 of outgoing GT Champions Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen commanding the class ahead of the sister #91 car.
The main focus had been on the #51 Ferrari that had the opportunity to take the class championship. However, contact with a GTE Am car by substitute driver Daniel Serra, replacing Alessandro Pier Guidi this weekend, meant the car lost time and positions in the field while the car crawled back to the pits with wheel and bodywork damage from the clash. The stop would leave the car 4 laps adrift of the others, last in class, and the opportunity was lost.
Both of the Aston Martins were competitive during the first half of the race, but both would suffer from the need to have overheating brake discs and pads changed during the race, something that would also affect the AM class cars as well (but more of that shortly). As a result, the cars would finish fourth and fifth, the #97 one lap and the #95 two laps behind the winners, but the #95 crew of Marco Sorensen and Nicky Thiim would score enough points to take the drivers championship in addition to the teams title Aston Martin Racing had already secured at the previous event.
The #56 Project 1 racing team of Egidio Perfetti, Larry ten Voorde and Jörg Bergmeister were the victors in a typically fraught Am class battle, where most teams had time running at the head of the class.
Again, like their Pro class sisters, the Aston Martins of #98 AMR and #90 TF Sport both ran strongly but would succumb to overheating brakes and discs, requiring changes mid race which would set them back. This would prove most costly for the #90 crew, in contention for the class championship, as they would only be able to climb back to 8th in class at the finish line and not score enough points.
Through it all came the #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Nicklas Nielsen, who ran a strategy of sending their bronze grade driver out first, and holding back on using their tyre allocation until the cooler night conditions. As a result, they came up through the field from the back, eventually finishing second and with it scoring the points needed to take both drivers and teams class titles.
With the end of the race also came the conclusion after 10 years and 101 races to the involvement of CEO Gerard Neveu, and also WEC PR media officer Fiona Miller, who have both done much to promote endurance racing and the championship throughout this period, especially in this troubled year. On behalf of all our readership here, I would like to add our very best thanks for all you have done, and best wishes for the future.
Season 9 is due to start in March 2021 - let's all hope that we can find a way through our current situation to make this happen.
Report: Steve Tarrant
Photos: Marius Heckler/AdrenalMedia.com