WEC Preview: 8 Hours of Bahrain

Round 8 of the 2019/2020 FIA World Endurance Championship will conclude an extensive Season 8 at the Sakhir International Circuit.

For the second time in Season 8, the FIA WEC will come to the Kingdom of Bahrain to host what will be a main show of eight hours.

The FIA WEC heads into the conclusion of an extensive season dating back to September 2019, at the 4 Hours of Silverstone season opener.

Date – Schedule Time (BST) SESSION
Frid. 13th November 3pm-3.20pm Qualifying – GTE
Frid. 13th November 3.30pm-3.50pm Qualifying – LMP
Sat. 14th November 11am-7pm Race – 8 Hours of Bahrain

The 8 Hours of Bahrain itself was rescheduled back one week in order to avoid the Formula 1 clash when they will host the Bahrain Grand Prix in due course.

Despite the conclusive tone of this race, there are a handful of talking points as we close an unusual calendar running of the WEC.

Declaring farewell to the LMP1 category

For many that have counted the months and weeks will understand that there are simply days until the LMP1 (Hybrid) category will say its goodbyes.

As Rebellion Racing already said their farewell to an extensive history of sportscar racing, Toyota are left with their two full-time LMP1 entries.

Rebellion: 13 years of endurance racing coming to an end

As one of two manufacturers (the other being Audi) to have begun the journey of the LMP1-Hybrid just over eight years ago, the Japanese manufacturer find themselves the only ones standings heading into the final race of the class.

Last Lap will soon publish our own tribute on the LMP1-Hybrid era that pushed the buttons on a rollercoaster of emotions in its lifetime.

Hisatake Murata, Team President of Toyota GAZOO Racing gave his thoughts ahead of the race:

“Following the excitement of our third consecutive Le Mans win, we go to Bahrain determined to say goodbye to our TS050 Hybrid in the best possible way.

“We have achieved so much and experienced so many emotions with this car, so we all feel some sadness that the TS050 HYBRID has reached the end of its career.

“But the new Hypercar category is coming and this is very exciting.

“The roll-out of our new race car took place successfully last month and this was an important step for our project; now we are looking forward to show our new car to the world.

“This week we will discover which drivers will enter the new era as World Champions; all six drivers have performed very well this season and all would deserve the title.

“We are simply looking forward to a good, fair fight and an exciting end to the season.”

The two Toyotas and their success handicaps

As amusing as it may seem, the LMP1 title fight is still up for grabs between the #7 and #8 cars.

The #7’s chance of victory at Le Mans fell short after a 30-minute-long turbo change, just after the halfway point.

For the first time this season, the #8 leads the standings (by seven points) and will face the most damage from the success handicap. The handicap itself was implemented at the beginning of this season with the aim to provoke closer racing.

The #8 is set to run with the largest handicap margin this season, as the #7 will have a 0.54s per lap advantage over its sibling competitor.

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As there are no other LMP1 entries, the way that the handicaps themselves were calculated were slightly different from normality, as the official technical document demonstrates.

The normal handicaps would be formed from the points difference between the two TS050 Hybrids, plus a ‘virtual car’ sitting 40 points behind the championship leader.

This ‘virtual car’ was introduced at the 8 Hours of Bahrain late in 2019, since the gap between the Toyotas and the last (LMP1) car exceeded the threshold of 40 points.

The virtual car rule has been taken away since the Toyotas sit as the sole LMP1 entries, therefore the calculation is made using the points difference between the #8 and lowest scoring #7 racer.

Both Toyotas will receive a minimum weight status of 878 kg, 54 kg lighter than their usual weight for the majority of Season 8.

The LMP1-Hybrid cars are also granted higher fuel flow allowances, larger refueling restrictors and breaks in how much energy their hybrid systems can use per lap, all in alignment to their individual handicaps.

Toyota GAZOO Racing themselves had desired the continuation of the success handicap implementations despite being the sole LMP1s, but it should keep the fight for the title alive.

The fight for the drivers’ and teams’ title in GTE-Am

Simultaneously, the GTE-Am fight for the drivers’ and teams’ title still remains up for grabs with the top four covered by just under 50 points.

FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Teams’ Standings (top 5 out of 11) Team Points
1 #90 TF Sport 148
2 #83 AF Corse 140
3 #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing 98.9
4 #98 Aston Martin Racing 96.5
5 #56 Team Project 1 89.5

As seen from the table above, the #90’s Le Mans 24 Hours victory in September pushed them to the top of the standings and sit eight points ahead of the #83 AF Corse.

The main title fight looks to be for either team taking the titles, as the #90 TF Sport heads into Bahrain with four wins under their belt.

Whilst the #83 had only two wins by comparison, with a victory at the opening round at Silverstone and then another at Spa-Francorchamps, they have utilised their consistent form on points finishes with a recent third place at Le Mans.

Just like the fight between the LMP1 siblings, whoever finishes ahead will claim the drivers’ and teams’ championship in the GTE-Am class.

Driver lineup changes to note

The #51 Ferrari 488 GTE Evo of AF Corse will have Daniel Serra to replace Alessandro Pier Guidi, who will join James Calado amongst a three way battle for the FIA WEC LM-GTE Drivers’ title.

They will fight against the #95 and #97 Aston Martin Racing pair.

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Speaking of the #95, it is understood that Richard Westbrook will take over from Alex Lynn’s driving duties following a positive COVID test that meant for him to isolate in his home in the UK.

As for Westbrook, he was initially set for the #98 AMR but will be replaced by veteran Pedro Lamy.

Calado currently sits in third in the Pro drivers’ standings on 131 points, 11 points behind Alex Lynn (who will not take part) and Maxime Martin.

The #97 Dane-train squad of Marco Sørensen and Nicki Thiim lead on 157 points, and 39 points will be up for grabs (including one for pole).

The 2018 Porsche Supercup rookie champion, and current regular, Dylan Pereira will replace Felipe Fraga in the #57 Project 1 GTE-Am.

The most recent copy of the entry list features just 26 overall entries, with an all-time low of lineups in LMP1 and LMP2.

Despite this being the smallest lineup for any WEC race in its history, the 8 Hours of Bahrain has always hosted action and will do so for the title fights in GTE and a special farewell to the LMP1 era.

A final line goes to Gérad Neveu who announced his step down as Head of the Le Mans Endurance Management, having carried out his duties on the WEC in all its eight years running.

This will be his final race as the CEO of the FIA World Endurance Championship and the European Le Mans Series.