The sixth and final round of the FIA World Endurance Championship Season 9 had various moments of tension, action and controversy in Sakhir.
It is hard to believe the time passed so quickly, but all 58 hours-worth of racing has been done and dusted for this year.
Hosting a Bahrain double-header raising interesting variables such as the signature heavy braking zones and sensitive tyre degradation.
This eight-hour affair surpassed the previous six-hour race with its spree of unpredictable fights and close racing throughout which led to all-conquering championship title winners.
On that note, we picked five of our most notable moments or narratives from the 8 Hours of Bahrain.
1) Hypercars battling at the beginning of the race
For much of this season, it has been the Alpine who were the underdogs to Toyota.
Normally, they would spend time extracting pace but have fought them only at certain points throughout the season, such as at Portimao.
In the six-hour race, the trio fought rarely if not at all and understandably it was a similar case here. But the Balance of Performance (BoP) adjustments prior to the weekend gave Alpine a chance to fight with a higher fuel capacity.
Shortly after lights out, into Turn 1/2, the Alpine driven by Nicolas Lapierre charged past both Toyotas on the inside.
It was a thrilling moment to see the Alpine make such a move, but rather more thrilling to see the Alpine put on a promising defence against both Toyotas.
— WEC (@FIAWEC) November 6, 2021
Unfortunately, the Toyotas fought their way past as ultimately Lapierre encountered a drop the tyre and the A480 Gibson experienced a gear-selection problem which set them for a seven-minute garage repair and a lengthy comeback from the back of the field.
Their drivers drove fantastically and all eight of their pit stops were perfect.
It suggested that Alpine are able to fight with Toyota to a certain extent, and not to such an advantage as to diminish the developments and efforts of Toyota’s pure Le Mans Hypercar.
Perhaps 2022 can bring more of a fight with perfected measures, more competition in the form of Glickenhaus, ByKolles and Peugeot, and Michelin’s Hypercar-bespoke tyres over the existing modified ex-LMP1 compounds.
2) GTE-Pro’s battle from flag-to-flag in eight hours
Controversy resides as a misleading noun on how a brilliant, intense battle was ruined in the final minutes.
For the majority of the race, all four GTE-Pro cars were fighting in a consistent manner unseen in any other race during Season 9 by form of two key sensations – tension and action.
The beginning had the #92 Porsche start on pole thanks to Kevin Estre a day earlier, therefore equalling them and the #51 on equal World Championship points.
The BoP was adjusted this weekend so that Ferrari had a little more power and fuel capacity. And it worked a treat with a more equal playing field between two major manufacturers.
We were treated with the best GTE-Pro fight this season and a competitive display of racing which could not be replicated in any of the previous five races.
To keep everyone on edge for eight hours is nothing short of perfection, as were their unique gambles on tyre strategies.
It was either one chasing another, side-by-side, or nose-to-tail action, and despite the four sole entries, GTE-Pro delivered one of the most excitingly consistent fights seen in recent years; especially in Bahrain.
Ultimately, it was quite a shame for it to end in controversy, and disappointing how the very final sequence of events undermines what was a truly brilliant rivalry.
3) Guido Van Der Garde’s dominant double-stint
The start of the race was always important for all the competitors as they are most closest to their rivals, thus use the proximity to make up positions before having to settle into looking after their tyres.
Whilst many played that game early, no driver asserted as strong an opening stint as Guido Van Der Garde in the #29 Racing Team Nederland (LMP2 Pro/Am).
He repeated his moves from the penultimate race start when he dived up the inside, in this case from fourth on the grid as he placed it during qualifying.
Pole-sitter Phil Hanson struggled whilst Van Der Garde immediately set about building a gap, with the help of United Autosports Oreca engage in its own defence work against the queue of cars behind.
The Dutchman was amongst the quickest drivers on circuit for the opening two hours, expanding a 5 second gap to second place (in LMP2) in upwards of 30 seconds.
After the work of Job Van Uitert and Bronze-rated Frits Van Eerd, they were far from leading the LMP2 field but it was fulfilling to see it work out and win the first ever Pro/Am Drivers’ and Teams’ Championship titles.
4) Team WRT winning their first LMP2 championship adding to their Le Mans victory
This mention reaches out on a few moments, rather than the #31’s key moment to secure both the LMP2 championship titles and a first class-win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in their first WEC season.
Recalling the season-opener at Spa-Francorchamps, WRT seemingly struggled to fight after mediocre pace compared to United Autosports, and then falling out of contention due to reliability troubles.
For Charles Milesi, Ferdinand Habsburg and Robin Frijns, it was their first efforts as a trio – and a debut into a full-season.
Various other moments fell into their hands which gave them a fighting chance to stay in the game, such as at taking more double-points at Le Mans ahead of JOTA and surpassing their teammates who stopped on the final lap.
Nevertheless, both the Drivers’ and Teams’ titles are well-deserved for the #31 crew as the 8 Hours of Bahrain was a prime example of what strong LMP2 driver line-ups can do.
Habsburg was making calculated lunges at the start to make up places, 20-year-old Milesi (who already performed with a pole position and his own success in the European Le Mans Series) stepped up to the task through increasingly progressive fashion.
As for Frijns, the Dutchman not only set the quickest set of average lap times in his stints, but has taken in the elements of sportscar prototype endurance racing to enable himself to show great pace.
The likes of JOTA and United Autosports were worthy contenders, but it was the debutants who took the highest honours by the end.
5) Special farewells to our WEC greats
Davidson did not approach his final WEC race with ease after pulling off some clean overtakes throughout until the final stint with an hour and a half to go.
The #38 JOTA were protagonists with the sister car in the fight for the LMP2 titles and it was joyous to see Antonio Felix Da Costa and Roberto Gonzalez putting up a fight alongside Davidson in that Oreca 07 Gibson.
It was satisfying to see the 2014 WEC LMP1 Champion on the LMP2 podium.
Meanwhile, his former Toyota teammate Nakuki Nakajima concluded his own career in high spirits as the only one to drive in all of the WEC seasons so far with one top level manufacturer.
He has experienced highs and lows but eventually made history by winning Le Mans three times and also the World Championship during the Super-Season.
This put him as the second person of Japanese nationality to win an FIA World Championship, the other being Toshi Arai.
It has been a pleasure to welcome both the smiles and successes from the pair of them and they will forever remain heartfelt ambassadors of our fantastic championship.
Do you agree with this selection? What were your favourite moments from the 8 Hours of Bahrain?