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Conway, Lopez, Kobayashi Clinch Title with Bahrain Win

No. 7 Toyota crew clinches WEC title as Thiim, Sorensen take GTE championship…

Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi became FIA World Endurance drivers’ champions for the first time after taking a dominant victory in the 8 Hours of Bahrain.

The crew of the No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid comfortably won Saturday’s 2019-20 season finale from their teammates Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley who were running with a success handicap courtesy of their points lead heading in.

Conway, Lopez and Kobayashi made full use of their car’s performance advantage and committed no mistakes en route to their fourth victory of the campaign which overturned a six-point deficit to the No. 8 lineup for the championship.

Kobayashi took the checkered flag one minute and four seconds clear of Nakajima to decide the direction of the drivers’ title and simultaneously bring the curtain down on the LMP1 formula, which is being replaced by the WEC’s new Hypercar class next season.

The top prototype category’s two-car contest in Bahrain was controlled throughout by the No. 7 Toyota, which had built up a lead of one minute 17 seconds by halfway shortly before a safety car reduced the gap to just under eight seconds.

The only safety car of the race occurring just post the four-hour mark came after Daniel Serra’s GTE-Pro Ferrari left debris on-track in the wake of a left-rear puncture.

After the restart, Buemi was able to take out some of the leading car’s advantage, to the point that the gap between the two TS050 Hybrids was as little as five seconds, but in the sixth hour Conway started to pull away from the Swiss driver.

Toyota had already wrapped up the LMP1 teams’ championship heading into Bahrain, while Rebellion Racing was absent from the entry for round eight of the season.

This enabled the LMP2 class-winning Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca 07 Gibson of Gabriel Aubry, Ho-Pin Tung and Will Stevens to grab the final spot on the overall podium.

After losing the lead to JOTA’s Antonio Felix da Costa at the final pit cycle, Aubry latched onto the tail of the Formula E champion before executing a lunge down the inside at the tight Turn 10 left-hander.

The two Jota Sport-run cars ran side-by-side down the back straight while Aubry was able to snatch the inside line into the first part of the sweeping Turn 11-12 left-right sequence to take the position.

Aubry went on to cross the line just 1.984 seconds ahead of da Costa, who shared driving duties with Anthony Davidson and Roberto Gonzalez.

The one-two for Jota also marked a one-two for Goodyear, which last won a WEC race at Shanghai last November with the JOTA crew. 

Nyck de Vries, Giedo van der Garde and Frits van Eerd completed the top-three for Racing Team Nederland, while the title-winning United Autosports squad finished fourth in the category and sixth overall after battling a series of issues throughout the race.

Phil Hanson and Filipe Albuquerque were confirmed as LMP2 champions following their class victory at Le Mans alongside Paul di Resta, who partnered them at all rounds except the 6 Hours of Fuji.

Porsche Wins Pro as Thiim, Sorensen Clinch Title

Outgoing World Endurance GT drivers’ champions Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen won the GTE-Pro category for Porsche as Aston Martin Racing’s Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen were declared the new champions despite a tough race for the Danish duo.

Estre and Christensen’s No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR-19 dominated the top GT class while their teammates Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz finished second to secure a one-two for the German manufacturer.

Fifth on the road was enough for Thiim and Sorensen to turn their pre-event points lead into a world championship win, even with their main title rival Maxime Martin finishing one place ahead in the No. 97 Aston Martin the Belgian shared with Richard Westbrook.

The Aston Martins initially looked set to challenge Porsche for the race win but both cars required brake changes which dropped them out of contention.

Thiim and Sorensen had already fallen from third to the back of the six-car class when a first-half Full Course Yellow for debris was withdrawn while their car was still in the pits.

Ferrari’s leading entry, the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo of James Calado and Daniel Serra, also lost ground on the leaders when Serra made contact with the No. 56 Team Project 1 GTE-Am Porsche just after halfway.

The resulting puncture required a lengthy check from the AF Corse mechanics and left the No. 71 Ferrari of Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina as the sole 488 contender.

Rigon and Molina never seemed to get close to the lead battle and were classified over a minute behind the winning Porsche crew in third.

The GTE-Am race win went to Larry ten Voorde, Joerg Bergmeister and Egidio Perfetti from Team Project 1, while second place was enough for Nicklas Nielsen, Francois Perrodo and Emmanuel Collard to win the season title.

TF Sport’s Charlie Eastwood, Jonny Adam and Salih Yoluc came in with an eight-point lead over the No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari crew, but like the Pro Aston Martins their Vantage also needed a brake change, which set them back in the long run.

Eastwood crossed the line in eighth, earning six points compared to the 27 scored by Nielsen, Perrodo and Collard.

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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