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Safety Car Cuts No. 7 Toyota’s Lead after Dominant Start

Safety car reduces No. 7 Toyota’s huge lead after it dominates first four hours in Bahrain…

Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez controlled the opening half of the 8 Hours of Bahrain before a safety car dramatically reduced their No. 7 Toyota TS050 Hybrid’s lead in the FIA World Endurance Championship title decider.

Lopez, whose crew needs to beat the sister car driven by Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley to clinch the title, led by a minute and 17 seconds at the four-hour mark with five pit stops completed by both LMP1 machines.

However, a safety car shortly after halfway for on-track debris from a GTE-Pro Ferrari’s puncture cut that advantage down to just under eight seconds. 

After Conway made a strong start in the No. 7 car from Buemi in the No. 8, the gap between the two Toyotas increased over the next few stints to the point that Kobayashi was able to go a minute clear of Hartley midway through the third hour.

Behind the Toyotas, which are the only LMP1 cars racing in Bahrain, the battle for the final outright podium spot and LMP2 honors has been between the two Jota Sport-run Oreca 07 Gibsons and the Oreca of United Autosports.

Jackie Chan DC Racing’s Gabriel Aubry led United Autosports’ Filipe Albuquerque by 1.2 seconds at the halfway point before the safety car reduced the Frenchman’s advantage to less than half a second.

After Paul di Resta led from pole for United, JOTA’s No. 38 Oreca moved ahead during the second-hour pit cycle when Roberto Gonzalez emerged ahead of Aubry’s co-driver Ho-Pin Tung and Phil Hanson whose No. 22 car had slipped from first to third.

Tung then overtook Gonzalez for the lead coming onto the back straight, before Hanson also found a way past the Mexican under braking into Turn 1.

United’s lead was briefly restored when Hanson profited from a Tung lock-up into the Turn 11 left-hander at the end of the back straight, only for the Brit to spin at the same location on the next lap to enable the Jackie Chan DC Racing machine back through.

Despite losing around half a minute through Hanson’s rotation, United made up the time with Albuquerque strapped in.

In GTE-Pro, Porsche moved into a one-two after Gianmaria Bruni vaulted into the lead ahead of Kevin Estre at the first round of pit stops, but the timing of the race’s first Full Course Yellow at the end of hour three pushed Bruni’s No. 91 car down the order.

The FCY, which was for debris on-track, also worked against the pit timing of the points-leading No. 95 Aston Martin Vantage GTE which dropped from third to the back of the six-car field.

Estre had already overtaken his teammate Bruni before the FCY occurred, and the No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR-19 that is also being driven by Michael Christensen continued to lead after the field was slowed down.

At the halfway point, Estre led AF Corse Ferrari driver James Calado going into the fourth round of stops, shortly after which Calado’s co-driver Daniel Serra picked up a puncture from contact with a GTE-Am Porsche.

The puncture’s delamination across the track resulted in the first safety car of the event.

Additionally, the incident evaporated the outside chance of Serra’s co-driver James Calado being able to clinch the GTE drivers’ championship away from an Aston Martin Racing crew.

Paul Dalla Lana had just pitted from the GTE-Am lead before the four-hour milestone was met, but the Canadian’s Aston Martin had been in control for much of the opening half following its recovery from a spin for Dalla Lana in the opening stages.

Charlie Eastwood made a pass on Thomas Flohr in the No. 54 AF Corse Ferrari to push TF Sport’s Aston Martin up to second, which ultimately became the lead after the safety car sequence had shaken out.

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

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