Bruno Senna was left in disbelief after clinching the first racing title of his motorsport career on Saturday as a hard-fought victory in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s Bahrain finale saw him be crowned LMP2 champion.
Senna and Vaillante Rebellion co-driver Julien Canal entered the final race leading the LMP2 drivers’ standings after victory last time out in Shanghai, with the Jackie Chan DC Racing trio of Ho-Pin Tung, Oliver Jarvis and Thomas Laurent sitting four points behind in the No. 38 Oreca 07 Gibson.
DC Racing looked poised to beat Rebellion to both the drivers’ and teams’ championships when it enjoyed a 40-second lead at the front of the pack with less than two hours to go.
However, some canny strategy play from Rebellion, a mammoth final stint from Senna despite suffering power steering failure, and a fuel pickup issue for the No. 38 Oreca allowed the Brazilian to cross the line 10 seconds clear, clinching the title in the process.
“I can’t believe it really. We pulled over 50 points on Car 38 since Nurburgring, it’s not even from Le Mans,” Senna said.
“The team did an exceptional job of improving and making everybody improve: mechanics, engineers, all the drivers, everybody was just getting closer and closer together and stronger.
“When it came to the overseas season, we started to really get into our groove and we started to win races. And we thought ‘OK, maybe we can do this…’ I have no words.”
The nephew of Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna, Bruno had raced in F1, GP2, Formula E and Formula 3 before making the switch to sports cars.
Remarkably though, Senna had never won a championship at any level of his professional racing career until claiming the LMP2 crown on Saturday.
“I don’t know if any of these top drivers have waited as long as I have to win a championship. I’m at 14 years of racing without winning a championship,” Senna said.
“This is the first time. I’ve got close a few times, but no cigar so far. This time is the first one.
“It’s just an amazing feeling. I can’t thank these guys and the team enough for what they’ve done this year. It’s extraordinary.”
Nürburgring No-Show Costs Prost Drivers’ Title
Despite playing a key role in Rebellion’s teams’ championship win, Prost could not share in the glory of the drivers’ crown with Canal and Senna as his absence from the Six Hours of Nürburgring in July due to clashing Formula E commitments meant he finished the season 18 points behind his co-drivers.
Prost did not wish to reflect on his own near-miss of the drivers’ title, instead heaping praise on Senna and Canal.
“These guys, it’s been the best year of my life in endurance. The atmosphere on our car has been fantastic,” he said.
“It’s part of endurance racing, and it’s so nice to win with these guys to be honest. That’s why I’m so happy and so proud also of all the Rebellion team.”
Prost had been on standby to take over for the final stint amid fears the power steering failure could take its toll on Senna’s arms, only for him to insist he was fine to continue.
“When I heard Bruno say that power steering was failing, I thought ‘OK maybe we can finish this’,” Prost said.
“Actually a long time ago during an endurance test with Oreca, I had to complete 20 laps with no power steering. So I remember it’s hard, but you can do it. So I thought you know if you change driver, maybe you can still hold the lead.
“We knew we wanted to give everything. In the end it worked out. We won the championship by 10 seconds. That’s crazy if you think about it. How many hours have we been racing? And it’s down to 10 seconds.”
Prost also paid tribute to the No. 38 Oreca crew for a tough competition throughout the season, making mention of 19-year-old rookie Thomas Laurent.
“I think they were amazing competitors,” Prost said. “I saw Thomas Laurent crying. I think we have to have a word for him because he’s shown amazing pace.
“Today I could not get a tenth more out and I was barely catching him.
“He’s young, so congratulations to him for his season.”
Canal Doubles Up with Second LMP2 Title
While winning a championship was a very new feeling for Senna, Canal knew what to expect, having won the LMP2 title with G-Drive Racing in 2015.
The silver-rated driver feared his chance of a second LMP2 crown had passed after a difficult stint in the middle of the race, but hailed the work of Senna and Prost in bringing Rebellion back into contention.
“To be honest, after my stint I wasn’t thinking about the win today. But after the amazing job of my two teammates, I begin to think about it,” Canal said.
“I really want to thank those guys because Nico and Bruno did a really good job. On-track they are really good guys, and I can say they are some of my best friends out of the track also. They increased my sense of the competition, of the team spirit, my line on-track.
“We worked a lot all of this year. We can’t believe it. The jump from LMP1 privateer to the LMP2 class for the Rebellion team, it was really tough, and we did it.
“I really want to thank you everyone, and especially my two teammates. Thank you.”