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TAYLOR: Bahrain Debrief

Ricky Taylor files his final Sportscar365 column of the year…

Photo: Vision Sport Agency

Photo: Vision Sport Agency

Audi’s final race, the final race of the season, and our last chance at a win in the 2016 WEC championship, Bahrain was going to be a weekend to remember.

We had been coming off of a very difficult race in Shanghai but we knew Bahrain would hold better pace from past experience.

In addition, we were looking forward to having continuity with the driving lineup as Romain Brandela was back with us for the second race in a row, the first time all season that we’ve had the same drivers in back-to-back races.

It was apparent from day one that we were going to be very competitive this weekend as we showed great pace in both first practice sessions, with third and second place results in FP1 and FP2.

Being a night race, we focused mainly on the setup of the car at night when conditions were cooler. FP3 came and the conditions were quite warm and we did not have the same balance as night but kept calm and focused forward to qualifying later that night when conditions would be cooler and more relevant to race conditions.

As in Shanghai, Romain and I would split the qualifying duties and our average time would determine our starting position. The car was very quick in qualifying and we wound up third to start the six-hour event.

There was a lot of excitement in our qualifying session as the Aston and Ferrari were fighting for the championship point for pole and threw everything at it. The Aston used three sets of tires to grab the pole by less than one-tenth on the two-driver average on the final lap. Meanwhile the Porsches skipped qualifying to save tires for the race.

We felt we had a good shot at a podium result here with a chance at winning the event as well if we went without mistakes.

At the start of the race, the car was excellent and I was able to take the lead on Lap 1 as Collard got a bad jump on the start and Lamy was caught fighting with the GTE-Pro cars, which allowed me to slip through.

Over the first stint, I had a big gap in the first half hour but as the stint went on Ben Barker was very strong about 5 seconds behind so it was a good duel to push hard as the tires wore.

Romain took over the duties and led for the majority of his stint, but couldn’t do much to hold off Patrick Long and Matthias Lauda. He did a great job to not get into trouble and brought the car in in fourth place, handing it off to Pierre.

I knew Pierre would move us up the order as he is one of the fastest silvers out there. He moved up to third and we were in strong contention for a podium at that point.

Patrick Long’s first stint really put their car in a good position to win the race and the tone was set for the race after the teams had cycled through their three drivers for the first time. We would be fighting with the Aston for the final podium spot and we would have to give maximum to chase down the KCMG Porsche for P2.

Pierre gave the car over in P3 and the Full Course Yellow came out immediately, which was not ideal timing for us as the Porsches were able to take advantage of it.

As soon as it went green, I had a great battle with Collard and went back and forth a few times before I had a bizarre brake issue. I braked for Turn 9 but when I released the brake for the corner, the pedal stayed down and the brakes stayed down and the car came to an abrupt halt.

It was quite sudden and I just tried to get the car off track, but didn’t make it and stopped just off the line in T9. After some panicky taps of the brake, the pedal came back and we were running well again, but had lost about 15 seconds on that lap.

It was all about chasing down Collard and trying to make up the time lost to put us in a position for the podium as the Aston was out with engine issues and we were fighting with the Ferrari for the third spot.

On the last lap of my stint I finally caught the Ferrari as he was really struggling with tire wear and we had another big battle on the in lap when I pitted to hand the car back to Romain.

Romain was doing great lap times all through his stint and we were more and more confident in a podium finish. The excitement and anticipation quickly turned to panic in the pits when the TVs showed our car slow on track. We had a collision with an LMP2 car which damaged the left front suspension.

It was back to the garage and repair the car just to salvage some points and finish the race.

It was a big shame to end the season that way but the team did a great job all weekend they all put in a podium worthy performance, but it just wasn’t our day.

This season in WEC was a great experience to get a proper taste of racing in the World Championship, learning the tracks, the cars, and the level of competition. I’m very thankful for the opportunity from Larbre and thankful to all of the mechanics and teammates I had over the season: Pierre, Yutaka, Lars, and Romain.

It was a great year, I feel that if a few minor details had gone more smoothly we could have been on the podium quite regularly. Thank you to the team: Jack, Charlie, Alex, Max, Cyrille, Thomas, Nicholas, Benjamin, Simon, and Kaneko who we all raced for this season.

As a fan of motorsport and someone who has been around sports car racing my whole life, it was a real honor to be in Bahrain on the weekend of Audi’s final race.

Every day I was just taking it in, remembering the memories their cars have given all sports car racing fans and thinking to myself that this was a historic weekend that we would all remember.

Although the result of the weekend for us was not one to celebrate, it was amazing to see the whole WEC paddock come together to celebrate everything that Audi had given the sports car racing world. Capping off their 18 years with a 1-2 finish in their final race was what everybody wanted and it couldn’t have been written in a better way.

On top of all of this emotion and sentiment, the greatest part of the weekend was the spontaneous, unplanned applause down pit lane.

As the Audi team mechanics, drivers, management, and engineers walked down the pit lane, everyone lined up outside their pit box and applauded each Audi team member as they walked by.

Every time a team leaves the sport, I think to myself, “Racing won’t be the same without them,” and each time life goes on as usual and the teams move on like normal.

But this time I have a feeling it won’t be quite the same and the impact of Audi will be missed.

Ricky Taylor (@RickyTaylorRace) is the 2017 and 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype champion, driving for Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport and Acura Motorsports.

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