2017 has been a somewhat turbulent year for the FIA World Endurance Championship, despite this it’s been an excellent season, and the finale in Bahrain is my motorsport moment for 2017.
How do you define a moment? Google gives us several options to choose from: an exact point in time, a brief period or perhaps an appropriate time for doing something. Moments, much like beauty, appear to be in the eye of the beholder. What might seem a significant length of time to you, is a short but defining point in the timeline of the sport I love. My ‘momentʼ of 2017? The FIA WEC 6 Hours of Bahrain.
Everyone knew the season finale was going to be emotional. The loss of Porsche for a while appeared to be a fairly large nail in the coffin of LMP1. Toyota had yet to confirm their participation in 2018, and not much has been said about the privateers set to join the fray. Things looked shaky at best for the seriesʼ top class. But the elephant in the room remained ignored, and we all just enjoyed what became a cracking finale weekend.
I won’t dwell too much on the racing, as for once, that’s not what this is all about. The six hours itself was exciting, as we’ve come to expect from the WEC. Porsche may have already sealed the championship, but they were denied the perfect championship end. The #8 Toyota squad didn’t put a foot wrong and took the final win of the season, making them the most successful team of the season with five wins over Porsche’s four.
LMP2 was one of the titles that had to be settled in the Middle East; barely any points separated the #31 Rebellion and the ‘Mighty 38’ of Jackie Chan DC Racing. There was fierce fighting throughout the race, but ultimately a late strategy call allowed Bruno Senna to bring his hobbled Oreca across the line to take the championship for the Swiss team.
The GTE classes have provided some outstanding racing this season, despite the BoP changes (there are still differing opinions as to whether they helped or hindered the championship.) AF Corse and Ferrari came away from Shanghai with the GTE Pro Manufacturer’s championship and added the Driver’s title plus a win in Bahrain to the silverware cabinet in Bahrain (leading to a very lovely proposal by Sam Bird to his now fiancée!). In GTE Am, it was Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathius Lauda who came away victorious with both a win and the title for Aston Martin Racing.
So while the weekend was full of excellent racing and on track stories, much of the reason this race is so important to me is the off-track stories that began to develop.
After the end of play on Friday, the media gathered in the paddock for an announcement. BR Engineering had been setting up all day and were poised to reveal their LMP1 challenger for the ‘Super Season.’ The car looks fantastic, has already completed over 1000kms in testing and two teams will be running BR1 chassis – SMP Racing with a two-car effort, possibly run as ART Grand Prix and DragonSpeed will be making the leap to LMP1, running the third BR1 chassis as a customer team.
Add these three to the confirmed two-car LMP1 entry for Manor and the return of the ByKolles, and that’s six privateer entries for LMP1 (not including Ginetta’s un-named customer.) The coffin’s nails appeared to be loosening.
During the awards ceremony the news we’d been waiting for hit – Toyota verbally confirmed their participation in the Super Season, bringing the total number of competing cars up to eight. Written confirmation came just a few weeks ago, and we’ll have to wait a little while longer to find out who will be piloting the last of the current hybrid beasts.
Another definition of the word moment is ‘a particular stage in the development of something or in a course of events.ʼ I feel this is rather appropriate for the weekend Iʼve just discussed. A turning point for the FIA WEC, the final act in the play for this iteration and the beginning of something new.
Next year weʼll see the Super Season as well as a host of new competitors, manufacturers and teams. Since Bahrain, there’s been more LMP1 news, with Rebellion confirming a two-car programme, and I’m sure there will be more to come. The WEC’s top category is starting to take shape, and while we can’t be certain, it’s looking more like the strong class the championship needs. GTE promises to be as exciting as it has been this year, particularly with the arrival of the new Aston Martin Vantage GTE and the BMW M8 GTE. BoP will still be a big talking point, particularly as it expands into the LMP1 field – good luck to those who have to find a way to bring parity to that class. The only category that I could see suffering next season is LMP2, which would be a shame considering how brilliant the field has been this year.
It could all be the start of something wonderful for the WEC, I have faith, but only time will tell.