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How hobbled Ferrari denied Porsche an era-ending WEC title

Despite its gearbox falling apart, Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado managed to reach the finish of the World Endurance Championship's Bahrain 8 Hours as the fifth classified GTE runner, doing enough to secure the drivers' and manufacturers' GT titles in the swansong for the GTE Pro division. Here's how the Scuderia signed out in style before its move up to the Hypercar class

#51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo LMGTE Pro: Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, #52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo LMGTE Pro: Miguel Molina, Antonio Fuoco

Photo by: Ferrari

Twelve months ago, Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado claimed the GTE title in controversial circumstances in Bahrain. This time around there was no late contact with a championship rival or any contentious calls from race control. But it was no less dramatic and certainly far more nerve-racking for the Ferrari duo as they attempted to retain their crown as well as the manufacturers’ gong for their employer.

Pier Guidi and Calado, who arrived in the Middle East with an 11-point margin over the Porsche crew of Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen, looked home and dry deep into the sixth hour of last Saturday’s Bahrain 8 Hours WEC curtain-closer. Calado led the way in GTE Pro and had done since a Full Course Yellow virtual safety car fell his way at the beginning of the second hour. He jumped from fourth – courtesy of what he labelled a conservative strategy – to the race lead as a result.

Antonio Fuoco may have been closing in what on Saturday was the faster of the two factory Ferrari 488 GTE Evos, but crucially the two factory Porsche 911 RSRs that could have deprived Pier Guidi and Calado of the title were down in fourth and fifth places respectively. The job looked done, until the Brit suddenly started hearing what he described as “strange noises” from the back of the car.

He couldn’t work out what the problem was at first, but quickly identified that those noises were coming when the car was in fourth gear. Calado backed off and ceded position to his team-mate, who went on to take GTE Pro race honours with Miguel Molina, in the knowledge that second place would be more than enough to secure him and Pier Guidi a third WEC title after 2017 and 2021. The #52 Ferrari had just gone past when there was another noise from behind the Brit, this time “an almighty bang”.

“I suddenly had no fourth gear,” explained Calado. “The problem was that without fourth you couldn’t downshift to third or upshift to fifth without using the clutch. Then it was a matter of trying to find a way to change gear, which involved going back to right-foot braking and the old heel-and-toe.”

The problem for Ferrari was that the damaged gearbox took exception to this approach and the transmission temperatures soared. It explained the look of despondency on Calado’s face – and the odd tear – after he climbed out of the car to hand over to Pier Guidi with just over an hour and a half to go.

“I was 95% sure we weren’t going to finish: I got out of the car and thought it was all over,” he said later. “I can’t describe the noise that was coming from the back of the car.”

Calado believed it wouldn't be possible to get the car to the finish after losing fourth gear, with gearbox temperatures sky-rocketing

Calado believed it wouldn't be possible to get the car to the finish after losing fourth gear, with gearbox temperatures sky-rocketing

Photo by: Ferrari

The temperatures were off the clock once Pier Guidi got back out on circuit as he too called his right foot into play to drive around the gearbox problem.

“When I got back in the car I tried to just skip fourth gear, so first, second and third and then with the clutch I got fifth and sixth,” he said. “Then I realised that the temperature of the gearbox was going super-high like this; it was right on limit.

“But on the straights when I was in fifth and sixth, I saw that the temperature was dropping a degree or two, so I thought, ‘OK, I will use fifth for the whole lap.’ I saw the temperatures coming down a bit driving like this, and then after 20 minutes they started to come into the normal range.”

The gearbox oil temps may have been back to normal, but of course the lap times of the #51 were nothing of the sort. Pier Guidi was lapping around seven or eight seconds off the pace as he tried to nurse the car home.

“It was tough,” he said, “especially taking the hairpin in fifth.”

Pier Guidi’s pace, or rather lack of it, meant he quickly dropped to the rear of the five-car GTE Pro field behind the solo Chevrolet Corvette C8.R and the two Porsches. That position would be enough for the Italian and his British team-mate to take the title, but they couldn’t afford to drop much further down the order. GTE Am cars also score points in what officially goes by the mouthful that is the ‘WEC drivers’ championship for GTE drivers’. He could only really afford to drop behind one GTE Am car to be sure of the title.

Calado suggested that Ferrari had “Lady Luck on our side” at the end of the race. He was correct on that one twice over. The Corvette’s position in second position behind Fuoco and Molina was crucial on Saturday. Had Estre and Christensen finished second, then fifth position wouldn’t have been enough for Ferrari.

Fortuitous FCY timing helped lift the Milner and Tandy's Corvette into second, crucially denying Porsche the title

Fortuitous FCY timing helped lift the Milner and Tandy's Corvette into second, crucially denying Porsche the title

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

A runner-up spot for the Chevy shared by Nick Tandy and Tommy Milner didn’t look likely after qualifying, which explains why the Briton described second as a “massive result”. He’d qualified down in fifth, no less than 1.4s off the pace after a Balance of Performance change against the Corvette. It went into the Bahrain race with an engine air restrictor 0.4mm smaller in diameter than at Fuji back in September.

The move, a so-called blackball change rather one under the auto BoP system that was all but abandoned over the course of 2022, confused Chevrolet.

“We weren’t competitive at Fuji, so how are we going to be competitive with a smaller restrictor here?” asked Tandy over the weekend. “We just want the chance to race.”

Yet Chevrolet did get the chance to race, at least with Porsche. The Corvette benefited from the first of the three FCYs of the race like the championship-winning Ferrari, the car vaulting from the back of the GTE Pro pack to second at the first round of stops. Milner took over from Tandy and found himself with a 40s margin over Estre in the #92 Porsche. More to the point, the car was a match for Porsche, at least the #92 car shared by Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz, over the remainder of the race.

“It wasn’t that we found anything for the race; it was more that the Porsches seemed to lose something,” explained Tandy. “We were never in the fight with the Ferraris, but we could genuinely race the Porsches.”

Lietz reckoned that the Porsche, or at least his #91 car, lost some engine performance during the night. He wasn’t sure why, though his hunch was that it was linked to an increase in humidity.

The championship challenge of the Estre and Christensen Porsche received a boost ahead of the race when the Ferrari’s engine power was tweaked downwards in another blackball change, but it waned over the first four hours or so of the race. The #92 lost out twice over during the FCYs, at the top of the first hour and then just after halfway.

Going aggressive on strategy ultimately cost the #92 crew of Estre and Christensen

Going aggressive on strategy ultimately cost the #92 crew of Estre and Christensen

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Christensen had used a set of the soft-compound Michelins in an unsuccessful attempt to grab the point for pole – it went to Bruni on mediums – and the tactic came back to bite Porsche’s lead crew. They had to use that set of softs in the race, which explains an early stop as the tyres wilted in the run-up to the four-hour mark. The rest of the GTE Pro field were able too pit under the yellows, which sent the #92 to the back of the class field, and by some distance. Estre found himself 28s behind Bruni in fourth straight after the pitstop sequence.

“We knew we really had to win the race to take the championship, so we went into the race with an aggressive strategy,” explained Estre. “We had to try something different to beat the Ferraris, because their tyre degradation was always going to be better than ours on this track.”

Of course, the #92 Porsche’s gameplan didn’t factor in major issues for the championship-leading Ferrari. As Pier Guidi said after the race: “I can’t remember the 488 ever having a technical problem in a race.”

Estre reckoned second place behind the Fuoco/Molina car and ahead of the Chevrolet would have been possible with a regular strategy. With Pier Guidi and Calado down in fifth, that would have been enough to give them the title…

“No regrets, though,” said Estre. “We knew we had to go in a different direction because we didn’t have the pace to race the Ferraris here.”

Estre and Christensen would have ended up fourth in championship race behind both Fuoco and Molina as well as Bruni (on his own because Lietz missed July’s Monza round after contracting COVID) had #91 finished ahead of #92. But Porsche opted to swap the positions of its two cars on the final lap.

It wasn’t so much to bring Estre/Christensen up to second position in the points, more in the hope that something might go awry for Pier Guidi at the death. The Ferrari’s gearbox did last, however, although Calado admitted he probably doesn’t want to see the remains.

“I really can’t imagine,” he said, “that there’s much left in there.”

Pier Gudi brought the car home in fifth gear to secure the title for himself and Calado

Pier Gudi brought the car home in fifth gear to secure the title for himself and Calado

Photo by: Ferrari

Toyota sees off Alpine for Hypercar title

Toyota sealed yet another pair of World Endurance Championship titles in Bahrain on a day when Alpine never looked likely to wrestle any end-of-season silverware from the Japanese manufacturer. Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa claimed the drivers’ title with what might be described as a safe second behind the sister Toyota GR010 HYBRID shared by Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez.

At Fuji back in September, victory for Buemi and co in the #8 car had to all intents and purposes ended the chances of the #7 crew making it three titles in a row. Too much oversteer for the chasing Toyota allowed #8 to take a clear victory. This time it was a surfeit of understeer for #8 – a problem that got worse as the temperatures decreased after sundown – that handed the advantage to #7.

“We had a bit more understeer than the other car and they were definitely quicker, especially later in the race,” said Hartley. “But in the end today was just about doing our job and beating the Alpine. It was about taking no risks, staying off the kerbs and winning the championship.”

Hartley had taken pole by the better part of a second: he was eight tenths up on second-placed Paul di Resta in the best of the Peugeot 9X8s and nine tenths ahead of Conway. Buemi led from di Resta to the first round of pitstops, before the Toyotas ran 1-2, never much more than five seconds apart, for two more stints. Hartley was then asked to cede position to Conway straight after pitting in the middle of his double-stint.

Much of the 45s gap between the Toyotas at the end came when Kobayashi went up against Hirokawa. The rookie of the team was under clear instructions what his job was on the day, pointed out Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe technical director Pascal Vasselon.

Alpine took third position, though technical issues for both Peugeots had a lot to do with that. The Gibson-engined A480 was two laps down – just as it had been over six hours at Fuji – in the hands of Nicolas Lapierre, Matthieu Vaxiviere and Andre Negrao, despite a Balance of Performance tweak in its favour and one against Toyota. The two cars respectively gained and lost four kilowatts, or 5.4bhp.

“We were expecting it to be hard, but we didn’t expect to be so far away,” said Vaxiviere. “The real problem was that our lack of straightline speed meant it was difficult to overtake the LMP2s and that really hurt us.”

Buemi, Hartley and Hirakawa took a routine second place behind the sister #7 crew to secure the title in their #8 Toyota

Buemi, Hartley and Hirakawa took a routine second place behind the sister #7 crew to secure the title in their #8 Toyota

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Peugeot again could finish no better than fourth and again suffered a DNF, though a car that had received a 12kg BoP weight break was closer to the pace than ever. Not only did di Resta claim a front-row spot, but he ran second to the first round of stops. Team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne also claimed fastest race lap.

Both 9X8s, though, stopped out on track and spent time inside the garage. The #93, in which Mikkel Jensen joined di Resta and Vergne, had gear selection issues that precipitated its retirement with the loss of fourth gear in hour six, while the #94 ended up six laps down in the hands of Loic Duval, Nico Muller and Gustavo Menezes after a change of fuel pump.

TF Sport wraps up GTE Am glory as Porsches beat Iron Dames

The German Project 1 Porsche team finally made a return to victory lane in Bahrain. The GTE Am title winner back in 2018-19 took its first win since this race in 2020, and did it in style with a 1-2 result that didn’t look on the cards until late in the race.

Matteo Cairoli propelled the winning #46 Porsche 911 RSR he shared with Mikkel Pedersen and Nicolas Leutwiler into the lead as a three-hour stint drew a close, while Ben Barnicoat brought #56, co-driven with Gunnar Jeannette and Phillip Hyett, into second place during a late double-stint.

The mandatory bronze-rated driver in each car, Leutwiler and Hyett, did their two hours and 20 minutes minimum driving early on. Then it was the job of their team-mates to make up the time.

“You need a quick car for the last four hours,” said Project 1 tech chief Richard Selwin. “We set up the cars for that and had the quicks in to make the most of it.”

Ben Keating and Marco Sorensen took the GTE Am title in the TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GTE they shared with Henrique Chaves courtesy of fourth place behind the Iron Dames Ferrari 488 GTE Evo that had led much of the way in Sarah Bovy’s hands. Her team-mates Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting weren’t quick enough at the end, while the Aston’s victory chances were undone because it pitted just before two of the FCYs.

Keating and Sorensen wrapped up the GTE Am title with fourth in the TF Aston they shared with Chaves

Keating and Sorensen wrapped up the GTE Am title with fourth in the TF Aston they shared with Chaves

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

WRT domination as Jota clinches LMP2 

The Belgian WRT team took up where it left off in Bahrain last year. The squad that dominated the two races that closed out the 2021 season did likewise last weekend with its lead ORECA-Gibson 07 shared by Rene Rast, Robin Frijns and Sean Gelael.

Rast flew on his return to the team after missing the previous round at Fuji as a result of a clash with the DTM. He climbed aboard the car after a double-stint from Gelael and took it past the #22 United Autosports entry with Phil Hanson at the wheel to claim the top spot in class after 72 laps early in the third hour. The WRT car would only drop out of the lead during the pitstop cycles – and for just eight laps in total – over the remainder of the race.

It was the perfect response to a poor qualifying performance from the #31 crew. Frijns could only put the car eighth in class after a lock-up on his single qualifying run. There wasn’t time to go again in the 10-minute session.

“The car was on a completely different level to the other LMP2s,” said Rast. “We were by far the quickest out there. I didn’t believe how quickly I could pass the other cars. Then it was about managing the lead.”

The only potential hiccup along the way for the team was an incident in which Rast came together with Alex Brundle in the Inter Europol ORECA. A penalty was awarded, but in a move that surprised most onlookers it went to the British driver rather than the German.

WRT’s life might have been made more difficult by United and the #23 ORECA shared by Oliver Jarvis, Alex Lynn and Josh Pierson but for what team boss Richard Dean described as a “Keystone Cops moment” in the pits on half-distance.

Jarvis overshot his pit stall, the car ending up just beyond the range of the refuelling hose. The team had to wait until the driver change was complete before dragging the car back, hence a loss of time that United put at a shade over 30s. The car finished second and was just 49s down at the chequered flag.

Rast, Frijns and Gelael were comfortable winners in LMP2 as WRT repeated its 2021 dominance at the track

Rast, Frijns and Gelael were comfortable winners in LMP2 as WRT repeated its 2021 dominance at the track

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Jarvis and Pierson (Lynn missed the Sebring opener when on duty for the Ganassi Cadillac squad the following day) were never likely to win the championship given the 28-point lead enjoyed by the Jota crew of Antonio Felix da Costa, Will Stevens and Roberto Gonzalez heading into the race. The Le Mans-winning crew opted for what might be described as a semi-conservative strategy, but were still keen to make it onto the podium and celebrate winning the title in style.

They achieved that when the Prema ORECA shared by Robert Kubica, Louis Deletraz and Lorenzo Colombo pitted out of second with five minutes left on the clock. The Italian team opted to try to stretch the fuel throughout the race, but needed one more yellow period to match its second-place finish at Le Mans. The late stop for Deletraz dropped the car to fourth behind the new champions, though only by five seconds.

The second WRT ORECA of Ferdinand Habsburg, Norman Nato and Rui Andrade was a further eight seconds back in fifth.

Jota drivers Da Costa, Gonzalez and Stevens wrapped up their LMP2 title with third

Jota drivers Da Costa, Gonzalez and Stevens wrapped up their LMP2 title with third

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

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