The penultimate 6 hour race of a fine FIA World Endurance Championship season will be held under the lights at Sakhir Circuit in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
There has been only a modest growth in attendance at the race in its first years but efforts continue to give the WEC a publicity boost with Bahraini media on site both at Fuji and Shanghai.
In the LMP1 stakes there are a couple of changes to report.
The #7 Toyota sees Mike Conway make his second race appearance of the season for the team (after COTA) with Kaz Nakajima otherwise engaged.
The #9 Lotus CLM sees Pierre Kaffer joined by Nathaniel Berthon and GP2 racer Simon Trummer.
In the Drivers Championship there are only two crews now in the hunt, and if form from Shanghai is repeated here then it might be all over before we get to Brazil at the end of the month.
Fifth place or better in Bahrain will seal the Drivers World Championship for Buemi and Davidson, the Manufacturers title battle is rather closer, bit Toyota are in good shape as the season approaches its climax.
Only the #2 Audi crew can now mathematically beat the #8 Toyota duo and on recent form it’s going to take a major upset for that to happen with the Audi looking nowhere close to the TS040s searing race long pace. In fairness though we predicted that the GTE battle might be over in Shanghai and by the middle of the very first lap that prediction had come to nought!
Buemi and Davidson though looked ominously good in China and if they get a clean run look highly unlikely to be caught. Their runs, together with the sister #7 car, through the field was a drive of the very highest standard. Audi lack the pace, and Porsche the consistency of pace to match that.
That said Porsche had a very encouraging run in China, their only real problem the unexplained immediately post pitstop puncture for Brendon Hartley.
They do still seem to have issues in maintaining pace over a full stint, with the Audis likely rather more encouraged in China than they were in Japan, managing at least to harass the 919s as the fuel load lightened and the tyres aged. It wasn’t quite enough though – Will the higher ambient temperatures in the Gulf throw another factor into the mix? We’ll see!
Certainly one factor now out of the debate about Porsche is the future of their current sextet of factory drivers, all six have been retained for 2015.
In the LMP1-L stakes there was the first 1,2 of the season for the Rebellion R-One, and a first ever full three car class podium, though the pace of the rebuilt CLM AER was lacklustre, two new drivers for the squad probably won’t help the pace by enough to make a meaningful difference, but might feed the coffers!
Seven cars in China becomes five in Bahrain, no ESM here but the Oak Racing Morgan Judd makes the last of its three planned appearances alongside the full season foursome.
KCMG will have their hands full rebuilding their heavily damaged Oreca after Alex Imperatori was left helpless with a car dying underneath him, Gimmi Bruni equally unfortunate in being the first man to choose the wrong line!
Aside from major mathematical improbability (both the #26 Ligier and #27 orca would have to post a pair of dnfs with the #47 setting pole and winning twice) the KCMG car is out of the Championship stakes. They can though still play a major part in taking points from the two remaining contenders.
The gap between the #27 SMP Oreca Nissan and G-Drive Ligier Nissan now sits at 8 points with the Russian entered cars having played a game of cat and mouse since Le Mans.
The cat though, in the shapely form of the Ligier, seems to be in its pomp now, it handed out a drubbing to the rest of the field in China. Pole and a win would assure G-Drive of at least going into the final round on level terms with the #27 (if the SMP car came second).
That said the pace of the SMP cars has never been better, the gap is closing but China served them a bonus with the retirement of the otherwise competitive KCMG team. They don’t seem to have an answer to the full race pace of G-Drives car and driver squad, Minassian is still a star, and Mediani and Zlobin are both very capable, but Pla is world class, Rusinov has seldom driven as well as in recent races, and Julien Canal is now dialled in to the LMP2 programme!
The Morgan Judd will be no help or hindrance in points terms, it doesn’t score, but the #37 SMP Oreca could be, again this is a team showing better form with every race, but they don’t look quick enough or consistent enough if this race runs cleanly.