The #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Brendon Hartley, Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard took an almost lights-to-flag victory in the 2016 6 Hours of Shanghai, seeing off the challenge from the #6 Toyota which suffered two costly punctures towards the end of the race.
By winning its sixth race of 2016, Porsche has sealed the 2016 LMP1 Manufacturers World Championship, but the Drivers title will go down to the wire, as the #2 Porsche of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb came home fourth.
“Unreal,” Hartley said after the race. “It was incredibly close at the start, but we didn’t put a foot wrong, and fended off the challenge from Toyota with our strategy. Winning the manufacturers title is even more reason to be happy.”
The #6 Toyota of Kamui Kobayashi, Stephane Sarrazin and Mike Conway still finished second however, with the #5 Toyota riding shotgun in third to ensure that the title race continued. Both Toyotas had the pace to match the leading Porsche through the middle of the race, but couldn’t catch up.
A rear-left puncture forced the #6 crew to gamble on tyres, and halve the gap to the leading car but a second puncture forced Conway to pit the Toyota again to change for a fresh set, ending its chances. The car came home just under 50 seconds behind the #1 car which ran faultlessly. After multiple battles with the #2 Porsche to keep the title fight alive in the second half of the race; the gap between the leaders is now 17 points,
For the #2 Porsche, finishing fourth will come as a disappointment. It was a better performance from the championship-leaders, but Jani, Dumas and Lieb couldn’t match the pace of the #1 919, especially through traffic.
It was a worse and frankly miserable race for Audi however, which bowed out of both the Manufacturers and Drivers World Championships after a string of issues throughout the race left the #8 R18, which had a shot at the title, finishing four laps off the leader and the #7 R18 seventh.
A fuel-rig issue cost the #8 valuable time at each stop, and Oliver Jarvis colliding with the #7 of Benoit Treluyer at the final hairpin caused the air-jacks to fail on the sister car, which resulted in a lengthy stint in the garage for repairs.
A win at Bahrain is all Audi can hope for if it is to end its 18-year stint in prototype racing on a high.
In LMP1 L, ByKolles took its first win of the 2016 season, after a misfire and eventually an injector failure delayed and forced Rebellion Racing’s #13 R-One into retirement.
LMP2 saw G-Drive Racing score its second victory of the 2016 season, after a series of rapid stints by Alex Brundle, Romain Rusinov and Will Stevens, which left the car practically unchallenged throughout.
Finishing second was the #30 ESM Ligier, which led for a while on an alternative strategy. It was a well deserved podium for Tom Blomqvist, Antonio Giovanazzi and Sean Galael, the ESM team’s still fresh trio driving extremely well on a very tricky circuit to navigate.
Rounding out the top three in the class, and only just, was the #43 RGR Sport by Morand Ligier, which recovered well after a drive-through penalty for hitting the eventual fourth-place finishing Alpine that took the LMP2 title. The Ligier and Alpine battled for the final podium spot for most of the final hour, with Filipe Albuquerque and Nicolas Lapierre glued together.
On the final lap of the race a late dive by Albuquerque up the inside of the second place battle in GTE Am caused a collision. The Ligier still managed to finish ahead of the Alpine, but it wasn’t enough to take the title.
For Signatech Alpine, Lapierre and teammates Gustavo Menezes and Stephane Richelmi have driven spectacularly all season long, it was clear that the trio were in damage limitation in China once the RGR crew’s chances of a win faded. A well deserved title for the French team.
GTE Pro was once again dominated by Ford, the #67, as in Fuji, untouchable in the race. Both Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell didn’t put a wheel wrong for the entire race, and finished up 50 seconds clear of their teammates in the #66 GT which finished second after a recovery drive from a slow puncture.
Third in Pro was claimed by the #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado, which crucially finished ahead of the sole-remaining Aston to swing the GTE Manufacturers title the way of the Pracing Horse. It’s not settled, but Ferrari has edged closer.
The #95 Aston Martin, which was the only Pro Vantage for most of the race race after the #97 retired following its first lap collision with the #45 Manor, came home fourth. The result extends Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen’s Drivers Championship lead heading into the final round.
Meanwhile, a costly early puncture for their title rivals in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari left the crew recovering for almost the entire race. Davide Rigon and Sam Bird ended up taking fifth spot after a lengthy duel with the Dempsey Proton Porsche.
GTE Am was dominated by the #98 Aston Martin which takes the title race down to the wire in the lower GTE division. Paul Dalla Lana, Mathias Lauda and Pedro Lamy were only challenged at the very start when the Gulf Racing Porsche jumped the start, after that the duo stormed to take their fifth win of the season.
Second was eventually the KCMG Porsche, ahead of the #83 AF Corse Ferrari which lost second on the final lap after the aforementioned collision with Wolf Henzler in the KCMG 911 following Albuquerque’s desperation move.
It means that the Am titles are all but sealed, but crucially, it will be decided in Bahrain.
The 2016 World Endurance Championship season finale in Bahrain is set to take place on the 19th of November.