Brendon Hartley has seen a third World Endurance Championship slip from his grasp as the sister No.7 Toyota stormed to victory in the 8 Hours of Bahrain, thus clinching the 2019/20 WEC driver’s championship.
Overcoming a sizable 0.54s success handicap relative to their championship rivals was always going to be a difficult task for Hartley and co-drivers Sebastian Buemi and Kazuki Nakajimka. The margin between the two Toyotas and the sole entrants in the LMP1 class was almost an entire minute after just two hours.
Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi’s charge to championship glory was made significantly easier by running a flawless race with zero driver errors and few mechanical gremlins popping up to derail their performance.
In the end, Kobayashi took the checkered flag one minute and four seconds clear of Nakajima.
“I feel good. It’s been a long season with all that’s going on in the world,” said Conway.
“To clinch this title is a huge credit to my teammates – they made me look good. It was a tough race, but we did what we had to do.”
For Hartley, it marks a disappointing end to the 2019/20 season after coming into the final round with one hand on the title crown. Were it not for a success handicap restraining the full potential of the No.8 machine, then no doubt the showdown for the championship would have finished much closer.
Only one safety car occurred just after the mid-way mark when a puncture for one of the GTE Ferrari’s scattered debris across the circuit.
That did bunch the two Toyotas together once again, but the No.7 quickly dragged himself clear of any threat of attack soon after.
Jaxon Evans claimed a podium on his WEC debut. Driving the No.88 GT AM Porsche, Evans and co-drivers Khaled al Qubaisi and Marco Holzer were engaged in an exciting tussle for the class win which eventually fell the way of the Team Project 1 Porsche.
Porsche also finished one-two in GTE Pro. Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen took victory after getting by erstwhile leaders Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz.
In LMP2, Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Will Stevens took the class win in the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA 07-Gibson. With only two LMP1 cars entered in the race, they also became the first LMP2 car to finish on the overall podium since 2017.
Victory for the Jackie Chan team was decided when the United Autosport team, who had challenged for the lead on several occasions across the race’s duration, was penalised for a pit entry infringement.
Today also marks the end of the LMP1 era as WEC and endurance racing gears up for the launch of the new Le Mans Hypercar class next year.
The first round of the 2021 World Endurance Championship is slated to be the 1000 miles of Sebring on March 19.