The #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez was classified as leading every lap to take its second FIA World Endurance Championship victory of the season at the 8 Hours of Bahrain.
Starting third on the grid, Conway quickly swept his way into the lead at turn two as the polesitting #1 Rebellion Racing R13 LMP1 entry was clipped by Charlie Robertson in the #5 Team LNT Ginetta G60.
The pair dropped to the back of the field while Conway got through. Also losing time was Sebastien Buemi in the sister #8 Toyota who had to take avoiding action to avoid tangling within the front-row starters.
From then on, the #7 ran like clockwork as the trio led all 257 laps. Their run was helped by both the greater success penalty given to the second TS050 robbing it of slightly more top speed around the power-sensitive Sakhir circuit and issues afflicting its other class rivals.
First the #1 Rebellion was driven into the pits by Gustavo Menezes with a suspected driveline issue which cost the Swiss team three laps, and then both Ginettas ran into problems. After the #5 was called into the pits to fix damage in the second corner collision it then ground to a halt at the hands of Jordan King just after the halfway mark. The sister #6 was running strongly under the control of Guy Smith, Chris Dyson and Mike Simpson before a transmission problem consigned them to the pits and into retirement.
That allowed the Rebellion to claim a podium, behind the two hybrids.
United Autosports gained its first WEC win in equally dominant fashion as the Oreca 07 crew of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson won the LMP2 class by 21.500sec over Shanghai winners Jota Sport.
The Anglo-American team ran like clockwork throughout the longest race of the season – so far – with the Jota crew of Roberto Gonzalez, Anthony Davidson and Antonio Felix Da Costa pulling back a deficit of almost a minute earlier in the race, but unable to to cut into the gap any further.
Jackie Chan DC Racing took the last spot on the podium, with Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Will Stevens half-a-minute ahead of G-Drive Racing, which is making a one-off appearance in its Aurus 01 driven by Job van Uitert, Roman Rusinov and Jean Eric Vergne.
Once again, the GTE Pro battle proved to be the toughest as it descended into a straight fight between Ferrari and Aston Martin.
Despite the two Porsche GT Team 911 RSR – 19s qualifying strongly, two separate issues struck down their challenge at the front. It started with the Kevin Estre & Michael Christensen-driven #92 going into the pits with a left-rear damper failure just laps before Gianmaria Bruni had to make an emergency stop to replace a puncture tyre.
That allowed AF Corse and Aston Martin Racing to battle it out for the podium. For the lead, Miguel Molina in the #71 Ferrari 488 GTE EVO initially had the measure of Marco Sorensen in the #95 V8 Vantage but that all changed at the final round of pitstops.
A quicker stop for the Aston allowed the Dane to edge out ahead, and in his rush to make a quick getaway out of the pit box Molina spun his wheels – strictly forbidden in the rules.
The resulting stop/go penalty for the Spaniard relegated him from just behind the rear wing of the Aston to almost 14 seconds adrift at the chequered flag.
It was a penalty that decided the final place on the podium as well. James Calado in the #51 Ferrari was engaged in a captivating fight with Maxime Martin in the #97 Vantage but was too ambitious in overtaking the Belgian coming out of the tight turn eight left-hander and overtook the Aston on the run-off. He was ordered to give the place back by race control and faded in the dying embers of the race.
The two Porsches took the flag, two laps down on the #51, as the #91 led home the #92 as Porsche lost its lead in the manufacturers’ title race and Christensen & Estre lost their championship lead.
Continuing the trend started in the prototype classes was Team Project 1, as Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating and Larry ten Voorde – replacing regular driver Felipe Fraga who is on Brazilian Stock Car duty – finally put their bad luck behind them to secure their first win in the championship in dominant fashion.
A strong start from Keating set the tone of the race for the Pro/Am crew as he led the first hour by a comfortable margin in his Porsche 911 RSR over Egidio Perfetti in the second Team Project 1 car which eventually finished ninth-in-class.
From then on, the trio were comfortable in fending off the triple-pronged attack of Paul Dalla Lana, Darren Turner and fastest lap in the class-setter Ross Gunn in the #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage. The crew were ruthlessly quick but an extra pitstop, eight to Team Project 1’s seven, dropped them 37 seconds off the lead.
Third went to the Gulf Motorsport Porsche team of Ben Barker, Michael Wainwright and Andrew Watson despite being given a drive-through penalty for ‘unsafe rejoining of the track’ having run onto the run-off before coming back on and clipping a an Am class Ferrari.
Championship leaders TF Sport had a race to forget on the team’s first appearance in Bahrain as a fuel line issue caused the team to retire the Aston Martin with less than 30 minutes of the race remaining.