Porsche looked ready for a mega scrap during this weekend's 8 hour race in Bahrain, the fourth round of the 2019/20 FIA World Endurance Championship. After having locked out the front row in GTE Pro qualifying, both Porsches ran incredible races across the first half of the extra-long race. Because of its length this round of the championship paid out 1.5x points and was imperative that Porsche do well to keep its lead in the season points. Unfortunately, after a handful of hours of contending for the lead and battling against the Aston Martins and Ferraris, both Porsches fell apart within minutes of each other with two completely unrelated failures. Instead of securing a third win from four races, Porsche was forced to finish 5th and 6th in class, two laps down.
Reigning world champions Kevin Estra and Michael Christensen definitely had the car to make a win happen with an incredible streak of fast laps and passes, plus were on a good strategy to finish out the race in good shape. Then disaster struck in the form of a broken shock absorber. Not only did the repair take several laps, but it also messed up the car's diffuser. Just a single lap later and the sister car of Gianmaria Bruni and Richard LIetz was in the pits with a completely destroyed wheel nut. The car had been in the pits the lap before, and it apparently hadn't secured properly, because it caused a cut tire and a resulting slow lap into the pits. By that point the hub needed to be replaced, so the car was wheeled into the garage and returned to the race two laps down. Porsche's loss in points moved the team down to second behind Aston Martin. There is still plenty of racing left to do, as the season doesn't end until the double-points 24 Hours of Le Mans next June, but it's not a great way to end 2019.
Meanwhile, in the GTE Am class, the Porsche team Project 1 managed to put on a killer race from start to finish. This yellow and black Porsche 911 RSR started the race from pole, managed a mega triple-stint run from gentleman driver Ben Keating, and converted all of that into a dominant win in the class. The privateer Porsche finished ahead of the factory-entered Aston Martin with the Gulf Racing Porsche finishing third to give the German manufacturer a double-podium in GTE Am. Keating, along with teammates Larry ten Voorde and Jeroen Bleekemolen, put in an awesome drive, managing pit stops, tires, and speed better than the competition from start to end. With the misfortune in the pro-class, Porsche could use this pick-me-up from the Ams.
Comments on the race
Pascal Zurlinden (Director Factory Motorsport): “I’m delighted for our Project 1 customer squad, who claimed their first win of the season and took over the championship lead. For Ben, Jeroen and Larry – our new Porsche family members in the WEC – this is a well-deserved and tremendous success. In the GTE-Pro class, our works teams were plagued by a lot of bad luck. Finishing fifth and sixth still puts us in a good position in the championship. We’ll strike back next year at the Austin round.”
Alexander Stehlig (Head of Operations FIA WEC): “What a huge disappointment. We only achieved fifth and sixth at the longest and most important race of the first half of the season. The fact that a lot of points were awarded at this round makes it even worse. We had minor defects on both cars, which we’ll now take a good look at. We didn’t think the last outing of the year would turn out like this.”
Gianmaria Bruni (Porsche 911 RSR #91): “This is not exactly the nicest present just before Christmas. Our car was fast and consistent as always, but this time we were unlucky on the technical side. We’ll examine the causes in more detail during the test on Sunday. I think it is terrific how our team never gave up and kept pushing despite the setbacks. We would have deserved more, but sometimes that’s how it goes in motor racing. Setbacks are just part of it.”
Kévin Estre (Porsche 911 RSR #92): “Initially the race went well for us. With this track layout, it was hard to find an opportunity to overtake. But at some point it worked and I was in the lead. As a result, I was able to build a decent lead, but then bad luck struck. The left rear shock broke. We lost a lot of time in the pits and couldn’t catch up. We’ve lost a lot of ground in the drivers’ standings.”
Ben Keating (Porsche 911 RSR #57): “What a fantastic race! When you start from pole, everything is much easier. I was able to immediately build a gap at the front after the start. I was in high form. So good, in fact, that my team left me in the car for three straight stints. This had the advantage that we could save a driver change at the end. My teammates put in extremely strong drives, the team did a perfect job. This is my first win in the WEC, and it’s now time to celebrate!”
1. Thiim/Sörensen (DK/DK), Aston Martin Vantage, 235 laps
2. Molina/Rigon (E/I), Ferrari 488 GTE, 235 laps
3. Martin/Lynn (B/GB), Aston Martin Vantage, 235 laps
5. Lietz/Bruni (A/I), Porsche 911 RSR, 233 laps
6. Christensen/Estre (DK/F), Porsche 911 RSR, 233 laps
1. Keating/ten Voorde/Bleekemolen (USA/NL/NL), Porsche 911 RSR, 233 laps
2. Turner/Dalla Lana/Gunn (GB/CDN/GB), Aston Martin Vantage, 233 laps
3. Wainwright/Barker/Watson (GB/GB/GB), Porsche 911 RSR, 233 laps
6. Campbell/Ried/Pera (AUS/D/I), Porsche 911 RSR, 231 laps
9. Perfetti/Heinemeier Hansson/Cairoli (N/DK/I), Porsche 911 RSR, 214 laps
11. Preining/Al Qubaisi/de Leener (A/UAE/B), Porsche 911 RSR, 109 laps