In only one month’s time, the FIA WEC family will be together in Bahrain for the final race of the 2019 / 2020 season – the 8 Hours of Bahrain (14 November).
A number of championship titles are still to be determined in Bahrain next month including the LMP FIA World Endurance Drivers’ Championship title which will be closely fought between the No. 8 and No. 7 Toyota Gazoo Racing entries – currently only separated by seven points. It will also form the final event for the legendary LMP1 category before it is replaced by next year’s top-tier Hypercars.
The drivers’ championship in GTE Pro is also still to be decided, as well as the teams’ and drivers’ championship titles in the Pro Am category. TV and streaming details will be released closer to the time revealing how fans can tune in from home.
It all started back at Silverstone in September last year when the No. 7 Toyota Gazoo Racing trio of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and José María López took the season-opening win after a race which saw sunshine, rain and two safety car periods. The threesome finished just 2 seconds ahead of their team-mates in the No. 8 car.
Next up was Fuji when this time it was the turn of the No. 8 crew made up of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley who took the race victory in Japan from pole position. After two rounds, it was neck and neck as the crews prepared for their second Asian leg in as a little as a month with Shanghai next in the calendar.
The 4 Hours of Shanghai was to shake up the proceedings, however, when it was the turn of Rebellion Racing to dominate the LMP1 category. It marked only the fourth time in the WEC’s eight-year history that a non-Hybrid car had been classified as overall winner and it meant the LMP1 fight was closer than ever as the championship headed to the Middle East for round 4.
After three races, only three points separated the No. 8 and No. 7 crews in the LMP Drivers’ Championship, with Rebellion Racing 27 points further down the leaderboard.
In Bahrain, it was Toyota who once again ruled supreme as the No. 7 car took its second win of the year. Buemi, Hartley and Nakajima claimed the runners-up position as the trio fought back from a delay on the opening lap.
Round 5 marked the WEC return’s to the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, and saw Rebellion Racing triumph for the second time this season. The non-Hybrid Rebellion R13 Gibson car driven by Gustavo Menezes, Norman Nato, and Bruno Senna led the 6-hour race from start to finish and in the doing so successfully closed in on championship leaders, Toyota Gazoo Racing. After five rounds, Rebellion were just 33 points behind Toyota in the overall championship standings.
The global COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to proceedings for WEC Season 8 with SuperSebring cancelled and both Spa-Francorchamps and 24 Hours of Le Mans postponed until later in the year.
August marked the return for racing for the WEC as the TOTAL 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps saw Rebellion start on pole but it was Toyota who triumphed with the No. 7 TS050 Hybrid marking the third victory of the season for Conway, Kobayashi and Lopez. This result saw the No. 7 entry extend its lead over the No. 8 crew to a slender 12 points. It was all to play for between the Toyota team-mates as they prepared for the most demanding race of all: the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The penultimate round of the season started well for the No. 7 crew with the trio leading the race for the first 12 hours before a turbo problem dropped them back behind the No. 8 car that eventually went on to win the race. Rebellion crossed the line second at Le Mans, one spot ahead of Lopez, Conway and Kobayashi who were forced to settle for third.
Toyota Gazoo Racing successfully wrapped up the LMP1 FIA World Endurance Championship crown at Le Mans but the drivers’ championship is still wide open between the No. 7 and No. 8 crews.
Indeed, the No. 8 car is just seven points ahead of the No. 7 sister car and as a win in an eight-hour race is worth 38 points, with a bonus point awarded for pole position, everything is still to play for. – www.fiawec.com / Rachel CAVERS