WEC turning points: Wheel trouble for Aston Martin sees GTE prizes shared in 6H Bahrain
Wrapping up our review of 2016 races, the tension and emotions in Bahrain were intense...
As Audi marked its final appearance in the FIA World Endurance Championship with a 1-2 finish in LMP1, Aston Martin needed a similar result in LMGTE Pro to secure the GT Manufacturers title. But Bahrain had one final twist in the tail, as a disastrous pit stop for the No. 97 Vantage ensured Ferrari would end the season with a share of the spoils.
Aston Martin Racing had a lot riding on the outcome of the 6 Hours of Bahrain. At stake were the World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers and the World Endurance Cup for GT Manufacturers, two prizes which had evaded the Prodrive-run AMR team since the inception of the WEC in 2012.
But while the No. 95 'Dane Train' of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen was sitting pretty in the drivers’ championship with a 12-point advantage over AF Corse duo Sam Bird and Davide Rigon, Ferrari held the upper hand in the Manufacturers’ standings, with 10 points in hand. A good result for the No. 95 Aston Martin wouldn’t be enough to overcome the deficit – the British team needed the No. 97 Vantage of Darren Turner and championship returnee Jonny Adam to outscore Ferrari too.
To that end, the weekend got off to the best possible start as AMR swept both classes in qualifying. Turner and Adam remarkably set the exact same time to secure the GTE Pro pole, while Pedro Lamy’s last gasp effort in No. 98 snatched pole in GTE Am away from the No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari.
Although AMR was briefly headed by a fast-starting Gianmaria Bruni, it wasn’t long before its pace advantage was made to show, with No. 97 running ahead of No. 95 approaching half distance. If they could hold station for the team’s first 1-2 finish since Shanghai 2013, then AMR would be rewarded with the GT Drivers, Teams and Manufacturers championships…but luck was not on its side.
During a routine pit stop for Turner to hand over to Adam, the right-front brake disc was knocked out of alignment. As a result, the new wheel didn't sit right in the hub and worked its way loose as Adam negotiated turn four.
The incident promoted the No. 95 car to the lead, but handed Ferrari the initiative in the Manufacturers championship. Needing to finish third to take the title away, Turner and Adam began a valiant fightback, but could only recover to fifth, splitting the two Fords.
But, despite missing out on the Manufacturers’ crown, Aston Martin Racing couldn’t be too unhappy with its day’s work, as Thiim and Sorensen took their second GTE Pro win of the year. The Danes biggest cause for celebration was not simply the victory itself; in Bahrain, they stood atop the podium as the newly-crowned GT Drivers champions.