World champions Porsche to fight for the drivers’ title in the desert

FIA World Endurance Championship WEC, LMP1, Round 9, Bahrain, Preview

After having won the world championship title for manufacturers, Porsche is determined to also take the drivers’ title at the final round of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) on November 19 in Bahrain. This year’s Le Mans winners, Romain Dumas (FR), Neel Jani (CH) and Marc Lieb (DE), have an advantage of 17 points ahead of the best placed Toyota. In other words: bringing home the 919 Hybrid in fifth place would be enough for the title win, even if the Toyota wins and also takes the one point for pole position. The basic requirement is a clean and error free six-hour race. 

While the driving trio in the number 2 car fights for the title, the number 1 car’s crew also faces an emotional weekend: Bahrain will see the trio of Timo Bernhard (DE), Brendon Hartley (NZ) and Mark Webber (AU) racing together for the very last time after the former Formula One driver announced his retirement at the end of the season. In the future he will join Porsche in his new role as special representative. The three drivers, who are still the reigning world champions, have won four races so far this season. However, after being unlucky earlier this year and in Le Mans, they still rank fourth in the standings. 

The 5.412 kilometre long Formula One track in Sakhir will host the third WEC race of the year to be held partly in the dark – after Le Mans and Austin. The six-hour race will be green flagged at 16:00 hrs local time. This is actually an hour later than last year and means the drivers will have to deal with blinding from the setting sun right from the beginning. At 16:45 hrs the sun will disappear behind the horizon. Slightly cooler tarmac, however, is welcomed by the Porsche Team, because the competition benefits from the heat. In any case, the track has a rather poor grip level because the fine sand from the desert is continuously blown onto it. 

Mexico 2016: Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb
Mexico 2016: Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb

“Six wins out of eight races, plus the early manufacturers’ title win, this is a fantastic interim balance sheet,” said Fritz Enzinger, the Vice President LMP1. “I’m incredibly proud of our team. Everybody gave everything and it was worth it. For the finale now we will again bundle up all our forces to win the drivers’ crown again in Bahrain. It is not going to be easy, but surely exciting. I just hope it doesn’t become such a nail-biter as it was in 2015. Thinking about this race being the last one for Mark as well as for our highly respected competitor Audi, I prefer to postpone until afterwards.”

Team Principal Andreas Seidl added: “The Bahrain track itself, as well as the expected higher temperatures, are less suitable for our 919 Hybrid than the Shanghai circuit was, where we clearly had the fastest car on track. Even more important is a strong team effort for perfect preparation and set-up, continuing reliability, fast pit stops and right strategic calls. Of course we’d love to conclude the season with a race win together with the drivers’ title. We will fight until the very last lap to fulfil that.” 

The Weissach developed Porsche 919 Hybrid produces a system power of over 900 HP (662 kW). Its combustion engine is a ground breaking downsizing motor: the compact two-litre V4 turbocharged petrol engine drives the rear axle with almost 500 HP (368 kW). Two different energy recovery systems – brake energy from the front and exhaust energy – feed a lithium ion battery that, on command, passes on the energy to an E machine to power the front axle with an extra boost of over 400 HP (294 kW). 

Quotes before the race:

Drivers Porsche 919 Hybrid number 1

Timo Bernhard (35, Germany): “Being the season’s closing event and the last race for my team mate Mark, it definitely will be a highly emotional weekend. We will do everything that he can walk away with the best possible result for a nice farewell. Of course we’d love to finish the season with another victory. It wasn’t always easy for us this year, but it paid off that we always stayed motivated and looked ahead. High temperatures and a sandy track make Bahrain a difficult race, so we have to get all the parameters right for that.”

Brendon Hartley (27, New Zealand): “In one way I’m looking forward to Bahrain and in another it is sad, because it will be the last weekend with Mark. We are no longer fighting for the drivers’ world championship in the number 1 car, but we will do all we can to make sure Mark ends his career on a high and also will support our sister car.”

Austin (USA) 2016: Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Brendon Hartley, Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard
Austin (USA) 2016: Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Brendon Hartley, Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard

Mark Webber (40, Australia): “Bahrain is obviously not a normal race for me. It will be pretty emotional. To arrive there knowing it is the last time I will compete seriously will be a big moment. I’m looking forward to the weekend. I’ve got a lot of friends coming from all around the world, especially from Australia and Europe, to watch me drive for the last time. Of course we would love to go out with a victory, but, irrespective of the result, I think it would be nice for me to have a smooth day and look back on a very, very long career of which I’m, of course, very proud. I thought about it a few times: I will walk away from the car just one more time – take the helmet and balaclava off and the ear plugs out, doing all these things for one last time. That will be very different, but I’m looking forward to not having to do this in the future.”

Drivers Porsche 919 Hybrid number 2

Romain Dumas (38, France): “The race in Bahrain is going to be a big day like Le Mans, because there is so much at stake. We need to be one hundred per cent focused and cannot afford any mistakes. We have to get this world championship now.”

Neel Jani (32, Switzerland): “The season ending is always special and this year it is even more so. For us it is all about the championship. Our position in the points is good. At the most recent race in Shanghai our pace was very good in the beginning, we were on track for the title win, but then we lost ground. This was analysed and we found the reason for it. This makes me very positive before the finale. After having secured the manufacturers’ title, it would be the greatest joy to now seal the drivers’ title as well.” 

Marc Lieb (36, Germany): “A finale with an open title decision is extremely exciting for everyone, and I’m really looking forward to it. Coming fifth in the race would be enough to win the championship. So far we have had a very reliable car and we hope it just stays like that. Also at the finale we desperately want to show that we can do better than in the recent races.”

On the day after the finale, on Sunday, testing is going on in Bahrain. This includes giving the US American driver Gustavo Menezes the opportunity to test the Porsche 919 Hybrid as an LMP1 rookie. The 22-year old has just won the 2016 FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 drivers in Shanghai.