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Five Crucial Storylines Ahead of Bahrain

Five crucial storylines ahead of Bahrain – Ahead of next week’s Bapco Energies 8 Hours of Bahrain (2-4 November), below are five key stories going into the 2023 FIA WEC season-closer…

1. Which Toyota crew will make it a Hypercar title double?

With just 15 points between the two Toyota Gazoo Racing No. 7 and No. 8 crews and a total of 39 to play for at the Bapco Energies 8 Hours of Bahrain, the quest for 2023 WEC Hypercar drivers’ glory is all to play for.

Points leaders Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa could win their second-consecutive title, and Toyota’s fifth in a row. Should they do so, Buemi and Hartley would achieve a fourth world title each, matching Francois Perrodo in terms of total WEC championships attained (three GTE Am and one LMP2 Pro/Am) and maintain a 100% success rate for Hirakawa in his short WEC career.

But their Toyota Gazoo Racing teammates Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose-Maria Lopez could jump them to claim their third championship, to match Buemi and Hartley’s existing WEC record.

The No.7 trio certainly have the momentum coming in to Bahrain as Conway, Kobayashi and Lopez are hunting three straight wins after their success at Monza and Fuji. Should they win in Bahrain it would be their collective fourth victory of the campaign to date.

The reality also exists for the No.7 crew to win five of the eight races this season and still lose out on the crown!

However, the good news is that a win and No.8 finishing third, which would tie the two on points, would ensure No.7 the World Championship due to what would be their 5-1 win balance against their stablemates. Unless that is, No.8 took their second pole of the season, in which case they would sneak the title by a single point!

2. Can Porsche consolidate Fuji promise?

Porsche Penske came away from Fuji Speedway with a great deal of positive energy after the No.6 Porsche 963 of Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Estre and Andre Lotterer led half of the race and claimed a highly merited third position.

The upturn in pace from the car came after in-depth studies on the mechanical set-ups of the cars, particularly the vehicle dynamic performance in using its Michelin tyres. That, combined with software upgrades helped push the car in to the mix of challenging the Toyotas and Ferraris in Japan.

Bahrain is notoriously tough on tyres so it remains to be seen if Porsche and Penske will meet that challenge on their first appearance in the Kingdom next month.

The No.5 car driven by Frederic Makowiekci, Dane Cameron and Michael Christensen had a tough race day in Japan after an array of issues negated their race to a test. But look at the lap times and you will see that they were, on occasion, as quick as their counterparts in the No.6 car.

One thing is for sure, the morale and motivation of the squad has been given a lift as it gets set to finalise its first season with the striking looking 963 Hypercar.

And don’t forget to also watch out for the two customer 963s of JOTA and Proton Competition. The latter took a mighty third place in the recent Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta and will be aiming to build on initial strong pace at Monza and Fuji.

3. Can Ferrari finish 2023 on high after strong campaign?

Ferrari AF Corse’s 2023 season will always be remembered for the heroics of Le Mans, when the Prancing Horse reared up and kicked-in the stable door to secure a first win at La Sarthe in 58 years.

The Ferrari 499P has been consistently the closest challenger to Toyota this season but hasn’t quite had enough to usurp the two-time Hypercar champions when it comes to points.

James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi and Alessandro Pier Guidi do still have a mathematical chance at taking an unlikely title but it would need serious misfortune to fall both Toyota Gazoo Racing GR010 Hybrid Hypercars in the race.

Stranger things have happened in endurance racing but the high likelihood is that Ferrari will head in to the off-season with those glorious memories of Le Mans still at the forefront of their incredibly strong debut season in the Hypercar category.

4. Will it be an epic farewell for LMP2 in WEC?

Bahrain will be the final hurrah for LMP2 in the WEC as the 2024 campaign will see a pure Hypercar and GT3 framework on the grid. But LMP2 will still have excellent grids and insanely close racing at Le Mans, the European Le Mans Series and the Asian Le Mans Series for the foreseeable future.

Bahrain is set for another epic contest as championship favourites Team WRT, with the No.41 car driven by Robert Kubica, Louis Deletraz and Rui Andrade look to seal the deal after creating a 33 point advantage in Fuji after clinching a second win of 2023.

Inter Europol Competition and the No.23 United Autosport drivers of Phil Hanson and Frederick Lubin are just a point apart in what looks to be a battle for second, unless serious incident befalls the No.41 WRT Oreca-Gibson.

An LMP2 title for WRT or United Autosports would see them join Signatech on a class record of two title successes. Should Inter Europol create a miracle and steal glory, they would become WEC’s first Polish champions.

5. Who will take the final WEC LMGTE Am win?

Also bidding adieu to the WEC will be the LMGTE Am category which has been a mainstay since the very first race at Sebring in March 2012.

Corvette Racing’s Ben Keating, Nicholas Varrone and Nicky Catsburg secured the title back in July at Monza but a win by them would see the trio set a new points record in GTE Am, beating the existing record by Aston Martin of 198 points in the eight-race 2014 and the nine-race 2017 campaigns. The No.33 Corvette currently sits on 164 points, so only a win would break the record but as we have seen they are very capable of capping an incredible season with yet another record.

Christian Ried, driving in the No.77 Dempsey Proton Porsche with Julien Andlauer and Mikkel Pederson could win at the series’ first and last GTE Am races, being the only driver to participate in all races in-between. What an achievement!

Click HERE for the Bapco Energies 8 Hours of Bahrain entry list. (arl/wto/fiawec)

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