Former Grand Prix driver Mark Webber has finally claimed along-coveted world championship title, with he and Porsche co-drivers Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard winning the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship in a nail-biting finale, the 6 Hours of Bahrain, on Saturday night.
The #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1 machine of Webber/Hartley/Bernhard ultimately finished fifth after clawing their way back up the order as a result of two unscheduled and lengthy pit stops to repair a fault in the engine’s actuator.
Their championship was secured thanks to the sister #18 car of Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb denying victory for their teammates’ sole championship rival, the #7 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 of André Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler.
The six-hour race began in the late afternoon with the two Porsches – led by the #17 pole-winning entry – surging into the lead. The 1-2 formation would only last a handful of laps after Lucas di Grassi (sharing his #8 Audi with Loïc Duval and Oliver Jarvis) forced his car into second place with an aggressive move at Turn 1.
Barely 30 minutes in, it looked like Webber’s hopes of a maiden championship had evaporated. The #17 suddenly slowed, with Bernhard forced to limp the car to the pits for the fault to be investigated. The car lost over 8 minutes in the pits while the faulty was rectified, putting the trio to the back of the field.
Incredibly, they hauled themselves into sixth place, which became fifth when the #8 Audi’s left front brake disc exploded. They managed to limp back to the pits, but the lengthy repairs to the front-left corner put them out of contention.
Prior to that, the Audis held a dominant 1-2 thanks to their aggressive short-fueling pit strategy to vault them ahead of the quicker #18 Porsche. But an ill-timed Safety Car period negated the 20-second advantage that the #7 Audi had gained just before half-distance.
Once racing resumed, Tréluyer and Lieb staged an epic scrap for the lead, swapping positions for lap after lap until Lieb made an aggressive move at the final corner to force his way past the Audi. Victory for the #18 car guaranteed its sister machine would win the championship crown.
The final podium spot was claimed by the #2 Toyota of the retiring Alexander Wurz and his teammates Stéphane Sarrazin and Oliver Jarvis. The sister #1 entry of Sébastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima finished in fourth place.
For Webber, the title was the realisation of a long-time dream which preceded his lengthy career in Formula 1.
“It was super stressful, but thank God we got our car home,” he reflected after the race, while also paying credit to the Porsche team, which picked up the LMP1 crown in the second year of its return to the World Endurance Championship.
“It wasn’t the cleanest day, but we had enough points and had enough wins this year to be World Champions. Typically, that just shows the fighting qualities of the team. We had a hard day today, a real hard day.
“Timo and Brendon did an awesome job as well. We did what we could and it was enough.”
Images via Porsche AG