6 Hours of Bahrain 2021
Two weeks in the desert would define the season for teams in the 2021 WEC championship. A double-header event gave competitors a chance to close out the championship with some strong results and an armful of points in the championship contest.
For some, the 6 Hours of Bahrain was a chance to close the door on their opponents’ championship hopes before entering next week’s 8-hour race. For others, a chance to gain some ground as a challenger and bring the ninth endurance championship season down to the wire.
For GR Racing, both race events created a chance to round off a strong season in a new car with another remarkable result in the bag. The chance to mount a challenge for position in the championship results, perhaps an added bonus.
For both cars on the grid and teams in the pits, the penultimate race of the season would pose plenty of challenges before reaching the chequered flag on Saturday. Racing through the mid-day heat of the desert, the challenges of the race began in first practice and wouldn’t ease up until the cars crossed the line.
Teams and cars capable of tyre blistering lap times in one practice session appeared to struggle to keep pace through the next. Few cars had a dominant hold in any category, with LMP 2 and GTE AM shaping up to be particularly close contests.
The GR Racing No. 86 car put in more than half race distance laps through practice sessions alone—learning about both car and track with homework that would pay dividends for this event and the next. In qualifying, the No. 86 crossed the line 12th in class with a close eye and a race pace set up for a much longer battle ahead.
Launching into the start of the 6-hour race on Saturday, teams were far more cautious and considered than a “short” duration race at the sharp end of the season would imply. With a highly abrasive track, baking heat, and degrading tyres—drivers were aware of there being more to contend with than just the 30 competitors on track.
Mike Wainwright took the team’s opening stint in the No. 86 car with the pace and ambition to make up early places. The car launched into a head-to-head contest with Cetilar Racing’s No. 47 car. Taking the position from Cetilar, the No. 86 climbed to 9th in class through the opening 30 minutes of running.
Elsewhere in the GTE field, D’station’s No 777 car had launched away from 10th with a blistering pace of their own to take the lead in the category leaving the race’s first hour. With the entire GTE AM field separated by less than a minute, the on-track battles were living up to the expectation set earlier in the week.
Similarly, the contest for the LMP2 championship was being hotly contested too. The No. 29 Racing Ream Nederland had continued their season-long trend for delivering punchy pace and hard racing on race day. The distinctive yellow liveried car leapt places up through the grid early in the race to lead out the category into the 2nd hour.
Desert heat and abrasive track conditions were delivering on their promise to play a significant role in the race too. Most teams opted to swap out drivers in single stints, limiting the effects of conditions and the exhaustion imposed by the track. Drivers were far from the only competitors feeling the physical challenges of the race, however. With garage temperatures above 34 degrees, teams and crew were working hard to keep cool and collected amidst the challenges of the desert.
After a long opening stint for GR Racing, Ben Barker took over driving duties a little over an hour into the race. With Barker’s trademark pace in the car, the No. 86 continued to make up ground against tough competition lap after lap.
As the 2nd hour of racing drew to a close, fortunes turned for the previously leading No. 777 car as catastrophic bodywork failure scattered sharp debris across the track. The first of three full-course yellows were brought into the race, inducing yet more twists and turns into an intensely tactical battle.
Now, teams had to decide whether to pit early and save time against the field, or stay out and take track position against the competition. It would be the first of three yellow stints to be thrown throughout the event, changing the shape of the race and adding yet more complexity. Strategy, decision making, and well-drilled teams would make a stark difference in fortunes for this 6-hour event.
Throughout the third hour, Tom Gamble, a young rising star of endurance racing, kept up a relentless pace against the team’s nearest competitors next nearest competitors before being replaced by Mike Wainwright during the second full-course yellow.
In GTE Pro, both Porsche GT cars were showing a dominant performance over the AF Corse Ferrari’s. In a mirror image battle at the front, the two Toyota cars ran without strong challenge in the hypercar contest as the No. 7 car closed its grip on the overall championship against its sister No. 8 car.
None of the battles in either GTE AM or LMP2 would be quite so easily decided. In the prototype class, the battle for the race win was a carbon copy of the overall championship fight. Jota, United Autosports, and Team WRT chased lap times and positions against each other in a bid to gain the top spot before heading towards the season-decider in seven days time.
With just 2 hours to go, Mike Wainwright closed out his final stint in the car and handed over to Ben Barker to begin a push towards the flag. Between Barker and Gamble, the two drivers made inroads and places against the competition in a field that’s known for being one of the toughest contests in endurance racing.
The setting, event, and racing were spectacular to watch with the GR Racing car climbing up through the classifications as the sun set against a cooling desert backdrop.
Finally, crossing the line in 6th place, the team scored their best result of the season so far and closed the gap with a handful of points against their next nearest championship rival. In LMP2, Team WRT took the top podium position, opening up a gap to defend going into the season’s final race.
For teams up and down the grid, the final push of the season will be one they’ll be feeling for some weeks to come. With a physically and mentally exhausting event closing out a gruelling championship, the rest and recovery earned after next weeks race will be well earned and, no doubt, thoroughly enjoyed too.
For GR Racing, a tough fight through the field, an utterly flawless race from the crew, and a season best result for the team is perhaps the best possible note to take from the event. With little time to reflect before heading back to the track, they will be looking for more of the same and a few lessons to learn from as they race into the night and close out the 2021 WEC Season on a high.