8 Hours of Bahrain 2021
Since the start of the WEC season in April, teams and fans have witnessed some of the toughest, closest, and most intense battles in motorsport history. Throughout the 189 day calendar season, GR racing has had the opportunity to race against some of the world’s best cars and drivers on track.
For the 8 hours of Bahrain, drivers and teams had one last chance at scoring championship points as the 2021 season drew to a close. The No. 86 car had already proven that it had the pace, ambition, and hunger to contest the event with the best on the grid.
In qualifying, the GTE Pro battle had fans on the edge of their seats in excitement and anticipation. AF Corse’s No. 51 and No. 52 Ferrari’s found a pace they lacked in the previous weekend against Porsche GT. Both teams went into the event separated by just a single point between them. It was a championship contest that would go right down to the wire.
With just 10 minutes in the qualifying session, GTE AM teams had only a handful of laps to make a strong and lasting impression against the field. Mike Wainwright took the car for GR Racing, setting successively faster times for four laps in a row to put in a personal best time of 2:01.2.
The team qualified 12th in class for Saturday’s race. The 8 hours that followed would see GR Racing fight wheel-to-wheel to finish an exceptionally tough racing season.
At the start of the race, conditions were similar to those seen seven days earlier. Blisteringly hot temperatures on the track and in the garage were just one of the immense challenges created by the desert track. For the second race event, teams were driving towards cooler and calmer conditions to end the race.
This meant teams adopted a very different strategy to the previous Bahrain race as a result.
Pundits predicted the fastest route through the 8-hour race would be for teams to take it easy on their tyres while track conditions were at their most challenging. Conservation, through the early stages of the race, was expected to pay dividends in later stints when conditions were naturally faster and more forgiving. Easier said than done for teams with championship points and track position on the line.
When cars started the race in Bahrain, an unrelentingly tough contest began. The No. 33 TF sport car saw its season-long campaign brought to a halt in turn 3 with a collision and puncture.
For GR Racing, Mike Wainwright started in the No. 86 car. The team set off with a strong start, made up places, and ran without incident through a hectic first lap. In the first 10 minutes of running, the car continued up into 9th place and settled into a steady but rapid pace.
For fans, it was a struggle to believe that this was the same track and the same cars that drivers had raced one week earlier. Teams found a pace and a punchy, aggressive character they didn’t have seven days ago.
Throughout the first hour, teams in every category traded positions and paint before they settled into their own pace. The GR Racing car held strong against its closest rivals, defending against nearby challengers to maintain 9th place throughout the opening hour.
Disaster struck for GR Racing shortly after the first hour’s running. A mechanical failure saw a damper break on the car. The No. 86 was forced into a spin and valuable positions were lost on track. After being driven back to the garage, the crew got stuck into repairs to get the car running again.
Losing as few laps as possible, the team got the car back on track and sent out Ben Barker to rejoin the race. With rapid repairs made, the team ran the race at a strong pace once again. Barker put in lap times that saw the car set the fastest pace in the class and match the times the GTE Pro cars were doing ahead. A few laps down, the team started to make-up good time against the field.
After a productive double stint in the car, Ben Barker handed over to Tom Gamble to take the first evening stint. Remarkably, the young driver put in exceptionally quick lap times from the start. With track conditions cooling, Gamble quickly joined the top 3 fastest drivers in the class.
At the same time, the season-long GTE Pro battle was being fiercely contested on track. Over several hours of running, the Porsche GT had secured a dozen seconds lead against AF Corse. However, the Ferrari car had more tyre life left to run to the end of the race.
After closing down the Porsche car with successively quick lap times, both cars were separated by mere tenths of a second with just minutes remaining in the race. When the No. 51 tagged the back of the No. 92 under braking, the Porsche car ahead was sent into a spin that would cost them more than a dozen seconds. After heated debate, the No. 51 car kept its position and went on to win the race and the championship.
The team crossed the line 10th in class after 224 laps and over 1,200 kilometres of close-fought racing.
After a remarkable year of outstanding pace and an incredible season-long campaign, GR Racing signed off with just as much hunger and speed as they held at the start of a long and challenging season. Smiles from the team at the end of a well-fought campaign reflected the exceptional work, professionalism, and fun that had gone into a memorable season raced around the globe.