It was the perfect way to bring the story of modern day endurance racing’s greatest modern day dynasty: Audi Sport Team Joest, competing in their final race in the LMP1 category of the FIA World Endurance Championship, took a lights-to-flag victory and a 1-2 finish in the 6 Hours of Bahrain.
The well-documented connection between Audi and the Autobacs Super GT Series helped to power a great portion of Audi’s eighteen years of record-shattering excellence in the top levels of endurance racing. And that connection was in play as they took their 107th, and, for the forseeable future, their final win. Former GT500 champion Loïc Duval, former Suzuka 1000km winner Oliver Jarvis, along with Lucas di Grassi scored the victory in the #8 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro prototype.
Finishing second, the #7 Audi of Marcel Fässler, joined as he has been for the last seven seasons by two of Super GT’s greatest foreign drivers: Two-time GT500 champion André Lotterer, and 2008 GT500 champion Benoît Tréluyer.The #7 Audi of Lotterer, Tréluyer, and Fässler led for most of the first half of the race. But a full-course yellow period allowed the #8 crew to gamble on taking a pit stop during the interruption. From there, the #8 Audi assumed control of the rest of the race – and Di Grassi, last year’s Formula E vice-champion, set the fastest lap of the race to put it out of reach.
At the end of six hours, at the end of eighteen years and 187 races across every corner of the globe, Audi signed off with a victory that, given the circumstances, felt as big as a championship.
“It’s perfect to close the door the way we did it, winning the race for Audi Sport,” Duval said to Dailysportscar’s Stephen Kilbey after the race. “We showed everyone that we were competitive all year, this time it finally came together.” Duval was 2010 GT500 champion with Weider Dome Honda Racing.
“There was a lot of emotion, it would have been better to have been in the car at the end, as there were so many people in the garage crying. It means a lot, the feeling I have today is bigger than when I won the championship [in 2013].”
For Tréluyer, who retired from Super GT at the end of 2011 as the winningest foreign-born driver in GT500 history, this now looks to be the end of his storied career in the WEC. “Thanks to the WEC, I’ve had a really great life here and will miss it a lot. Now I will do something else and enjoy that too.”
“I enjoyed every lap, it was a really exciting race fighting with our brothers in the #8,” said Lotterer, a two-time champion with Lexus Team TOM’s in 2006 and in 2009. “It was important to finish first and second, it was the best sendoff we could give to Audi.”
There was also a great deal of emotion in the garage of their cousins at Porsche, and another great accomplishment for another distinguished Super GT alumni: Romain Dumas, who drove for Toyota Team SARD back in 2001, joined his Porsche co-drivers Marc Lieb and Neel Jani as 2016 World Endurance Drivers’ Champions.
The trio of Dumas, Lieb, and Jani won the 24 Hours of Le Mans earlier in the year, and all three men add their first World Endurance Drivers’ Championships to their already-impressive CVs. They finish the season with two victories at Silverstone and Le Mans, and a 100 percent finishing record.
There was also an emotional farewell to be had in the Porsche camp as well, with Mark Webber completing his last race as a professional racing driver, joining the Audis on the podium in Bahrain as he finished third overall with his co-drivers, Timo Bernhard and Brendan Hartley.
Former GT300 race winner Alexandre Imperatori took the win in the LMP1 Privateer sub-class for the #13 Rebellion Racing R-One (with Matheo Tuscher and Dominik Kraihamer), their final race in the privateer ranks of the top division before they move down to LMP2 in 2017.
And LMP2 will be much different next year as well, with Nissan powering the winning #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 05 (Alex Brundle, René Rast, & Roman Rusinov) to the 37th and final victory for a Nissan-engined LMP2 car in the WEC. Next year, Gibson Technologies (formerly Zytek) will supply the spec engine for LMP2.
We leave with one final quote from Lotterer, about his team – the team of himself, Fässler, Tréluyer, and former race engineer Leena Gade – but a quote that can be applied to the whole of Audi’s incredible run at the top.
“I can’t describe in words what we have as a team. Since day one we had fun and have enjoyed every moment together, we are so lucky to have a dream team and live the dream together. It’s sad, but at the same time I’m thankful that it happened.”
“This will never be forgotten.”