The countdown to the 8 Hours of Bahrain has begun – the first night race of the FIA World Endurance Championship season – which will see six Ferrari 488 GTE crews take the start-line in LMGTE Pro and LMGTE Am classes. On a track that has historically proved favourable to the cars of the Maranello-based manufacturer, AF Corse crews will strive for decisive points that could re-launch their championship ambitions after the 4 Hours of Shanghai.
LMGTE Pro. The decision to exclude the #51 crew, made up of Pier Guidi and Calado, at the end of the previous race and the subsequent appeal against the decision by AF Corse, leaves the Italo-British crew trailing the leader of the overall standings by 37 points. The margin will prove difficult to claw back, although the competitiveness of the 488 GTE and the increased points haul in play at the 8 Hours of Bahrain, the 1000 Miles of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans do not entirely rule out a re-entry into the title battle. A similar fate awaits Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina, at the wheel of car #71, five points adrift of their team-mates. The Shanghai race has been analysed to ascertain what prevented the duo from taking maximum advantage of the 488 GTE’s potential. The crew have their sights set on a podium place in the Bahrain desert, as Davide Rigon had previously achieved in 2017, flanked on that occasion by Sam Bird.
LMGTE Am. In the tightly-fought LMGTE Am class, the #83 488 GTE of AF Corse, courtesy of François Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Nicklas Nielsen, will seek to retake the top of the leader board, with a lighter balance of performance, now down to 20 Kg. For the winners of the opening Silverstone event, this marks a key opportunity to exploit in the best possible manner, the 25 Kg advantage over the leader of the general standings. There will be no ballast, but nevertheless, high expectations for the MR Racing crew of Motoaki Ishikawa, Kei Cozzolino and Olivier Beretta, in the hunt for a second season podium. Among those hoping to get their championship aspirations back on course in Bahrain will be Giancarlo Fisichella, Thomas Flohr and Francesco Castellacci, at the wheel of the #54 488 GTE belonging to AF Corse. Looking to make further progress in terms of competitiveness and continuity will be the Red River Sport trio, Bonamy Grimes, Johnny Mowlem and Charles Hollings.
Curiosity. The Ferrari tradition on the Bahrain circuit has been a decidedly positive one, with no other team as successful as AF Corse in the LMGTE Pro class. 56% of the triumphs on track have been won at the hands of Maranello machinery, the most recent being in 2017. On that occasion the 488 GTE cars took the chequered flag separated by a mere 174 milliseconds – the closest ever margin in WEC history. On that day Davide Rigon and Sam Bird crossed the finish-line ahead of stable-mates James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi who, with the result, claimed the world championship title. On the very same track Ferrari crews had scooped the drivers’ titles in 2013 and 2014.
Circuit. The 5,412-metre Bahrain International Circuit, designed by architect Hermann Tilke, is located on the outskirts of the capital Manama. The track was built amid the desert sand dunes and in order to stop the sand blowing onto the asphalt and disrupting the grip in the race, the surrounding area is periodically treated with an adhesive resin. The layout of the circuit makes it interesting from the drivers’ point of view, for both the variety of bends it offers, as well as for the changes in elevation which make high demands on both chassis and tyres. To allow the optimal development of night racing, the circuit is equipped with a system of floodlights made up of 4500 bulbs distributed across 495 light poles.
Schedule. The race programme gets underway on Thursday with two 90-minute free practice sessions set to start at 14:00 and 18:30 local time. The final sixty-minute un-timed testing will take place on Friday at 11:15, ahead of the qualifying session at 16:40. The race itself kicks off on Saturday, at 15:00, with the chequered flag set to drop at 23:00.