This last weekend witnessed the Shanghai showdown, a contest in which the two top prototype race car manufacturers battled it out for the title of the World Manufacturers’ Championship. Many will have said beforehand that it was a foregone conclusion that Porsche would win because they were well ahead on points, but Toyota is not a team to throw in the towel. Going into the Shanghai race, Porsche had clinched four victories in the 2017 championship race to Toyota’s three victories, but of course Porsche had bagged the all-important double-pointer Le Mans 24 Hours.
In order for Porsche to notch up their hat-trick of World Championships, they had to finish third, but they bettered that and so it is now mathematically impossible for Toyota to win the championship. On top of that, the trio of Bernhard, Hartley and Bamber were crowned world champions with one race left this season. But the race itself was not a foregone conclusion, as it was a battle from start to finish.
Starting the race in the #1 Porsche 919, Nick Tandy defended his second position until a throttle sensor problem dropped him back on lap 19. After receiving instructions via radio from his team on how to activate a back-up solution, Tandy resumed at his previous pace, but by this time he had dropped back to fourth place behind the sister Porsche. Neel Jani took the wheel after 62 laps but after 91 laps was lapped by the second placed #7 Toyota. With 136 laps on the board, Andre Lotterer took over and after the last refuelling stop (lap 168), he moved up to third place when the #7 Toyota had to pit to repair some accident damage. The Porsche held its position to the end of the race.
For a short time after the start, Bamber managed moved up from fourth to third position but he was then forced to let the faster #8 Toyota through, a move which pushed him back into fourth place. But when the #1 Porsche had its technical issue, Bamber moved up to third place once again. After 61 laps Bamber handed over to Brendon Hartley, who with fresh tyres, maintained his position. After 76 laps the car was refuelled under a Full Course Yellow. Three laps later Hartley was almost forced off the track by an LMP2 car, and while there was contact, there was no major damage. With 107 laps completed, Hartley pitted for fuel again and although he kept his same tyres, the front hood was changed to get rid of pick up. On lap 126 Hartley was lapped by the leading #8 Toyota and after 137 laps, he handed the #2 car over to Timo Bernhard who continued on fresh tyres. Bernhard refuelled after 166 laps and was promoted to P2 when the #7 Toyota pitted for its unscheduled repair stop. Bernhard was thus able to complete the race and finished in second place.
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1, said after the race, “Today’s race told another chapter of an almost unbelievable success story that shortly comes to an end. For the achievement of six world championship titles and three Le Mans overall victories, this team deserves the highest praise. What we have experienced over especially the last three years will take some time to sink in. Hats off to every single team member that contributed to this success and I want to thank everyone at Porsche worldwide, especially the board. Without this backing, we would not have won those races.”
Andreas Seidl, Porsche 919 Team Principal, “First of all congratulations to Toyota for a strong performance in today’s race. Congratulations also to Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley for the drivers’ championship. For sure it’s a sensational story to win all these titles and races three years in a row. At the same time, it was a big relief today not just for me but for the entire team that we could seal the two championships with one race remaining. A big thank you to everyone back home in Weissach for the sensational work they have done again this year. A big thank you to the race team here that was delivering despite all the pressure at each race. And finally, a big thank you to all six drivers. What they have done this year was sensational team work – also between the two cars.”