The final round of the FIA World Endurance Championship has started at the Bahrain International Circuit. Here's what has happened during the first three hours.
The start didn't see changes in the front. Porsche Team had a 1-2 lead with the Timo Bernhard in the No. 17 leading and Romain Dumas in the No. 18 in second place. Following the Porsches were the Audi Sport Team Joest cars, No. 7 in third place and No. 8 in fourth place.
In other classes, the No. 47 KCMG Oreca made it from third place at the start to class lead during the first lap. The GTE-Pro polesitter, the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari, retained the lead whereas in GTE-Am, the No. 51 Larbre Competition Corvette made it to the lead from second place at start.
After the first lap, Lucas di Grassi in the No. 8 Audi overtook Marcel Fässler of the No. 7 sister Audi for third place and started to put pressure on second-placed Dumas in the No. 18 Porsche. Four laps later di Grassi overtook Dumas for second place.
Patrick Pilet in the No. 92 GTE-Pro Porsche Team Manthey entry had progressed from fourth place at the start into second place past two Aston Martin Racing cars. Just under 20 minutes into the race, he overtook Toni Vilander of the No. 51 Ferrari for class lead.
The race, and the drivers' championship battle, got some major drama just under 30 minutes into the race. The race-leading No. 17 Porsche of the championship leaders was slowing down and had to enter the pits, making the No. 8 Audi the new leader. The No. 17 could rejoin the race after a throttle linkage issue was fixed, yet it was down five laps from the leader. It needs a top four result if the No. 7 Audi wins, top seven result if the No. 7 finishes second, or a top nine result if the No. 7 finishes third.
After 40 minutes, the prototypes started making their first pit stops. Audi pitted their cars before the No. 18 Porsche and that enabled the No. 7 Audi, now with André Lotterer at the wheel, to jump to second place. The No. 47 KCMG Oreca lost the LMP2 lead to the No. 26 G-Drive Racing Ligier during the pit stops, yet Matthew Howson soon claimed it back to KCMG with an overtake of G-Drive's Roman Rusinov.
The first round of the GTE classes' pit stops was completed by the start of the second hour. The No. 92 Porsche remained in the lead of the GTE-Pro class, and the No. 50 Larbre Competition Corvette remained in GTE-Am lead.
One and a half hours into the race, André Lotterer in the No. 7 Audi overtook the Lucas di Grassi of the No. 8 Audi. Di Grassi pitted immediately after that for a full service and handed the car to Loïc Duval. Lotterer pitted three laps later, though fresh rubber helped the No. 8 Audi to get past the No. 7 again.
Meanwhile, the lead had changed in GTE-Am, as Matteo Cressoni in the No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari had overtaken Larbre Competition's Gianluca Roda.
All prototypes had made their second stops by the end of the second hour with the No. 8 and No. 7 cars having a 1-2 overall lead for Audi and the No. 47 KCMG Oreca leading the LMP2 class.
The second round of GTE cars' pit stops was completed early in the third hour. No. 92 Porsche remained in the lead of the GTE-Pro class and No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari, now with François Perrodo at the wheel, remained in GTE-Am lead. However, the bronze-rated Perrodo had to give up the lead soon to Larbre Competition's silver-rated Kristian Poulsen.
The No. 36 Signatech Alpine entry had taken the LMP2 lead after the third pit stops. However, the team's Nelson Panciatici got hit by Kazuki Nakajima of the No. 1 Toyota and spun, and the No. 47 KCMG Oreca was again leading the LMP2 class ahead of the No. 36 Alpine.
After third stops, the No. 7 Audi was leading the race in front of the No. 8 Audi and the No. 18 Porsche. At about two hours and 45 minutes into the race, the No. 8 Audi suffered what appeared to be a left front break issue. Under breaking, lots of brake dust came from the left front wheel. The car was pushed into the garage for suspension change.
The No. 17 Porsche had progressed to sixth place after its throttle linkage issue and the No. 8 Audi's issue promoted it to fifth place, still one position away from winning the drivers' title if the No. 7 Audi wins.
Just before the three-hour mark, a full-course yellow was issued and the No. 7 Audi pitted from lead and was just able to rejoin ahead the No. 18 Porsche. Meanwhile, the No. 8 Audi was able to rejoin the race, eight laps from lead.
The other class leaders at the three-hour mark were No. 47 KCMG Oreca in LMP2, No. 92 Porsche in GTE-Pro, and No. 88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche in GTE-Am.
The Six Hours of Bahrain will finish at 9:00 pm local time (1:00 pm Eastern time).