Larbre Competition tackled the intense heat of the Bahrain International Circuit on September 29 as the French squad travelled to the desert kingdom for round six of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The LMGTE Am class championship leaders returned to the venue with fond memories having claimed the 2004 GT Festival and 2005 FIA GT drivers title at the circuit, the latter coming courtesy of Gabriel Gardel and Pedro Lamy aboard the iconic Ferrari 550 Maranello.
But while the first two visits took place during the cooler month of November, last weekends WEC round saw scorching September heat in excess of 40 degrees Celsius, making the six-hour race a physical test for the drivers and pit crew.
Following strong displays from both of the teams Corvette C6.Rs in Septembers trip to Brazil the #50 crew of Patrick Bornhauser, Julien Canal and Fernando Rees and the all-French combination of Christophe Bourret, Pascal Gibon and Jean-Philippe Belloc aboard the #70 continued to impress in Bahrain. The #50 car excelled in qualifying, sealing second on the grid just a few tenths shy of pole position. Meanwhile the #70 also enjoyed a strong session to take P4, meaning it would line-up directly behind the sister Corvette thanks to a superb lap from Bourret.
Saturdays race kicked off at 16.00 local time meaning the event would run into the night, with Rees taking the start in the #50 and Bourret aboard #70. Unfortunately, after successfully negotiating the famously tricky opening corners the #70 suffered an off at turn three early in its stint, necessitating a spell in the pits for repairs. A stellar effort from the Larbre crew saw it back on track in impressive time, though with 10 laps lost the crew now faced a challenging task to catch their rivals.
Meanwhile the #50 would run second during the opening stages only for Rees and Niclas Johnssons #57 Krohn Racing Ferrari to suffer contact during the second stint. That brought the Corvette into the pits where the mechanics performed another superb job, returning the car to the race five laps later.
Despite their heavy accidents, both cars were able to quickly get back on the pace and managed to regain one lap over their opponents. At the chequered flag the #50 would take fourth position with the #70 chasing them home in fifth.
Fernando Rees, driver #50 Corvette C6.R: We had some tyre worries in the opening stages but managed to recover to run in P2 for much of the second stint. Then the #57 Ferrari, which was easier on its tyres, caught me, though the driver didn't seem to be pushing to make a pass. I looked in my mirrors exiting turn three and saw him at a safe distance. I braked as usual for the corner but then felt a big impact on my right side from the Ferrari. He drove away but our car was badly damaged. I really didn't see the move coming and wasn't going to fight for the position anyway since the stint was almost over and my tyres were going off. That was our podium chances over, but some great work in the pits and from my team-mates meant we took fourth, which was a strong recovery.
Patrick Bornhauser, driver #50 Corvette C6.R: The Bahrain International Circuit was not too difficult to learn, but getting to grips with the oppressive heat inside the car was certainly a challenge. My race went superbly, setting lap times within just 0.2s of my team-mates, though physically it was very tough which led to us running stints of just one hour. Its a shame that we could only take fourth place and we must now push hard to maintain the championship lead through the final two races.
Julien Canal, driver #50 Corvette C6.R: Once again we have shown great speed and competitiveness. An excellent second place in qualifying and a good start to the race were unfortunately followed by a collision that lost us P2. After a fast and steady run from Patrick I took the wheel in fifth position and, following a great stint, crossed the finish line in fourth spot. Without the issues weve had over the past three races we could have been champions this weekend. Now we must remain extremely focused for our final two races in Asia.
Christophe Bourret, driver #70 Corvette C6.R: We had an amazing week at the exceptional Bahrain International Circuit. We showed excellent performance here, confirming the pace we had at Interlagos, and did a great job in qualifying. Unfortunately I had an off 10 laps in and that changed our whole race. For that I would again like to apologise to the entire team and Jean-Philippe and Pascal. But its important to put the disappointment behind us and in that respect Im now really looking forward to the last two eventsI think we can really shine in Asia.
Pascal Gibon, driver #70 Corvette C6.R: The past week has been fantastic so its a bit of a shame that we didnt achieve the result we deserved. The mechanics and engineers were incredibly quick getting the Corvette repaired but we lost 10 laps, after which our goal was to simply finish. We achieved this in what were incredibly tough conditions and can be pleased both in terms of performance and the quality of the team around us. We are on the right track for success.
Jean-Philippe Belloc, driver #70 Corvette C6.R: The race result was not what wed hoped for, but we have a lot of positives to take away. Christophe did a superb job in qualifying and was running well until the incident. Pascal also proved strong in the race and managed to run a double stint. This was quite an achievement in the Bahraini heatI'm happy I didnt have to do it! Whats more the car performed well throughout the weekend and the Larbre team did an outstanding job in the pits. I am looking forward to Fuji where well hope to translate our performance into a well-deserved result.
Jack Leconte, Team Manager: While we didnt get the result our performance warranted, fourth and fifth places at the finish allowed us to limit the damage in the world championship classification where Larbre Competition still lead by nine points.
Whats more, the pace shown by our Corvettes following their accidents was a real confidence boost for the drivers. The brakes, lubricants and tyres were pushed very hard in the heat of Bahrain but all three performed superbly, highlighting the excellent work of Motul, our Brembo braking system and Michelin.
I will be looking for maximum commitment from the drivers and mechanics over the final two rounds. Im pleased to see that the #70 crew is reaching its full potential thanks to the regular races weve been running. With the upcoming circuits unknown to our gentlemen drivers, the expertise of our crews will be vital. As such Pedro Lamy will return to the team for the final two rounds. It is now time to make the final push.
6 Hours of Bahrain LMGTE Am result 1. Team Felbermayr #88 Porsche Ried/Roda/Ruberti 165 laps 2. AF Corse-Waltrip #61 Ferrari Kauffman/Aguas/Vickers +1 lap 3. Krohn Racing #57 Ferrari Krohn/Jonsson/Rugolo +3 laps4. Larbre #50 Corvette Bornhauser/Canal/Rees +8 laps5. Larbre #70 Corvette Gibon/Bourret/Belloc +12 laps6. JWA-Avila #55 Porsche Camathias/Simonsen/Daniels +15 laps
FIA World Endurance Championship GTE Am Trophy*1. Larbre 128 points2. Team Felbermayr 1193. AF Corse-Waltrip 964. Krohn Racing 86 5. JWA-Avila 706. Luxury Racing 18
Next round: Six Hours of Fuji (October 14)*Points subject to FIA International Court of Appeal hearing