Rebellion and Ginetta smashes Toyota in Shanghai
The 2019 FIA WEC 4 Hours of Shanghai was a groundbreaking race. There were tons of competition among all categories, and the results were often quite shocking. 4 hours might not seem enough to be a stage for a dramatic race, but behold your horses, the 4 Hours of Shanghai proves that 4 hours may be enough.
The race already had an exciting start as the #1 Rebellion took the pole position to be followed by the #6 and #5 Ginettas. The Toyota TS050s started 4th and 5th, thus proving the success-based handicap system quite effective. However, the Rebellion car had a terrible start due to lack of tire and brake temperature, allowing the two Ginettas and the #7 Toyota to surpass it even before the starting line.
The #6 Ginetta led the race, followed by the #7 Toyota, #5 Ginetta, and the #8 Toyota. However, as the two Ginettas and the #7 Toyota had overtaken the pole-sitter before it crossed the starting line; the three cars were given a drive-through penalty, putting the #8 Toyota driven by Sebastien Buemi in the lead. But, the #1 Rebellion soon gained pace and passed the #8 in the second hour.
Overall, the #1 Rebellion driven by Bruno Senna, Gustavo Menezes, and Nato Norman took their first race victory. The #1 Rebellion is the first privateer car to win the LMP1 category and the first non-hybrid win since 2012. The Toyota had to be satisfied with their rather ‘modest’ 2nd and 3rd place, won by the #8 and the #7 car.
You can see the #7 Toyota sprinting out to the front to gain position and the Rebellion dragging behind. Image from WEC
It has been a painful race for Toyota, despite their excellent strategy. For example, the #7 Toyota maximized the use of their hybrid power at the start of the race to gain the lead, as for the Toyotas, they cannot match the non-hybrid cars in sheer straight-line speed due to BoP. However, in the end, the #7 Toyota was lapped by the #1 Rebellion, and it definitely would have been a terrible moment for Toyota fans.
Furthermore, despite Toyota had finished 3rd and 4th, it constantly lacked pace compared to the Ginettas. If the Ginettas did not re-do their penalty, and the race was longer, we could have possibly seen a Rebellion-Ginetta-Ginetta podium. It was the Ginetta actually that had the best pace, with the #5 scoring a best lap of 1:48 and the #6 scoring 1:49, when Toyota’s best result was 1:50.
LMP2 category featured constant overtakes, and the battle for the 1st place was intense. #38 Jota had a wonderful start, even staying in the LMP1 field for a couple of laps. The #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing had attempted to gain first position but was held back by the #22 United Autosports car. The #36 Signatech Alpine was able to make up to 3rd by the final leg of the race but dropped back into 4th after a spin.
The LMP2 Endurance Trophy rankings are still relatively close, with Racing Team Nederland in the lead with Jackie Chan DC Racing closely behind. Cool Racing could have scored points, but they had retired due to a mechanical problem, losing the chance to overtake Signatech Alpine, which is in thrid. The next race in Bahrain will be able to give a better glimpse of the overall winners, as it is the first long race the cars will face in the season, thus meaning that it will be a good representative of how the cars will do in Sebring and Le Mans.
Despite Ford and BMW left in the 2019-2020 season, the GTE Pro class is still very competitive as the cars’ performance is almost equally balanced. The #92 Porsche had the pole for GTE class, but it had to make room for the #95 Aston that made a bold move. The #95 Aston led the race until the final hour, when a puncture forced the car to pit-in, thus losing four positions. The #51 Ferrari that was previously in second place led the race, followed by the #92 and #91 Porsches. The #92 chased down the Ferrari furiously, but the time left was not enough.
It seemed that the Ferrari would gain its first win and podium not only in Shanghai but in the season. However, the #51 Ferrari was disqualified for having a ground clearance lower than 50mm, giving the first place to the #92 Porsche. Now, the Porsche leads the Manufacturer championship with an even bigger gap with Aston Martin in second place. The Vantage GTE Pro cars had great pace and even better straight-line performance than the 911 RSR-19s. However, it just seems that luck was not on their side.
The new Vantage GTE cars’ outstanding pace is well represented in the results of the GTE AM category. TF Sport, with their #90 Aston, was able to secure the win despite having to fight over positions with the #57 Team Project 1 Porsche and the #98 Aston Martin Racing Aston. The #98 Aston even led the race at some point showing the dominance of the Aston cars in the AM field, but they were eventually overtaken by the #57 Porsche.
Overall, TF Sport now is first in the Endurance Trophy for the GTE Am teams, with AF Corse behind. The gap between AF Corse and Team Project 1 is relatively big with 21 points, but the #57 Porsche of Team Project 1 have been peforming better and better, so it is still early to assume who will be the overall winners.
At the end of the race
Obviously, quite a lot of Toyota fans were furious about the BoP policy, and some even calling the 4-Hours of Shanghai a ‘fake’ race. However, I strongly argue that the BoP policy is necessary and is rather making WEC even more interesting. Firstly, Toyota’s TS050 Hybrids are uncomparable to privateer R-13 Gibsons or Ginetta G60 LT P1s in terms of performance. It is just better in every way. I acknowledge Toyota’s effort in making a great car, but the hybrid and the non-hybrid difference is just too big. Before the BoP, the Toyotas could easily overtake Rebellion and Ginettas on the straights even after the hybrid boost was emptied. Now this is wrong, and this is very wrong. The hybrid cars already have an advantage when leaving corners and starting, and if it is even faster on the straights, there is no way for non-hybrids to overtake the hybrids. Thankfully, this race showed the Rebellions and the Ginettas being able to keep up with the Toyotas on the straights due to the BoP.
Secondly, the BoP makes the race more interesting. I am not paying WEC to watch Toyota winning every single race, but rather paying them for entertainment. Toyota fans might say “I want to see Toyota win!” but I remember you guys wailing “BOP! BOP!” when Audi, Peugeot, and Porsche dominated endurance racing. WEC organizes races for profit, and they should pursue more entertainment value to draw more spectators into the field of WEC. It is justifiable of them to do so, and it is already effective in the case of GTE Pro, where all three cars have similar performance. Therefore, if you are going to wail about BoP, just stay silent. BoP does not make races boring, it makes it better.