In 2019, the FIA World Endurance Championship returned to the Bahrain International Circuit for the first time since 2017, holding an eight-hour race at the Sakhir venue. It promised an exciting scrap between Toyota, Rebellion and Ginetta, but instead, the battle for overall victory was effectively completed with less than a handful of corners completed.
During qualifying, the ever-fast Toyotas were bested for pole position by the Rebellion squad, which had been their main challengers ever since season had begun. That in itself was not exactly a surprise, as Rebellion had been on pole in an earlier round.
What was surprising was who would be joining the Swiss team on the front row. In a rare case, neither of the two Toyotas made it to the front row of the grid, as the #5 Team LNT Ginetta instead outqualified both Toyotas and only lost out to Rebellion by 0.144s.
The result posed an interesting question for the race to come: had Ginetta finally caught up with Toyota? Would we finally get to see a straight fight between the three manufacturers?
As it turns out, the answer to that question would be no.
As the field stormed down to turn one, the LMP1 contenders bunched up. Rebellion’s Bruno Senna and Ginetta’s Charlie Robertson battled for the lead coming out of the tight hairpin when Robertson lost the back end and tagged Senna. The field behind them scattered.
In the chaos that followed, the other prototypes and GTE cars tried desperately to avoid the two prototypes that were suddenly in the middle of the track. Toyota’s Sebastien Buemi made contact with one of the LMP2 runners amidst the chaos and suffered damage to his car.
Buemi’s team-mate, Mike Conway, managed to come out of the chaos unscathed, as he told MotorsportWeek.com after the race.
“I was kind of looking for Seb [Buemi] initially, making sure we didn’t get too close into two,” said Conway. “And then I just saw Robertson lose the rear end and I was like ‘oh s***’, so I backed out and once I saw him go across the track and out of the way, I made sure I had enough space to come out tight.”
“And then I actually had some pressure from the LMP2s because we had a lot of fuel cuts and not much boost on the first lap,” he continued. “So really had to kind of defend a little bit, the first half a lap and after that, just get my head down, and then the safety car, just get a good clean start and pull away, which was nice, nice to do.”
Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi went on to win the race ahead of recovering team-mates Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley. Bruno Senna, Gustavo Menezes and Norman Nato went on to finish third after troublesome race, while both Ginettas ultimately retired.
After the race, an angry Senna voiced his displeasure at the situation, claiming the clash had cost Rebellion a certain victory.
“I left him too much room, clearly because I should have just pushed him off the track and he would have been compromised completely for turn two,” Senna said. “But I left racing room for everybody and then he completely took me out. I mean, I know he made a mistake and lost control of the car, but hey, this is LMP1.
Last time, in China [4 Hours of Shanghai], I braked in front of a GT, the GT crashed into me and I got penalized, I got a drivethrough penalty for this. Now the guy completely destroys my race and it’s okay.”
Neither of the two drivers was ultimately penalized for the incident, a decision Senna questioned at the time.
“It’s not my place to tell if it’s a penalty, but the fact is we are all being judged by the same token,” he continued. “I don’t think I made a mistake, but if I made an error of judgement and I got a penalty for someone crashing into me in China, when someone crashes into me here, even if there was a mistake from their part, then they should be judged with the same token.”
“He hit us in the wheel, which took a shock in the gearbox, so we don’t know if we had a problem in the gearbox because of that. We had gear change issues during the first stint already, so it’s impossible to know what happened.
The last time I had this was a year ago, so honestly… today we could have won this race. We had the pace in the car, and apart from this, the team deserved a race win, so it’s frustrating.”
Rebellion would go on to take victory in the next race at Circuit of the Americas and would also compete at Spa and Le Mans before bowing out of motorsport.
For Ginetta, the race in Bahrain would turn out to be their last. They withdrew from the round in Texas to allow their two cars to undergo maintenance. After that, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, bringing their LMP1 program to a premature end.