LMP2 was looking like almost a runaway championship win for KCMG before the Asian flyaways.
Wet weather, controversy, and real drama though gripped the class in Japan with a further turn of the screw in China setting up a grandstand finish to a thrilling season in Bahrain.
Realistically in Japan the championship was already down to just three cars, the points leading #47 Oreca 05 Nissan of KCMG, and the chasing pair of G-Drive Ligier Nissans. The stakes were high, and all too soon it showed.
In Japan, the fight back in the points standings from the #26 car began with a dominant pole position ahead of the sister car, this after an error from Nick Tandy left the championship leaders scrabbling for a time.
In the race though the Oreca came back, but only after Sam Bird had put in a magnificent stint in the poll sitting car.
The middle period of the race though saw a long run from Nick Tandy, handing over to Matt Howson, begin to payoff leaving Richard Bradley to deal with the challenge of Roman Rusinov in the closing stages.
It was hard fought, sometimes wheel banging fight, the two unchallenged from behind with third placed #28 car a lap down.
An ambitious move from Bradley up the inside at Turn 1 to take the lead seemed to anger the Russian, more side to side action eventually ended with substantial contact, front of Ligier to rear of Oreca, Bradley forced to pit for a checkover of the car, the Ligier through to take a lead it wouldn’t cede to the flag.
The drama though wasn’t over, Bradley emerged this time just ahead of the other Ligier, Colombian Gustavo Yucatan still off the lead lap but looking for a way by the #47 to unlap himself from the now second-place car.
Again the fight was hard fought, Both drivers aggressive both in attack and defence but it was the lap down Ligier that made contact, again to the rear of the Oreca, that turned the car around, forcing another pit stop for the #47.
Astonishingly, yet again, Bradley emerged in front of a Ligier, this time though it was Yacaman, now on the same lap, challenging the third place Oreca for the final podium position, the Signatech Alpine having by now put a lap on the pair up into second place.
From here though things would get worse, certainly for the Oreca, the Ligier seeming to have found considerable straightline speed there was wheel banging, and there was driving that seemed more than aggressive, Yacaman forcing the Oreca Man across to the pit wall on the long, full tilt straight with Bradley staying ahead and giving as good as he got until contact to the rear of the £47 pitched it sharply to the right into the barrier.
It was game over almost on the spot for Bradley, the driver mercifully OK but KCMG relegated to a DNF and losing their Championship lead to the #26 in the process.
In the aftermath of the incident packed last hour the Race Stewards were kept busy, eventually determining that the final incident was actually the fault of Bradley, the Oreca driver braking earlier than on previous laps – Their decision stands as one of the more controversial in WEC history!
Fast forward to China and again the #26, now the Championship leader, took pole position.
Again race day was wet and it saw significant incidents that bookended the six hours in Shanghai, the very first racing lap (after 14 minutes behind the Safety Car) saw Nick Tandy lose control of the #47 and lose a lap in the gravel, it was looking like the title was slipping away.
A race long fight back though saw the Oreca forge back up the field, their charge helped by a fine run from the Alpine, their new signing Tom Dillmann eventually sealing a victory, the team’s first in the WEC, by outpacing Roman Rusinov.
The #26 though was on course to score a substantial further advantage over the #47, the Chinese team’s fight back through the field looking set to stall at fourth, Nick Tandy’s late race charge towards the now third placed #28 looking hopeless after a late race full course yellow left the gap too much to cover as the clock ticked down.
That though was reckoning without an extraordinary last lap error from Ricardo Gonzales, putting the #28 into the gravel at T2 – Tandy was through into third, the Ligier a DNF and now out of the Championship race into the bargain!
The Championship finale then sees #26 lead #47 by 16 points, with 26 up for grabs – Realistically that means KCMG need to win, and the #26 needs to hit trouble – Place your bets!
Written by Graham Goodwin