The final race of every season is always sad, as it always marks the ending of something. Last year at the Bahrain race it was the end of the GTE Pro Class in FIA WEC. This year it marked the end of the GTE Am Class in that series. The 2023 season-ending race in Bahrain was the final round of the 11th FIA World Endurance Championship, and it was also the final race for Corvette Racing and the C8.R.
In 2024 the all-new C8 Z06 GT3.R will compete in the LMGT3 Class alongside the new Hypercar Class which debuted in 2023. The LMP2 Class will compete at Le Mans in 2024 but won’t contest the other rounds of the championship. Hypercar manufacturers, including General Motors and its Cadillac brand, are actively encouraged to enter two chassis into the LMGT3 Class. From 2024 onwards, GM has chosen the British-based team TF Sport to enter and run the Corvette Z06 GT3.R chassis with the Hypercar Class Cadillacs run by Chip Ganassi.
The Bahrain International Circuit GP layout used by the FIA WEC is shaped like Daffy Duck pumping iron — once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it — and it stretches 5.412 km or 3.363 miles. There are four long straights connected by some — to quote Adrian Newey — “twiddly bits.” The track is known for being very abrasive, and tire management is considered key to having a successful race, as the sneaky FIA doesn’t allocate enough new sets of tires to each team to allow them to put new sets on at every stop. The track surface was actually imported from Bayston Hill Quarry in Shropshire, England.
The No. 33 Corvette C8.R had already wrapped up the FIA WEC GTE Am Class team and driver championships, but all three drivers, Ben Keating, Nico Varrone, and Nicky Catsburg, were desperate to add to their three victories so far this season. The team started well by winning the 1,000 Miles of Sebring, then followed it up by winning the 6 Hours at Portimao. Of course, the big one was winning the 100th Year Anniversary 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. All of the Corvette Racing team really wanted to finish on a high and close out the final race with another victory.
The three free practice sessions should have helped the team determine the best setup for the Corvette to be ready for the race. However, the weather gods of Bahrain were bored in Free Practice Session 1 (FP1) and decided that it was time for a sandstorm followed by a deluge of biblical proportions. The weather returned to something more expected for a desert island for FP2 with hot, dry, dark conditions at the start of the session as the sun set.
FP3 on Friday morning was again hot and dry, allowing the team to get some solid setup data and get the drivers comfortable for the race. The 15-minute late afternoon qualifying session saw Keating set a best lap of 1:59.412. That was the fastest time set by any of the drivers in the car over the weekend and good enough for fifth place in the GTE Am Class field. Nicky Catsburg’s best time was 1:59.767 and Nico Varrone’s best was 1:59.684, both of which were set during the race.
The race started on Saturday at 2:00 pm local time with Keating needing to do two hours and 20 minutes to satisfy the driving time required of the amateur, Bronze-rated, driver on the team. Additionally, each team’s amateur driver must start the cars as per the rules. If a team decides to swap out a driver for any particular reason they have to start at the back of the GTE Am field.
At the first corner of the first lap, the No. 2 Cadillac Hypercar of Earl Bamber had a huge smoky brake lock-up and ran into the back of the No. 7 Toyota just ahead of him tipping the Toyota into a spin. That caused chaos for the cars further back in the field with Keating losing several places because of the Hypercar mishap and finishing lap one in ninth place.
Keating really had no tools to be able to fight his way back up the class, but he fought hard with the No. 98 Aston Martin just ahead of him during his short first stint. Tires being a very limiting factor during the race, meant Keating was pitted early by the team after about 35 minutes to get him off the qualifying tires and back out on track in clean air. Two full fuel stints later saw Keating complete the required minimum drive time and hand the car over to Varrone, who then drove the three stints from sunset into the night.
Nicky Catsburg eventually took his turn behind the wheel, with just under two hours left in the race. All three drivers saved as much fuel as possible while also looking after their tires and keeping the car clear of any on-track contact. During one of the pit stops, there was a problem shutting the driver’s door, which lost the No. 33 Corvette C8.R approximately 15 seconds, but apart from this one snag, all of the pit stops went without incident.
Despite all the best efforts of the Corvette Racing pit crew and three drivers, the Corvette came home in seventh place in the GTE Am Class at the end of the race. Corvette Racing as a GM full factory race team is now consigned to history, however from the start of the 2024 season, Corvette Racing by Pratt Miller Motorsports will take up the challenge of running the GTD Pro Class Corvette C8 Z06 GT3.R chassis in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship, and the Andrew Wojteczko Autosport (AWA) team will contest the GTD Class in IMSA with two more Corvette C8 Z06 GT3.R chassis.