Sam wins LMP2 World Endurance Championship title with Bahrain victory
Sam Bird and his G-Drive Racing team-mates Roman Rusinov and Julien Canal are the WEC LMP2 world champions after earning their fourth win of the year in the season-ending Six Hours of Bahrain.
A hard-fought battle with their main championship rivals, the #47 KCMG Oreca, saw the trio bring home their #26 Onroak Automotive-built Ligier JS P2-Nissan more than 26 seconds clear to secure both the LMP2 team and drivers' titles.
Sam, who drove both the opening and closing stints of the race, said afterwards: "What a year - and what a race. It's been an amazing year. I've made some great friends and we've had some great times and for us to come away with the world championship is very special."
Both G-Drive cars had qualified well for Bahrain but, when the race got underway, it was the KCMG that made the early running with Sam holding second. In the first pitstop the crew of the #26 car worked quickly, sending Rusinov out in the lead. After a few laps the #47 was back ahead, but first Rusinov and then Canal kept in contention.
After the next set of pit stops, under a full course yellow, Canal's second stint was spent in second place, about 30 seconds adrift, until in the fifth hour Sam returned to the car and reclaimed the lead. This lasted until the final pitstop, where the advantage swung back to the KCMG in the hands of Nick Tandy.
But the decisive final stint saw Sam eat away at Tandy's advantage with every lap, seizing the lead in the last 15 minutes of the race and securing both the race win and the LMP2 championship title.
He said: "The KCMG was really strong today. Their strength is in a straight line and this is a stop-go kind of circuit with a lot of straights so they were going to be difficult to beat. My two team-mates played their part really, really well - they put in really good shifts so that, when I got back in the car, I could do my job and bring it home in the best position possible."
The result means that Sam and the #26 car placed first or second in all but one of the season's races - the sole exception being Spa, where they qualified on pole and led their class but were felled by an engine failure. The season-long consistency, which also included four class pole positions, paid off with a 23-point margin in the championship, following on from near misses in each of the previous two years.
Canal, speaking in the post-race press conference, said: "We could have won last year, but this year I met Sam - an amazing man, a big heart - and he taught Roman and me a lot. I'm glad to be world champion and very proud of all the team."
But the end of the race was not the end of driving duties for Sam.
Following the completion of the race weekend, the World Endurance Championship remained in Bahrain for post-season testing - where Sam had been selected to take part by the WEC promoters in recognition of his performance through the season. Placed with the Toyota LMP1 team, he completed more than the allocated 30 laps and was impressed by the step up in machinery.
He said: "I very much enjoyed working with the Toyota team - it is a very professional environment. My first impressions of the car are very good: I am enjoying having some power again and it is a very technical car to drive.
"There are lots of things to think about, especially as this is the first time I have ever experienced the fuel flow restrictions. Getting my head around this aspect is critical to my improvement and adjustment with these cars. So far I am enjoying it very much."
With the endurance racing season over Sam will next be in action at Punta del Este in Uruguay on December 18, competing for DS Virgin Racing in the FIA Formula E Championship.