Porsche duo Christensen and Kevin Estre were up against the Ferrari of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi in the last-ever race of the GTE Pro division, with 11 points separating the two crews at the top of the drivers’ championship.
Estre ran a comfortable second in the early stages of the eight-hour contest, well clear of the #51 Ferrari of Calado that was battling with the other Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni for the final spot on the podium.
But the complexion of the race completely changed when the full-course yellow was deployed at the beginning of the second hour, allowing Ferrari to make a cheap pitstop and jump into the lead of the race.
Christensen and Estre lost further time in the fifth hour when the #92 Porsche was the only GTE car to have completed its pitstop in green conditions, dropping nearly a lap off the lead as others stopped under the race’s third FCY intervention.
While late gearbox problems for Calado and Pier Guidi offered a ray of hope, Christensen and Este had fallen so far behind by that time that they could only recover to third position, 55s behind the #64 Corvette of Nick Tandy and Tommy Milner they needed to pass in order to snatch the title from Ferrari.
While admitting that Ferrari was the quicker of the two cars competing for championship honours in Bahrain, Christensen couldn’t hide his disappointment over the timing of the two full-course yellows that prevented Porsche from having a shot at the title.
“We decided to push the #52 [Ferrari of Miguel Molina and Antonio Fuoco] a little bit so we pitted a bit early [to] undercut because we knew they were going to pit after to cover,” Christensen told Autosport.
“And then one lap later full course yellow [came out]. The only car [in the championship fight] not to pit at that point was the #51 – the luckiest I’ve ever seen.
#92 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR – 19 GTE-PRO: Michael Christensen, Kevin Estre
Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images
“Then they just made a gap of 40 seconds and on top of that they had the pace, they had the degradation, they had the points in the championship and from then on I knew it was going to be really difficult.
“We tried to think of a situation where we could maybe challenge in a different way with strategy and we did so and that meant we pitted a bit differently. [But] one lap after [it was] full course yellow again.
“We put ourselves even further back, nearly got lapped just pitting under green when everyone else pit under full-course yellow.
“Again, not having the pace and being further back, it just didn’t go our way. It just wasn’t supposed to happen I guess.”
The #51 Ferrari began to develop a gearbox issue with Calado at the wheel during the seventh hour and his team-mate Pier Guidi had to complete the race in fifth gear in order to nurse the car to the finish.
Although Calado and Pier Guidi dropped to fifth among all GTE entrants across the two classes, it wasn’t enough to sway the title in Porsche’s favour.
Asked what his reaction was when he was told that the Ferrari had suffered a technical problem that could prove to be terminal, Christensen replied: “What did I feel? Maybe karma hit them a bit.
“But I guess it is how it is. They still managed to finish and complete their wishes for the championship.”
In a last roll of the dice, Porsche orchestrated a swap between its two cars on the final lap to aid the title bid of Christensen and Estre, with Richard Lietz staying in the pits in the #91 car until Christensen had leapfrogged him to third.
Ultimately, the hobbled Ferrari was able to make it the finish and no other car in front suffered late drama that would have allowed the #92 Porsche to move up to second.
“We tried to help the #92 have some chance to win the championship in case of the #51 stopping,” Bruni, who was sharing the #91 car with Lietz, told Autosport.
“We were a bit unlucky in the race [with] the full-course yellow. We lost a bit of gap and then we were fighting back. The car was running well, balance was good.
“It’s a shame [but] we are happy for the season we had. We were fast [and] we won Le Mans.”