Tuesday 17 October 2017

FIA WEC - 6 Hours of Fuji: Toyota takes 1-2 in wet & foggy home race

What a difference a year makes ... last years race at the foot of Mount Fuji was flawless with 6 hours of uninterrupted racing, this years race saw 6 safety cars and 2 red flags. It's not the first time the 6 Hours of Fuji are hit by bad weather conditions, remember the 2013 monsoon edition. 

This year not only the rain affected the race on Sunday but most of all mist and clouds taking away visibility. Conditions changed by the minute, resulting in multiple safety cars, slow zones and eventually in 2 red flags. An eventful race with the Toyota's taking a 1-2 finish in front of the Porsches, closing down the gap a bit in the manufacturers championship and keeping their title hopes alive. 

© FIA WEC/Adrenal Media

The race got underway behind the safety car for the first five laps, mainly due to restricted visibility on the start/finish straight. When the green flag was waived after 5 laps, there still was a slow zone introduced at the main straight.  Earl Bamber held on to first place in the #2 Porsche, André Lotterer behind him in the #1 Porsche was quickly attacked by both Toyota's. Buemi in the #8 Toyota got past Lotterer in the first lap, but was lucky not to score any damage when both cars touched.  Lotterer lost a dive plane in that incident, and fell back to fourth when Kobayashi got past him.  The German didn't give in to the Toyota, and after some fierce battles in tricky conditions he got back into third. 

 The safety car rolled out again just before the 1 hour mark, as visibility got worse again. This allowed most cars to go for their first pitstop of the race and several driver changes.  Conditions didn't improve, bringing out the first red flag of the afternoon. The #2 Porsche was still in the lead but didn't have a pitstop yet, ahead of both Toyota's. 

The restart was given at 12h50, again with a slow zone between turn 15 and turn 1 as visibility remained a problem on the main straight.  Bamber got straight into the pits for his first stop, handing over the lead to both Toyota's but losing over a minute to the race leaders. Timo Bernhard took over the #2 Porsche but struggled to get heat into his tyres and had almost no grip, causing him to lap 3 seconds slower than the Toyota's who seemed to be in excellent shape.  Minutes before the next safety car he got lapped by Nakajima in the leading #8 Toyota. 

As rain intensified another safety car was rolled out for about 25 minutes, changing the order again in the LMP1 class.  When the safety car got back in & safety zones were removed, Nakajima was leading in the #8 Toyota by 19 seconds from Nick Tandy. All three leading cars kept on racing close to eachother, each leading the race at a certain point during the pitstop cycles.  Meanwhile 2 more safety cars were sent out, the first when Andy Priaulx in the #67 Porsche drove into the leading GTE Pro Porsche and wandered into the barriers afterwards, the second when poor visibility created another yellow zone in the first sector of the track. 

© Toyota Motorsport Gmbh

The poor visibility brought out the second red flag after 4 hours and 24 minutes, freezing all positions. With 30 minutes left visibility was slightly improvoing but still poor. Yannick Dalmas went out in the safety car, taking Gérard Neveu as a passenger to check on the track conditions. A restart behind the safety car was announced, assuming we'd get a 10 minute sprint race to the flag. The conditions got worse again though, and the whole field was led into parc ferme, ending the race about 15 minutes early. 

Toyota scored a well needed 1-2 victory in their home race, with the #8 TS050 Hybrid of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson on the top spot of the podium. They also closed the gap in the manufacturers championship down to 39 points with 12 hours of racing to in China and Bahrain. 

In LMP2 the #31 Vaillante Rebellion took its second victory of the season and closes up the gap with the championship leading #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing down to 10 points. The #13 Rebellion sister car had a less succesful Sunday afternoon, spinning in the first corner at the start of the race and going hard into the barriers in the fourth hour of the race after contact with Eric Vergne in the #24 Manor.

Bruno Senna had the best start in the #31, quickly building up a comfortable lead. Behind the Brazilian, the battles for the top 5 were fierce with Nico Lapierre in the #36 Signatech Alpine Matmut charging through the field up to second place. When the first safety car came out, Alex Brundle held on to third in the #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing with the #38 sister car close behind him. As the race was red flagged after 1h20' and after the first sequence of pitstops, the #31 was leading the #38, with the #36 now in third place. 

After the restart the #28 TDS Racing got up to second place due to a different strategy, but still behind the leading Rebellion. The #37 Jackie Chan Oreca would fall down the order complety when electrical gremlins forced them into the garage for repairs. Lots of battles were fought out before the second red flag, with André Negrao fighting back to second in the #36 Alpine.

When the second red flag came out, the #38 DC Racing Oreca was in third place. An order that wouldn't change anymore.  Completing the top 5 were the #28 TDS Racing which was still on route for a strong finish of the race and the #24 CEFC Manor TRS Racing. 

In the GTE Pro class, James Calado & Alessandro Pier Guido took their third won of the season and the lead in the championship after an eventful race. Richard Lietz had the best start leading ahead of Harry Tincknell in the #67 Ford and Pier Guidi in the #51 Ferrari who jumped from fifth to third.  In the second hour of the race, the second Ford GT got into the top 3 when they leapfrogged the #51 Ferrari who pitted just before the red flag. 

When the green flag was waived again, Pier Guidi kept on chasing Makowiecki in the #91 Porsche, and managed to pass the Frenchman with a ballsy move in the chicane, sliding his Ferrari into the lead right before another yellow flag in sector 1 and the second red flag due to a lack of visibility.  As the race wouldn't be green flagged anymore, the #51 took victory, with both Porsches behind; #91 in second and #92 in third.

The Ford #67 had a disastrous race in Japan. It all started with a one minute stop & go penalty for exiting the pit lane under red light. Later on Priaulx tried to unlap himself from Kevin Estre in the leading #92 Porsche but completely missed his braking point, driving into the Porsche. Both cars could drive on, but a puncture and a spin into the barriers ended their race and lost them the lead in the championship.  The Aston Martins struggled for grip and pace on their Dunlops and never even had a chance to get to a podium finish. 

© FIA WEC/Adrenal Media

The #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Miguel Molina took their first ever victory in the FIA WEC yesterday. Keita Sawa in the #61 Clearwater Ferrari led the GTE Am field when the safety car came out for the first time.  When the race was red flagged for the first time they fell back to second behind the #98 Aston Martin which hadn't made a pitstop by then. After the restart the order was shuffled again, the #61 now back up front with the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari in second and the #77 Dempsey-Proton Porsche in third. 

The #54 ran a faultless race in challenging conditions, getting into first place after the third round of pitstops, leaving the Clearwater Ferrari behind them. The Dempsey-Proton Porsche held on to third place, although an a reasonable distance from both Ferrari's. When the second red flag came out, the first win for the #54 was in the bag. The championship leading #98 Aston Martin had the same problem as the Pro cars all weekend, and finished 2 laps down from the winning Ferrari. 

The fight for the championship is really too close to call now, with all three title contenders within 3 points from eachother. Clearwater has taken the lead again with 149 points, two more than Dempsey-Proton, who are trailed by Dalla Lana & co in the #98 Aston by one point.

The next race for the World Endurance Championship will be held in Shanghai, China on November 3rd.

Kristof Vermeulen.
Pictures: Lennart Sorth/Club Arnage & Adrenal Media