Toyota Triumphs at Home WEC Race, Six Hours of Fuji
Toyota Racing finished one-two at the FIA World Endurance Championship Six Hours of Fuji Sunday, with the #8 TS 040 Hybrid carrying drivers Sebastian Buemi and Anthony Davidson into the lead in the manufacturer’s championship and extending their lead in the drivers’ championship.
The #7 TS 040 of Kaz Nakajima and Alex Würz finished second, 26 seconds back but a full lap ahead of the third placed- finisher, the # 20 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Timo Bernhard and Brendan Hartley Mark Webber.
The Toyotas had the advantage in both speed and reliability. Even though Mark Webber set the race’s fastest lap at 1:27.759 in the #20 Porsche early in the race, both Porsches appeared to lose pace later in the race, possibly due to electrical malfunctions.
The Audis were ten mph down on the Porsches and Toyotas in top speed—though they had no mechanical issues, they also didn’t have the pace to contend.
Toyota’s dominance was unchallenged. Behind them Porsche and Audi battled for the final place on the podium. Tom Kristensen had edged the #1 Audi into third by pitting under yellow. Despite having had problems, both Porsches finished strong, with the #20 finishing a lap down, and the #14 two laps down, 16 seconds ahead of the #1 Audi.
The outcome was the best possible for Toyota—the team absolutely dominated at their home race (Toyota owns the track and its R&D center is right across the road) which will hopefully let the team squeeze a few more dollars out of the tight-fisted corporate management.
The team lost at Le Mans because of a two-dollar part failing, and at Circuit of the Americas were quickest until they were wiped out by the rain. At Fuji Toyota’s cars showed both pace and endurance, and the drivers and crews performed faultlessly.
For Porsche, third and fourth are as good as first and second. At Fuji Porsche showed that its cars could be as quick as the Toyotas, and could make better fuel mileage. The electrical glitches which slowed the cars are to be expected from a team in its first year, operating cars of such complexity. Porsche doesn’t need to win in 2014 to have a good year—though of course they would like to. Getting both cars to the end of the race and running at or near the winning pace proves that the design and technology are sound. Once Porsche works out a few details, these cars will be winning races.
The outcome was almost the worst possible for Audi, which came into the race leading in manufacturers’ points 157–139 over Toyota and second in the drivers’ championship. The #2 car of second-placed André Lotterer, Benoit Tréluyer, and Marcel Fässler finished sixth, while the #1 of third-placed Loic Duval, Tom Kristensen, and Luca Di Grassi finished fifth, taking the precious drivers’ points from their team mates, and both cars scored the fewest number of manufacturers’ points. The only positive is that both cars finished.
With three rounds left in the championship, Toyota has a slight edge in the manufacturers’ points, but a huge potential edge—its cars are much faster and equally as reliable as Audi’s now. official results haven’t been posted, but Toyota should lead by a handful of points, and its drivers should be about 29 points ahead.
Hard Racing in All Classes
The first lap of the race had half a race’s worth of action in it. Sebastien Buemi started on the pole, but Mark Webber managed to force his way by in Turn Three to take the lead, going two and three wide through the first corners until he succeeded. Audi’s André Lotterer, not willing to be left out, forced his way from fifth all the way to the front of the field, but then dropped back—so every one of the top teams held the lead in the first lap.
After all that, Buemi managed to squeeze back by Webber before the start finish line.
While all that was happening, back in GTE the two GTE-Pro Astons came together with the #97 of Darren Turner bouncing off the #99 of Fernando Rees and then into the #92 Porsche of Patrick Pilet.
In P2 Olivier Pla in the #26 G-Drive Ligier-Nissan battled hard with class leader Alexandre Imperatore in the #47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan for half an hour before Imperatore slipped up, spinning in front of Pla somehow without collecting him.
This pair of cars fought hard for the rest of the race, with the G-Drive Ligier of Pla, Roman Rusinov, and, Julien Canal holding the advantage over Imperatore and co-drivers Matthew Howson, and Richard Bradley until Pla had to bring the car in with a puncture with just over half an hour left.
Pla and Imperatore basically replayed the opening half-hour of the race in the final half hour, except this time Pla made a genius move, using a GT Porsche as a pick, slipping by on the outside to gain the inside line for the next corner, while Imperatore was balked for a fraction of a second—just enough to lose the lead. Pla brought the G-Drive home just 5.43 seconds ahead of Imperatore’s KCMG car.
Third in P2 went to the #35 Oak Racing Morgan-Judd of Keiko Ihara, Gustavo Yacaman, and Alex Brundle. This car had to start at the back of the pack after qualifying with the wrong-sized restrictors; Yacaman, Brundle, and Ihara (the first female driver to score a WEC podium) managed to fight their way through the entire field.
GTE-Pro and GTE-Am were both Ferrari-Aston battles.
In GTE-Pro the #51 AF Corse 458 Italia of Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander lead its sister #71 Ferrari of Davide Rigon and James Calado across the finish line by a margin of only 2.9 seconds. The #99 Aston finished third, 41 seconds back.
The situation was reversed in GTE-Am, with a pair of Astons leading a Ferrari. Kristian Poulsen, David Heinemeier-Hansson, and Nicki Thiim in the #95 Aston MartinVantage crossed the line over a minute ahead of the #98 Vantage of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, and Christoffer Nygaard.
Third in GTE-Am was incredibly close with the #75 Prospeed Competition Porsche of François Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard, and Matthieu Vaxivière edging the #88 Proton Competition Porsche of Christian Ried, Klaus Bachler, and Khaled Al Qubaisi by a mere 0.661 seconds.
The #13 Rebellion R-One-Toyota of Dominik Kraihamer, Andrea Belicchi, and Fabio Leimer won LMP1-L honors, finishing 11th overall. The #12 Rebellion finished 24th—a better result than its LMP1-L rival the #9 Lotus CLM P1/01-AER driven by Christophe Bouchut, James Rossiter, and Pierre Kaffer.
The Lotus burst into flames and burned down on pit lane in the final hour of the race, a complete write-off. Christophe Bouchut, who smelled smoke halfway through his stint and brought the burning car back to the pits, was able to escape at the cost of his eyebrows; no one else was injured, but this team might find it hard to make the grid for the next race.
The World Endurance Championship stays in Asia for its next race, the Six Hours of Shanghai on November 2. Visit http://www.fiawec.com/ for more information.