Another Porsche 1–2 in Japan

posted in: LMGTE-Am, LMGTE-Pro, LMP1, LMP2, Race, Report, WEC | 0

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The #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Mark Web­ber, Bren­don Hart­ley and Timo Bern­hard took vic­to­ry ahead of the sis­ter #18 car and the #7 Audi R18 e-tron quat­tro of Benoit Tréluy­er, André Lot­ter­er and Mar­cel Fässler. How­ev­er, the head­line only tells half the sto­ry after a thrilling and fran­tic race in the foothills of Mount Fuji.

Ear­ly-morn­ing rain drenched the Fuji cir­cuit and gave race direc­tor no option oth­er than to begin the six-hour race behind the safe­ty car. For­tu­nate­ly, the rain abat­ed and after 40 min­utes the track was con­sid­ered safe enough for the green flag. Pole-sit­ter Mark Web­ber lose first posi­tion on lap one, while Romain Dumas in the #18 car also slipped down the order as the Porsche strug­gled in the damp con­di­tions. The pair of Aud­is estab­lished a lead at the head of the field, with the Toy­otas also man­ag­ing to fight with the two Porsches.

A dry­ing track put the Porsches back in con­tention for the race vic­to­ry, with Romain Dumas recov­er­ing from con­tact with Alex Wurz in the #2 Toy­ota before catch­ing and pass­ing Mar­cel Fässler in the #7 Audi. Fässler also fell into the clutch­es of Mark Web­ber in the #17 machine, with the pair enjoy­ing an incred­i­ble bat­tle for sec­ond place two hours into the race.

Web­ber even­tu­al­ly pre­vailed before hand­ing over the #17 car to Bren­don Hart­ley safe in sec­ond place. It was rel­a­tive­ly plain sail­ing for the Porsche Team from then on, with the #17 car pass­ing the #18 car late on to take the win and max­imise Porsche’s chances in both the driver’s and manufacturer’s cham­pi­onships.

Con­tact between the #7 Audi and the #88 Porsche 911 RSR almost put paid to Lot­ter­er, Tréluy­er and Fässler’s chances, but the pit crew man­aged to repair the dam­age and allow the #7 car to fin­ish on the third step of the podi­um.

With Nick Hei­d­feld absent at Fuji, Math­ias Beche and Nico­las Prost were left to take vic­to­ry in the LMP pri­va­teers’ com­pe­ti­tion for the #12 Rebel­lion R-One. The cham­pi­onship bat­tle, how­ev­er, remains excit­ing after Simon Trum­mer and Pierre Kaf­fer fin­ished sec­ond in the ByKolles CLM P1/01 AER ahead of the sec­ond Rebel­lion.

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The LMP2 class pro­vid­ed the most dra­mat­ic and excit­ing race in recent mem­o­ry, with the #47 KCMG Ore­ca 03 engag­ing in a race-long bat­tle with what felt like the entire field of LMP2 run­ners. The ear­ly pace-set­ter was the #36 Sig­nat­e­ch-Alpine machine with Paul-Loup Chatin behind the wheel, with the #43 SARD-Morand Mor­gan in sec­ond posi­tion. How­ev­er, a mis­take by Oliv­er Webb, run­ning wide at turn one and mak­ing minor con­tact with the bar­ri­er, short­ly before the first dri­ver change cost the #43 valu­able sec­onds and ulti­mate­ly put paid to its race chal­lenge.

Nick Tandy put in an impres­sive set of stints at the start of the race and the #47 car had risen to the top of the field by the halfway point. In close atten­tion was the #47’s cham­pi­onship rivals of Sam Bird, Julien Canal and Roman Rusi­nov in the #26 G-Dri­ve Rac­ing machine. Richard Bradley and then Matt How­son spent the rest of the race bat­tling against the pair of G-Dri­ve cars, with the Russ­ian-entered machines employ­ing very ques­tion­able tac­tics at times.

It all began with Rusi­nov slight­ly mis­judg­ing an over­tak­ing manoeu­vre on the #47 KCMG car and mak­ing con­tact with the right rear on the Ore­ca. Gus­ta­vo Yaca­man then went one bet­ter in the #28 car, shov­ing the #47 machine out at the tight chi­cane while being lapped. If that wasn’t enough, Yaca­man then pro­ceed­ed to dri­ve straight into the back of Richard Bradley, at that time in third posi­tion after the con­tact with Rusi­nov, with just five min­utes of the race remain­ing.

Ini­tial con­fu­sion saw the stew­ards pin the blame on Bradley for inci­dent, sug­gest­ing that the Brit braked ear­ly for the cor­ner. How­ev­er, new data sur­faced show­ing that Bradley was at full throt­tle as Yaca­man made con­tact. What­ev­er the cause, the KCMG failed to fin­ish and suf­fered a major blow to its title aspi­ra­tions.

The GTE Pro race was a lit­tle less hec­tic, with the #91 and #92 Porsche Team Man­they machines bat­tling it out with the AF Corse Fer­raris, which were back to fine fet­tle after the dis­ap­point­ment of Cir­cuit of the Amer­i­c­as. James Cal­a­do led ear­ly on in the #71 car, but his chal­lenge fad­ed towards the end of the stint with the British dri­ver cit­ing prob­lems in GT traf­fic.

The #51 car then took up the man­tle and devel­oped a com­mand­ing lead by the halfway point, which it didn’t relin­quish for the rest of the race. The #71 car recov­ered some­what, but Patrick Pilet in the #92 Porsche 911 RSR slipped past Davide Rigon’s Fer­rari 458 with a cou­ple of hours remain­ing to deny the AF Corse squad a one-two.

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The GTE Am deliv­ered its now-cus­tom­ary race-long bat­tles between pro­fes­sion­al and ama­teur dri­vers. The ear­ly stages of the race saw the #83 AF Corse and #72 SMP Rac­ing Fer­raris bat­tling it out, but as both ran wide into turn 2, the #96 Aston Mar­tin Rac­ing V8 Van­tage slipped through to take the lead.

The Aston held firm until the halfway stage, before Mar­co Seefried and then Patrick Long put in a set of blind­ing­ly quick stints to heave the #77 Dempsey-Pro­ton Porsche 911 RSR up into a com­mand­ing first posi­tion. Tak­ing over the car under safe­ty car con­di­tions at the start of the race, Patrick Dempsey him­self put in an impres­sive cou­ple of stints and more than held his own against more expe­ri­enced com­peti­tors. Long, Seefried and Dempsey were reward­ed with their first vic­to­ry in the FIA World Endurance Cham­pi­onship.

The next FIA WEC race is in Shang­hai in the last week­end of Octo­ber.

Image source: FIA press mate­r­i­al