Toyota score 1–2 at rain-soaked home race

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Toy­ota Gazoo Rac­ing record­ed a one-two fin­ish at their home race, the 6 Hours of Fuji, which was cut short by rain and severe fog in south­ern Japan. Vic­to­ry went to Sébastien Bue­mi, Kazu­ki Naka­ji­ma and Antho­ny David­son in the #8 TS050 Hybrid ahead of Mike Con­way, Kamui Kobayashi and José-Maria López in the #7 machine.

The race began in chal­leng­ing con­di­tions, with Race Direc­tor Eduar­do Fre­itas opt­ing to start the cars behind the safe­ty car. It was a wise deci­sion, the first of many – includ­ing a fur­ther five safe­ty car peri­ods and numer­ous full-course yel­low pro­ce­dures – from race con­trol over what must have been a chal­leng­ing six hours.

The pair of Toy­otas made an impres­sive start once the race final­ly got going, clear­ly enjoy­ing a pace advan­tage in damp con­di­tions over the pair of Porsche 919 Hybrids. How­ev­er, one red flag peri­od and numer­ous safe­ty cars for acci­dents and gen­er­al weath­er con­di­tions, with fog rolling in and out and reduc­ing vis­i­bil­i­ty to mere meters at times, saw the Toy­otas’ advan­tage repeat­ed­ly pegged back.

Before the race we tar­get­ed a one-two fin­ish so I’m real­ly pleased that we achieved it,” said Kazu­ki Naka­ji­ma after the end of the race. “It’s a great result for the whole team; I am very hap­py with the job every­one did. I think we deserved the win because we had good pace in the wet con­di­tions.”

The red flag came out again due to fog with one hour of the race remain­ing and, despite the race organ­is­ers’ efforts to restart before the end of the sched­uled six-hour peri­od, anoth­er wave of mist swept across the Fuji cir­cuit, result­ing in the race being offi­cial­ly end­ed with 14 min­utes left on the clock. With cars hav­ing com­plet­ed 75% of the race dis­tance (but only just), full points were able to be award­ed.

This vic­to­ry marked Toyota’s fifth in six years at the 6 Hours of Fuji – an impres­sive return on its home cir­cuit. “It is fan­tas­tic to stand in the cen­tre of the podi­um again for our third win of the sea­son. We have fought very hard to achieve this, and it is even more spe­cial here at our home race,” Team Pres­i­dent Hisa­take Mura­ta said.

There was dra­ma in GTE Pro, with the cham­pi­onship-lead­ing #67 Ford GT of Andy Pri­aulx and Har­ry Tinck­nell expe­ri­enc­ing a high­ly event­ful six hours. The pair had been run­ning in sec­ond at the end of the first hour, but Tinck­nell was giv­en a 60-sec­ond stop/go penal­ty for exit­ing the pits while the red light was show­ing, which rel­e­gat­ed the Ford back down the order.

Lat­er, Pri­aulx made con­tact with one of the Porsche 911 RSRs and, short­ly after­wards, lost con­trol of his Ford at the first turn, land­ing in the bar­ri­ers after seri­ous con­tact with the bar­ri­ers. The Ford Chip Ganas­si Team UK mechan­ics man­aged to fixed the car up to fin­ish the race, but the 0.5-point haul may cost the British pair­ing dear­ly in the fight for the inau­gur­al FIA GT World Endurance Dri­vers Cham­pi­onship.

The race was won by the #51 AF Corse Fer­rari 488 of James Cal­a­do and Alessan­dro Per Gui­di, which over­took the #91 Porsche 911 RSR of Makowiecki/Lietz just before the sec­ond red flag. This marks Cal­a­do and Per Guidi’s third vic­to­ry of the sea­son and sees the Fer­rari pair­ing soar to the top of the GT dri­vers’ cham­pi­onship.

Vic­to­ry in LMP2 went to the #31 Vail­lante Rebel­lion of Julien Canal, Bruno Sen­na and Nico­las Prost, with the var­i­ous stop­pages and out-of-sync pit stops play­ing hav­oc with team strat­e­gy. The #36 Sig­nat­e­ch Alpine Mat­mut car had also been in con­tention for the win at times, but Nico­las Lapierre, Gus­ta­vo Menezes and Andre Negrao had to set­tle for their fourth podi­um in four races in sec­ond. Third went to the cham­pi­onship-lead­ing #38 Jack­ie Chan DC Rac­ing car of Ho-Ping Tung, Oliv­er Jarvis and Thomas Lau­rent.

There was con­tro­ver­sy, too, with the #24 CEFC Manor TRS Rac­ing car of Jean-Eric Vergne mak­ing con­tact with the #13 Vail­lante Rebel­lion of Math­ias Beche just before one of the restarts on the start/finish straight. It was an unnec­es­sary inci­dent for which both dri­vers were pun­ished post-race (Vergne with a sus­pend­ed stop/go penal­ty and Beche with a warn­ing), but just three cor­ners lat­er Beche appeared to mis­judge a pass in traf­fic and sent him­self career­ing into the bar­ri­ers and retire­ment after con­tact with the CEFC Manor TRS Rac­ing car. If that wasn’t enough, the #13 car – although a retire­ment – was sub­se­quent­ly dis­qual­i­fied due to a dri­ver time infrac­tion.

In GTE Am, Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castel­laci and Miguel Moli­na took their first vic­to­ry of the sea­son for the #54 Spir­it of Race Fer­rari 488 after two podi­ums in the last three races. The #61 Clear­wa­ter Rac­ing Fer­rari fin­ished sec­ond, while the cham­pi­onship-lead­ing #77 Dempsey-Pro­ton Rac­ing Porsche 911 RSR round­ed out the top three.

© FIA WEC / ADRENALMEDIA.COM – Mar­cel Langer / Mar­ius Heck­er