Toyota Gazoo Racing continued their impressive season with a win at the 6 Hours of Fuji. The Japanese manufacturer was made to work hard, however, as Porsche Penske Motorsport put up its strongest fight yet to finish in P3.
After locking out the front row, Toyota looked to be comfortable favourites for the win at their home race in Japan. But the team’s plans were thrown up in the air at the first corner of the six-hour race.
Several cars in the Hypercar field missed their braking zones at the end of the long start/finish straight. With tyre smoke billowing out of Ferraris, Toyotas and Porsches alike, the pair of GR010 Hybrids on the front row were both pushed off-track and surrendered the lead. The beneficiary from the chaos was Laurens Vanthoor in the #6 Porsche 963, who inherited the lead after an excellent start from the second row.
Porsche build lead
As fortunate as his start had been, the Belgian quickly showed that the Porsche was out to spoil Toyota’s party at Fuji International Speedway. Vanthoor gradually built up a strong lead as his Hypercar competitors battled it out behind.
At the end of the second stint, Vanthoor finished his day’s work with an advantage of around 12 seconds and handed over driving duties to teammate Kévin Estre. The Frenchman picked up where the Belgian left off, retaining the advantage for his own two-hour double stint.
After the initial struggles, Toyota soon fought their way back into contention and clearly had the best package at the Japanese circuit. In the hands of Mike Conway then Jose Maria Lopez, it was the #7 GR010 Hybrid that was the quicker of the two, with Buemi and then Hartley a close third in the #8 machine. For the final stints, Lopez handed over to Kamui Kobayashi, while Ryo Hirakawa took charge of the #8.
Toyota fight back
Despite the best efforts of Porsche’s third driver André Lotterer, it was the ultimate race pace of the Toyotas that gave them the crucial advantage. Hirakawa had snatched the lead just before the final pit stops, but dropped back in the final stint.
This allowed Kobayashi to press home his advantage and give the #7 machine its second win in succession and Toyota the FIA Hypercar World Manufacturers Championship one race before the end of the season.
The #6 Porsche crossed the line a creditable third, just eight seconds down on the second-place finisher. The sister car finished back in 12th following an early puncture following the first-corner contact and a three-minute stop-and-go penalty for a safety car infringement.
Ferrari lacking pace, Hertz Team JOTA and Proton hit by issues
The pair of AF Corse Ferraris struggled with their balance at the Six Hours of Fuji and could only finish fourth (#50) and fifth (#51). Both three-man crews remain in contention for the drivers’ championship but will need Toyota to run into major issues at the season finale in Bahrain.
The privateer Porsches entered by Hertz Team JOTA and Proton Competition showed good pace at times during the race, but were affected by a couple of issues. The gold Hertz car was penalised for contact with its own LMP2 teammate, while the seatbelt on the Proton Competition 963 became defective midway through the race and required repair.
LMP2 win for Team WRT
Championship-leaders Team WRT took one more step towards title glory with the win at the sixth round of the season. Drivers Rui Andrade, Robert Kubica and Louis Deletraz put together a flawless race to win by almost a lap.
Second was the #22 United Autosports machine, followed close behind in third by the sister Team WRT car (#31).
GTE Am victory at Fuji for AF Corse
Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellaci and Davide Rigon took their first win of the season in their AF Corse Ferrari by just twenty seconds after a close battle with Corvette Racing and Kessel Racing.
Kessel crossed the line in second place in class but were later demoted to third after a post-race penalty of 10 seconds for a full course yellow violation. The penalty promoted the #33 Corvette Racing team to second.
The full list of race results from the Six Hours of Fuji can be found here.
Image © 2023 FIA WEC (Press Material) – FocusPackMedia – Harry Parvin