Round 7 of this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship was held at the Fuji track in Japan, and it was to be a wet edition, like we have often seen from the Japanese races.
Race control decided to start the race behind the Safety Car, so the cars could clear some of the water from the track.
The first 12 minutes of the race was run behind the SC, before all cars were released.
Instantly we had a spin from the poleman in LMP2, Nelson Piquet Jr in the Vaillante Rebellion #13. Fortunately he neither hit the barriers nor got hit by any competitors.
Toyota Gazoo Racing was aggressive from the get go, and Sebastien Buemi took second position already on the first lap under green flag, while Kamui Kobayashi in #7 also passed Andre Lotterer in Porsche #1 by the end of the same lap.
Richard Lietz had got the perfect start in Porsche #91 in GTE Pro, while Michael Christensen in Porsche #92 also had gained some positions.
In GTE Am, the Clearwater Racing Ferrari #61 with Keita Sawa had got a great start to the race, and was putting great distance between him and the rest of the Am field, who were all in one big lump. In fact, Sawa was in the middle of the GTE Pro field, which most likely was down to his local knowledge of the Japanese track.
Alessandro Pier Guidi in AF Corse Ferrari #71 made a nice pass on Michael Christensen in #92, going out of Turn 1, where the Ferrari found more grip than the Porsche.
Nico Lapierre in Signatech Alpine Matmut #36 was the quickest man in LMP2, and he slowly but surely made his way up the field, and after the first 30 minutes of the race, he was P2 in class. Only Bruno Senna in the Vaillante Rebellion #31 had an 8 seconds gap for Lapierre to chase down.
The low hanging clouds started float over the track, which made it almost impossible for the drivers to see anything through the first three corners. Race Control decided to put these under a Yellow Flag for about 10 minutes, until the visibility had improved.
Andre Lotterer and Kamui Kobayashi had an amazing battle where the Porsche was faster in some corners, while the Toyota was quicker in others. They swapped positions several times in the fight for third.
The Safety Car was deployed 50 minutes into the race, since the visibility had become too limited.
Many of the teams used that opportunity to make their first pitstop during this SC period, where some made driver change, while others only did refuelling. For Silver- and Bronze rated drivers, the SC period was an easy way to fulfill their minimum driving time, so the faster Gold- and potential Platinum drivers could finish off the race later on.
After one hour and twenty minutes of the race, Race Control decided to throw the red flag due to the visibility, since it didn’t give much meaning to drive around behind the SC any longer.
After about 30 minutes of red flag, we saw the race being resumed.
The pitlane got quite busy with the final teams who hadn’t already pitted, needing to go in there for their first fuel stop.
Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK #66 and AF Corse #51 had a close battle, where #51 outbraked themselves and had to take a shortcut to get back on the track. But Alessandro Pier Guidi immediately gave up the position to Stefan Mücke, so he didn’t get any penalty.
Ben Hanley in CEFC Manor TRS Racing #24 and Oliver Jarvis i Jackie Chan DC Racing #38 had a slight bit of contact in the battle for third in the LMP2 category, but there wasn’t any damage on either car. Hanley was the quicker of the two, and he made it legally past a few corners later.
With a bit more than 4 hours of the race left, we saw Michael Christensen in Porsche #92 going into the lead of the GTE Pro category.
Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK #67 received a one minute Stop & Go penalty, since Andy Priaulx had exited the pits under red lights, due to the Safety Car cue passing the pits on the straight. That was extremely important regarding the Championship, where the #67 was leading before the race. That send the two Fords to last and second last in the GTE Pro category.
Simon Trummer in CEFC Manor TRS Racing #25 hit the barrier in the penultimate corner and received quite some damage to the front of the car, which could easily be fixed in the pits.
Jackie Chan DC Racing #37 entered the pit and was pushed into the garage for repairs. According to Alex Brundle, he received a battery alarm in the car, so the team starting looking for the problem. The car wasn’t to return to the track, since they couldn’t fix the problem to be able to score points anyway.
Two hours and twenty minutes into the race, Kazuki Nakajima in Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 overlapped their Championship rivals in the shape of Timo Bernhard in the Porsche #2.
Right after that overtaking manouvre was done, the SC was send back on track due to heavier rain.
Jose Maria Lopez changed his steering wheel since there was some kind of electronic issue with it.
While the cars were behind the SC, the clouds closed in even further, making the visibility bad down the straight.
After half an hour of SC running, the track was given clear again, but soon the weather was closing in again, so it was only a matter of time, before another SC would have to be deployed.
Just shy of the halfway point in the race, the Vaillante Rebellion #13 did their first driver change, with Mathias Beche getting into the car. One lap later, the LMP2 leader Vaillante Rebellion #31 entered the pits for their first change too, with Bruno Senna stepping out and Nico Prost jumping in.
Meanwhile, the Toyota Gazoo Racing #8 with Nakajima was having a great day out front, with Porsche #1 and Toyota #7 on the following positions. #7 was flying and catching up with Tandy in the #1 by several seconds per lap, and put the Brit under hard pressure. Lopez however made a small mistake going into Turn One, and lost a few seconds.
The two AF Corse Ferraris #51 and #71 were leading the GTE Pro by then, but only a few seconds ahead of Porsche #92, who was one pitstop ahead of them. So in real life terms, actually leading the class.
Clearwater Racing Ferrari #61 was in the lead of GTE Am, with the other Ferrari, in the shape of Spirit of Race #54 running second. Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 was in third, but they were in a very good position since Christian Ried had done all his driving, with Marvin Dienst and Matteo Cairoli left to do the rest of the race. #61, #54 and AMR #98 still had their bronze drivers to do some running, so it looked to be only a mater of time, before the #77 would go into the lead of the race.
Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK #66 had a trip through the gravel at the end of the straight, after braking a bit too late. He made it back on the track, and other than a bit of gravel and some lost time, it wasn’t an issue for the team.
With 2 hours and 51 minutes left of the race, the SC was deployed once again due to rain and visibility.
With many different pitstop strategies, everything got a bit muddy on the timing screens, since some had been in the pits before the red flag, some right after, some just before the current SC period and others being able to continue.
When the pits opened again, during the SC period, a whole host of cars entered and refuelled plus added tire- and driver change is some cases.
After about 20 minutes, the green flag was shown. But just before tat happened, the Vaillante Rebellion #13 and CEFC Manor TRS Racing #24 were standing to bang fenders down the straight during FCY! 5 corners later, the two cars collided under racing speed, sending the #13 hard into the barrier, bringing out the Safety Car again, but this time for debris. The #13 retired on the spot since the rear suspension had broken on the car, so it wasn’t able to drive anymore. That wasn’t a very nice 38th birthday present for David Heinemeier Hansson, who didn’t even get to drive the car, before it retired. The crash happened when both cars tried to overtake the AMR #98, and Beche was slightly ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne. Beche ended up being turned around, going across the noise, and hitting the barrier. Unsurprisingly both drivers were under investigation.
After 20 minutes of clean up, the racing could resume. Instantly Toyota #7 attacked Porsche #1 and passed it in Turn One. But #7 was lucky not to be rear ended by Toyota #8, who had outbraked himself. 4 turns later, the #8 also made it past the Porsche, so it was a Toyota 1-2.
Kevin Estre in Porsche #92 kept the lead in GTE Pro, while Andy Priaulx in the Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK #67 tried to regain the lap that they had lost because of their Stop & GO, and overall slower pace than the Porsche during the first half of the race. Priaulx and Estre ended up with contact, resulting in Estre losing the GTE lead to teammate #91 and James Calado in AF Corse Ferrari #51.
Priaulx made another mistake at the end of the straight, where he lost the car during braking, and slammed the armco hard, losing the rear wing and the car digging itself deep into the gravel. He needed help to get out of the gravel, which resulted in a FCY period. He eventually made it back to the pits.
With 2 hours left of the race, Miguel Molina in the Spirit of Race #54 had gone into the lead of GTE Am, while Matt Griffin in the Clearwater Racing Ferrari #61 and Marvin Dienst in the Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77 were in third.
Nico Prost in Vaillante Rebellion #31 led LMP2, ahead of Ho-Pin Tung in the Championship leading Jackie Chan DC Racing #38 and Andre Negrao in Signatech Alpine Matmut #36.
Toyota had a 1-2 lead of the race, with #8 running ahead of #7, while Porsche #1 was ahead of #2.
James Calado in AF Corse #51 took the lead of GTE Pro, with a very nice overtaking manoeuvre on Fred Makowiecki in Porsche #91. Kevin Estre were quicker than both, so he started to claw back the lost ground.
With 1 hour and 49 minutes left of the race, Race Control decided to put yellow flags around again through the first three corners due to visibility, but let the race continue.
Ho-Pin Tung in Jackie Chan DC Racing #38 and Andre Negrao in Signatech Alpine Matmut #36 had an intence battle through several laps, before the #36 could grab second position.
Neel Jani in Porsche #1 pushed Mike Conway in Toyota #7 very hard, in the fight for second. After Toyota had appeared unbeatable during the first part of the race, the Porsches slowly came to life, when the track got a bit drier.
With 1 hour and 40 minutes left of the race, it was time for SC again, due to bad visibility, since the marshal posts couldn’t see each other in the first sector of the lap.
That went on to be a red flag, right after the 90 minutes to go point had been passed, meaning that all cars had to park in one long cue on the track. Somehow Porsche #2 was in the pits, and therefore was forced to stay in there.
The red flag with 90 minutes to go, meant that the race would award full points, if it wasn’t to restart. So all the teams were waiting to hear the news from Race Control, if it was to be restarted or not. Some of the teams hadn’t had their third driver in the car yet, so depending on your position, and the situation with the drivers, some of the teams hoped for the race to be resumed, to be able to gain some positions, while others hoped that it was the final results. A lot of the cars were still on the same lap, so there would be plenty of opportunity for things to change.
The red flag was displayed with Toyota #8 in the lead of LMP1, Vaillante Rebellion #31 leading LMP2, AF Corse Ferrari #51 in GTE Pro, and Spirit of Race #54 in GTE Am.
After one hour and twenty minutes of red flag conditions, Race Control gave the 10 minute warning for a restart of the race. That however was cancelled again a few minutes later, since the clouds had closed in again, making it too dangerous to restart the race for only 10 minutes of running.
That resulted in Toyota taking a 1-2 victory at home with #8 ahead of #7. An important thing for them was the Championship leading Porsche #2 only finished fourth, behind their teammates in #1. Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson therefore could climb to the top step of the podium, in the most prestigious race for Toyota – right after Le Mans, of course.
Vaillante Rebellion #31 won the LMP2 category with birthday boy Bruno Senna, together with Nico Prost and Julien Canal, ahead of Signatech Alpine Matmut #36 and Jackie Chan DC Racing #38.
James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi in AF Corse Ferrari #51 won the GTE Pro category ahead of Porsche #91 and Porsche #92. Aston Martin Racing #95 with Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen had a very anonymous race, finishing in a disappointing 7th, right behind their teammates in #97.
Spirit of Race Ferrari #54 with Miguel Molina, Thomas Flohr and Francesco Castellacci won the GTE Am race ahead of Clearwater Racing Ferrari #61 and Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #77.
Toyota #8 gained a lot of Championship points on Porsche #2, who is still leading the Championship.
Jackie Chan DC Racing #38 still holds the lead in LMP2, while AF Corse #51 now leads GTE Pro. Dempsey-Proton Racing #77 leads the GTE Am with just one single point ahead of AMR #98 and Clearwater Racing #61 only a few points behind. In fact, with the results today, all the Championship have come much closer together, bringing extra excitement in all the categories.
The FIA WEC field will now head to Shanghai, where the penultimate round of this years Championship will be run on 5 November. The weather in China has sometimes been just like this weekend in Japan, while other times, it’s been lovely with sun and nice, dry weather.