Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: FIA WEC
Toyota crowned a near perfect weekend at Fuji with a 1-2 finish. For the winners of the 24 hours of Le Mans in the #8 Toyota; Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Ryo Hirakawa, it was only their second win of the season. The sister car #7 of Lopez, Kobayashi and Conway finished more than a minute behind the winner. The French battle for the final podium spot between Alpine and Peugeot was won by the former, meaning that the drivers of the #36, Negrão, Vaxivière and Lapierre are exactly tied with the crew of the #8 at 121 points heading into the season finale at the Bapco 8h of Bahrain on the 10th of November. Robin Frijns, Dries Vanthoor and Sean Geleal won the LMP2 category for WRT. James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi increased their lead in the GTE championship to 11 points with a win, Antonio Fuoco and Miguel Molina made it a 1-2 for AF Corse as well. The #33 TF Sport Aston Martin of Keating, Chaves and Sorensen claimed a nice victory in GT Am after their horrific crash in the 6h Monza.
As said, Toyota completed a near perfect weekend. After topping FP1, 2 and 3, Kamui Kobayashi in the #7 took pole by 0.02s from the #8. The gap to the Alpine did not seem too big, as Vaxivière in the #36 was only 0.212s behind. But in the race, the competition was no match for the Toyota's. In the first hour the Toyota's opened up a gap towards the #94 Peugeot of about 30 seconds. In the second hour, Buemi quickly catched up to Kobayashi and the cars swapped positions after which the Swiss pulled away about 30 seconds. Both Hartley and Hirakawa did the same after Buemi, consistently pulling away, resulting in a 1.08m gap at the finish.
Initially, a battle between the #36 Alpine and the #93 and #94 Peugeot 9x8s developed, but unfortunately both 9x8s ran into (seemingly the same) technical trouble. Providing clear passage to the Alpine to claim the last podium spot.
The LMP2 race was a lot more exciting with the #31 WRT in a constant strategic battle with both JOTA-cars. First it was the #28, despite a collision and accompanying damage and repairs in lap 1. Aberdein was on fire in the first part of the race, bringing the #28 back into the lead before the end of his stint. But WRT brought the #31 in the lead with the skill they are widely known for, not only in WEC, but also GTWC: lightning fast pit stops. In the second part of the race #38, which was on a fuel saving strategy, surpassed the #28 and was the #31's closest challenger. With a quick splash and dash is the last 5 minutes of the race, Frijns managed to bring the car over the finish first.
Like Toyota, Ferrari and AF Corse had a strong and problem free weekend. Despite losing the pole quickly after the start to the #91 Porsche in the hands of Kevin Estre, James Calado in the #51 quickly reclaimed the lead, with Molina in the #71 closely following in his footsteps. During the rest of the race, the Ferrari's only had to give up the lead during the pit stops and seemingly cruised to victory. A good result for the Maranello squad after losing their home race at Monza to Chevrolet in the dying seconds. Christensen and Estre finished third at respectable distance.
Chevrolet had a difficult weekend in Japan with their C8.R, struggling for grip the whole weekend, a drive-through penalty for track limits in the race and even running out of fuel at the end of a stint, forcing the mechanics to push the car.