This weekend sees the field converging at the classic Japanese circuit of Fuji International Speedway, for round 2 of Season 8 of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
It has proved to be a happy hunting ground for the Toyota Gazoo Racing team, having won every event held there since the start of the WEC in 2012, with the exception of the 2015 event when Porsche took the spoils. And, on paper, it may well be a case of business as usual for the #7 and #8 squads.
However, this weekend also marks the first time of use of the Success Handicap to slow the leading championship contenders, in addition to the existing Equivalence of Technology. This will be achieved through a combination of a reduction in the allowed hybrid energy per lap, and the allowed fuel flow rate on track, plus a fuel fill restriction at the pit stops.
So following the first round at Silverstone in August, the #7 Toyota TS050 crew of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, who took maximum points in Great Britain following an exciting four-hour battle at the front, will have incurred the maximum success handicap of 1.4secs per lap, while Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley in the #8 car are penalised by one second per lap.
Hisatake Murata, Team President said “It is always a pleasure to race at Fuji Speedway in front of our home fans and this year is even more special, as we will be competing with the TS050 HYBRID for the last time in Japan. I am sure we will again see a big crowd to enjoy this occasion and I expect they will see an interesting race, particularly because everyone in LMP1 is experiencing the success handicap system for the first time”.
Third in the LMP1 standings is the #5 Team LNT’s Ginetta G60-LT-P1 AER which receives a 0.66 second per lap adjustment, while the #6 car receives no adjustment at all. The crew line-ups for the two cars are changed, with Charlie Robertson moving from the #5 to the #6 car, taking the place of Oliver Jarvis who has moved to the LMP2 #22 United Autosport car to cover for regular driver Paul di Resta (DTM commitments). This has allowed Italian F2 driver Luca Ghiotto to make his competition debut, having tested the Ginetta at the prologue in July.
The final LMP1 squad is the #1 Rebellion Racing team which for Japan receives a tiny 0.03 second per lap adjustment, and a new colour scheme for the rest of the season of red, black and white/grey. However, the second car seen at Silverstone for the #3 squad is now not likely to re-appear until the Belgium round at Spa next April.
For LMP2, the class leaders after round 1, Cool Racing are unchanged and will be looking to build on their successful WEC debut last time out. The status of third driver Alexandre Coigny is not known at present, a pelvic injury suffered during the ELMS race at Silverstone keeping him out of the car the following day, but he has been listed on the official entry list to take his place if fit enough.
The remaining driver changes for the remaining cars are the Oliver Jarvis substitution for the #22 car, new crowned Formula 2 champion Nick de Vries returning to the Racing Team Nederland’s #29 squad at the expense of Job van Uitert, and the return after a rib injury of Anthony Davidson in the #38 JOTA Sport team.
Porsche were all dominant in the results in the LMGTE Pro class after Silverstone, their 1-2 finish securing the points, but while a small class of just 6 cars, the infighting that went on between the AF Corse Ferrari’s, the Aston Martin Racing Vantage’s and Porsche’s new 911 RSR -19 led to some prolonged and exciting racing. Expect more of the same in Japan.
Finally, in LMGTE Am, Francois Perrodo enjoyed a special day at Silverstone, in the #83 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo he shares with Emmanuel Collard and Nicklas Neilsen, in getting his first win for three years. Stepping back from two seasons of LMP2 racing with TDS Racing, he returned to GT racing to win first time out.
“It was hard to keep up with the leaders in the first stint but Manu did a great job in the rain. Then Nicklas [Nielsen], who is our new silver driver, is brutally fast...full stop!”
The results show they scored a class victory by one lap; however, second to ninth places were all scored just one lap less, so expect another titanic battle between the Ferrari, Aston Martin and Porsche teams.
The final element that might further bring confusion to everyone’s order is Japan’s notoriously unpredictable weather at this time of year. Past races have been affected by monsoon rain, mist and fog which has left Race Director Eduardo Freitas with the difficult decisions of calling race decisions as the conditions changed, and with Typhoon Mitag forecast to arrive during this week, racing could once again be at the mercy of the elements.
Let us hope racing will be the winner this time!