Toyota took a dominant one-two result in their home race at Fuji International Speedway yesterday, to maintain their hold on the FIA WEC championship.
They overcome the new championship power restrictions that meant other cars had greater pace over one lap but built their result based on their seasons of reliability, and their use of the slower GT cars to create gaps that the opposition were never able to close.
The start of the race was untidy, the Toyotas not running parallel to each other as they approached the start which meant first the Ginetta #5 and then Rebellion #1 had the opportunity to get ahead of the second Toyota and think about challenging for the lead. But almost immediately the race was put under safety car conditions after the GTE Am field had squabbled and collided, with Dempsey Porsche #88 the guilty party.
From the restart, Toyota #8 were able to simply drive away from the rest of the field, while Kamui Kobayashi in Toyota #7 had a short but spirited dice with Bruno Senna in Rebellion #1 during their first stints, the Toyota faster out of the many slower hairpins using their hybrid drive, and the Rebellion faster along the main straight. But once the front runners started to go through traffic, the Toyotas’ advantages soon showed, and they were never headed again.
Rebellion #1 duly took the third step on the podium, ahead of the two Ginettas that had a promising, if inconsistent, event that showed the potential of the car once a number of issues, like brake wear, are sorted.
The result means both car crews are tied on the same points in the lead of the drivers World Championship, and with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing leads the teams’ standings by 35 points from Rebellion.
In LMP2, Racing Team Nederland took a well deserved first WEC class win in only their second race with the Oreca chassis. Giedo van der Garde was responsible for the first part of the race, the former F1 driver having started the race in seventh place, but quickly fought to first place in the LMP2 class.
"It was hard to get started," admitted Van der Garde. "I started seventh, but after one lap we were already first. An amazingly good start.”
A steady stint by team owner and bronze graded driver Frits van Eerd was followed by new FIA Formula 2 champion Nyck de Vries who drove the last stint after a fuel only pitstop, but still managed to pull away from the chasing JOTA prepared and Goodyear shod #37 and #38 cars.
"When I entered after Frits, the circumstances were difficult. Half wet, half dry, but actually that was good for us, because in that phase of the race we could really save time again, and later in the race I was very strong on the dry.”
Second and third should have gone to the JOTA cars, their Goodyear tyres again proving to be a match to the Dunlops. However, following post-race scrutineering, the second placed #38 JOTA Oreca was excluded from the results as the external electrical switch failed to disconnect the power, as required in the technical regulations. Therefore, the Jackie Chan DC Racing #37 was promoted to second, with the United Autosport #22 taking the last step.
In GTE, whether in Pro or Am class, the Aston Martin Vantage AMR was the car to have.
In Pro, the #95 and #97 could only qualify in third and fifth places on the grid, but once the first hour of the race had passed, they took the lead of the class, allowing no-one else to head the class for the remainder of the race. The Dane train of Marco Sorensen and Nicki Thiim headed home the Porsche #92 of Michael Christensen and Kevin Estre, with the #97 of Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin.
And in the AM category, TF Sport achieved their first class win, plus pole position, with a well-controlled race, matching their strategy to the changing conditions at mid race.
Tom Ferrier, TF Sport Director said “I am both happy and relieved, it has been a long time coming after all of the second places and pole positions - today it went perfectly. Salih did an amazing job at the start of the race and the team were flawless in the pitstops. It was a close at one point when a couple of our rivals gained the advantage under full course yellows and we couldn’t stop at that point, but it all worked out and we brought it home for our first WEC win.”
The #83 AF Corse Ferrari had a strong run to second, with Manu Collard, Francois Perrodo and Nicklass Nielsen, are looking increasingly like a title contender this season after a mistake free run here, and the #57 Project 1 Porsche, which took pole but had its laps deleted after qualifying and started at the back, took third.
The next round takes place at the 4 hours of Shanghai on 8th-10th November.
Photos AdrenalMedia.com / Racing Team Nederland