Toyota defeats Porsche, but can it win the championship?

As it’s almost always the case in the shadow of Fuji-san, there was rain and fog all through last weekend when the FIA WEC visited the former Formula One venue for its six-hour-long race. This prompted multiple interruptions and luck-favored the local stars. Fellow Moto GP fans will understand how us, endurance racing devotees, felt this weekend because they too endured a rain-soaked Japanese GP. For us, it was an important weekend because Porsche was virtually on the cusp of becoming World Champion with another win at Fuji. Toyota needed to win — and would have liked even more a one-two — to keep mathematical hopes alive with two more races left to run, in Shanghai and Bahrain.

This race was also important as many people thought that, being at home, Toyota might feel encouraged to make an announcement on their future in the WEC. As we know, Porsche will cut short their involvement at the end of this season, electing not to take part in the upcoming "super season." This will leave Toyota, if they choose to continue, as the only works hybrid LMP1 entrant — Peugeot choosing not to join the ranks of P1 in 2019 as they look forward to ramping up their Global RX presence.

Continue reading for the full story.

Uncertain Future for the Prototype Class

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Gazoo Racing is working on the 2018 model but isn’t looking at a departure from the 2017 version

Indeed, Toyota officials did not leave everyone hanging completely although not definitive answer was given either. The team’s technical director, Pascal Vasselon, stated that they can easily halt the program which means they don’t have a due date for their announcement. The waiting card is being played by Toyota because the FIA and the ACO haven’t made it particularly clear how will the P1-H and the (former) P1-L cars will be “balanced” next year and beyond.

What we know thus far is that the privateer petrol-only cars (the former P1-L namely) will be much closer to the P1-H machinery, although the hybrids will retain their efficiency advantage. Vasselon also said that, with no decision having been taken, team Gazoo Racing is currently working on the 2018 model but isn’t looking at a departure from the concept showcased in 2017 because they will be the only ones with a hybrid anyway.

Qualifying

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The 20 minutes of qualifying for the LMP1 runners were marked by deteriorating weather

The ominous skies never left Fuji Speedway so everybody had to brace themselves for tough conditions come qualifying. The 20 minutes of qualifying for the LMP1 runners were marked by deteriorating weather. That meant that the quickest times were locked in early, with Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley managing the best average – a 1:35.160 aboard the No. 2 Porsche 919. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Porsche’s No. 1 car followed suite qualifying second with an average just 0,071 seconds slower than that of the polesitters. Toyota’s two TS050s were third and fourth overall with the No. 8 just 0,195 seconds behind. The No. 7 was a more sorry sight as it went on to start from fourth after being over 1,5 seconds slower than the No.2 Porsche.

In similar fashion to Porsche, Vaillante Rebellion Racing was quickest in the LMP2 class storming to 1st and 2nd in the junior prototype category. It was the first time that the No. 13 ORECA of David Heinemeier-Hansson and Nelson Piquet Jr. took pole, thanks to a 1:44.196 average lap time. It bettered the No. 31’s average by 0,729 seconds. Championship leaders Thomas Laurent and Ho Pin Tung were third quickest in the No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car.

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In similar fashion to Porsche, Vaillante Rebellion Racing was quickest in the LMP2 class

1:47.577 was the quickest two-driver average in GTE-Pro and it belonged to the crew of the No. 91 Porsche 991 GTE, Fred Makowiecki and Richard Lietz. It’s no anomaly to see Porsche reign supreme in the wet so Ford weren’t all that bummed to see their No. 67 pushed to second on the grid, a mere 0,441 seconds back. It’s worth noting that the No. 28 LMP car of TDS Racing was actually slower than the GTE-Pro pole sitter! Behind the Ford and the Porsche were the sister Ford, the No. 71 Ferrari and the No. 92 Porsche which scored the team’s first pole in 2017. Aston-Martin saw its cars qualify at the back of the field while the No. 51 Ferrari was last because it gambled longer on the intermediate tire compound than the No. 71.

Clearwater Racing was quickest in GTE-AM thanks to Mok Weng Sun’s and Matt Griffin’s efforts who managed a combined time of 1:409.408 in the No. 61 Ferrari 488 GTE. Championship leders Marvin Dienst and Matteo Cairoli, this time running in a pink-instead-of-blue livery to raise awareness to breast cancer, were second. The race got underway with rain falling – as it almost always did throughout the weekend – so that meant it wasn’t a proper get-away, rather a safety car start. That situation lasted for the first four laps before the pack was released. There was, though, a slow-zone on the longer-than-life start/finish straight but that was also lifted after another lap.

LMP1

After seven laps had been completed, Porsche was in the lead thanks to Earl Bamber aboard the No. 2 919

After seven laps had been completed, Porsche was in the lead thanks to Earl Bamber aboard the No. 2 919. The Le Mans winner managed to ease away from Sebastien Buemi in the No. 8 as the No. 1 Porsche dropped to fourth overall after contact with the Swiss’ Toy(b)ota. The Japanese outfit was expected to be close or even quicker than the their German rivals in wet conditions and this was somewhat the case with the No. 8 particularly keeping up with the 919s, although Bamber pitted for his first stop from a 12-seconds lead. Sonn after that was ticked away, the second safety car period began, just before the end of hour number 1.

The race continued, at reduced pace however due to the everlasting rain and foggy conditions, until it did no more. The fog got progressively worse and race director Eduardo Freitas called for a red flag early into the second hour. It lasted 33 minutes and the restart was again done with the aid of the safety car, green flags being waved with four hours and nine minutes left. At that point in time, Toyota’s No. 8 car led the sister No. 7 thanks to the way the pit stops worked out. That’s because the No. 2 Porsche had to pit for it decided to remain on track as the red flags were flown.

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The fog got progressively worse and race director Eduardo Freitas called for a red flag early in the second hour

The somewhat unusual situation here was that the time continued to tick away even under red flag conditions, effectively shortening the actual race. This meant that there was the possibility of the teams only being given 50% of the points if it would have been permanently stopped before it had reached 75% of its duration. Happily, this wasn’t the case and the race cars only encountered one extra safety car period before breaching into the second half. The No. 8 Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima had almost 45 seconds worth of lead over the No. 1 Porsche while Jose-Maria Lopez was third in the trouble-hit No. 7. The car’s wiper malfunctioned which caused a blinded Kamui Kobayashi to leave the island. The event pushed Team Gazoo Racing to change the TS050s steering wheel at the pit stop that followed.

Toyota’s luck turned around late in the race with the advent of the second red flag. This was called by race control with one hour and 40 minutes left on the clock, also for fog. The tricky thing on this occasion was that there was so much inconsistency with this element of nature – sometimes you could see almost all the way to turn one while other times you could barely see 10-15 feet in front of you, and sometimes this change occurred within a few laps.

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The No. 8 car of Nakajima, Buemim and Anthony Davidson finished ahead of the No. 7 sister car

That’s why this second red flag period was never lifted, although Freitas tried to restart the race for a 10-minutes shootout but it was already getting wetter, besides being foggy as per usual. Once more due to the pit stops cycles Toyota was in front when the red flag was waved and so they wounded up on the winner’s podium. The No. 8 car of Nakajima, Buemi and Anthony Davidson (who, on his return to the tea, didn’t even get to turn a wheel in the race) finished ahead of the sister No. 7.

This was Toyota’s third win of the year and it keeps both the drivers’and manufacturer’s titles alive, at least mathematically speaking. It also occurred on the third occasion that a WEC race was shortened due to bad weather, one of the two others taking place at Fuji as well. This is because the race is put in a period of generally treacherous weather in the Japanese area – although last year there was no rain.

Porsche finished third and fourth after a troubled run. The No. 1 car came back up the order after contact with Buemi made Lotterer lose time. The champion car of last year finished third ahead of the championship-leading No. 2 which was fourth after Timo Bernhard lost a lap due to dismal pace and a misjudged green flag pit stop.

LMP1 Results

Pos No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Buemi / Davidson / Nakajima Toyota TS050 - Hybrid 113
2 7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Conway / Kobayashi / Lopez Toyota TS050 - Hybrid 113
3 1 Porsche LMP Team Jani / Lotterer / Tandy Porsche 919 Hybrid 113
4 2 Porsche LMP Team Bernhard / Bamber / Hartley Porsche 919 Hybrid 112

LMP2

The No. 31 ORECA led a dominant performance from Bart Hayden’s outfit which was close to a 1-2 at a certain point

Nico Prost, Bruno Senna and Julien Canal were first in line when the second and last red flag was shown and thus won the junior prototype division. The No. 31 ORECA led a dominant performance from Bart Hayden’s outfit which was close to a 1-2 at a certain point. The championship-leading No. 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing car had to settle for third, which minimizes ever so slightly their advantage at the top of the standings. It’s notable that both Julien Canal Thomas Laurent, their crews’ respective silver rated drivers did not actually drive in the event but are poised to get the points earned by their team-mates due to the circumstances.

Second place in the P2 class went to Signatech-Alpine. The No. 36 Alpine A470 of Gustavo Menezes, Nicolas Lapierre and Andre Negrao managed to claw their way back to the front after a difficult start. TDS Racing had their honor reinstated after the poor qualifying session with a fourth place finish in class for Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Matthieu Vaxiviere. Fifth in class was the Manor car No. 24 of Matt Rao, Ben Hanley and Jean-Eric Vergne.

Top 5 LMP2 Results

Pos No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 31 Vaillante Rebellion Canal / Prost / Senna Oreca 07 - Gibson 110
2 36 Signatech Alpine Matmut Lapierre / Menezes / Negrao Alpine A470 - Gibson 110
3 38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Tung / Jarvis / Laurent Oreca 07 - Gibson 110
4 28 TDS Racing Perrodo / Vaxiviere / Collard Oreca 07 - Gibson 110
5 24 CEFC Manor TRS Racing Rao / Hanley / Vergne Oreca 07 - Gibson 110

GTE-Pro

The No. 51 AF Corse drivers scored back to back wins and take over the lead in the driver’s title chase

James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi found themselves at the sharp end of the Pro field when the race was interrupted (never to be resumed) with less than two hours left to go. The No. 51 AF Corse drivers thus scored back to back wins and take over the lead in the driver’s title chase. That’s also thanks to a frustrating race for former championship leader, Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx. The Ford drivers first received a drive-through penalty. After that early offense, Priaulx found himself overwhelmed by the conditions and had to offs aboard the No. 67 which ultimately was scored eight (and last) in class. The two Britons head to China third in the standings.

Pole sitters Lietz and Makowiecki finished second for Porsche Team Manthey. The second 991 GTE finished third in a what-could-have-been race for the Germans that even led early with the No. 91. The Aston-Martins never dialed in their Dunlops in the wet conditions and in sixth and seventh, behind the No. 51 in fifth and the No. 66 in fourth.

Top 5 LMGTE Pro Results

Pos No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 51 AF Corse Calado / Pier Guidi Ferrari 488 GTE 109
2 91 Porsche GT Team Lietz / Makowiecki Porsche 911 RSR 109
3 92 Porsche GT Team Christensen / Estre Porsche 911 RSR 109
4 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Mucke / Pla Ford GT 109
5 71 AF Corse Rigon / Bird Ferrari 488 GTE 109

GTE-Am

Miguel Molina, Thomas Flohr and Francesco Castellacci combined for their first win in the 2017 FIA WEC season

Miguel Molina, Thomas Flohr and Francesco Castellacci combined for their first win in the 2017 FIA WEC season. It could have been a hotly contested race win if not for the interruptions as the No. 54 Spirit of Race crew was battling hard with the pole-sitting No. 61 Clearwater Racing entry. The two identical 488s were clearly better in the wet conditions than the rear-engined Porsche 991 No. 77 of Dempsey Proton Racing which completed the podium.

The other Porsche in GTE-AM, that of Gulf Racing UK, came home fourth. It showed that not even the GTE-Am crew could get the wet weather Dunlops to work on the aging Vantage V8. The No. 98 of Dalla-Lana, Lamy and Lauda had to be happy they did not bin the car and will live to race two more times in an attempt to turn their season around and claim that elusive title.

LMGTE Am Results

Pos No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 54 Spirit of Race Flohr / Castellacci / Molina Ferrari 488 GTE 107
2 61 Clearwater Racing Mok / Sawa / Griffin Ferrari 488 GTE 107
3 77 Dempsey - Proton Racing Ried / Cairoli / Dienst Porsche 911 RSR (991) 107
4 86 Gulf Racing UK Hedlund / Barker / Foster Porsche 911 RSR (991) 106
5 98 Aston Martin Racing Dalla Lana / Lamy / Lauda Aston Martin V8 Vantage 105

Full Results

Check out the full results from Fuji.

http://fiawec.alkamelsystems.com/Results/07_2017/07_FUJI%20SPEEDWAY/203_FIA%20WEC/201710151100_Race/Hour%206/05_Classification_Race_Hour%206.PDF

What’s Next?

Up next are the Six Hours of Shanghai in the first weekend of November. Toyota somehow must produce a massive upset and beat Porsche, in spite of an inferior high downforce package, to push the fight for the titles into the Bahrain final. As unlikely as this seems from an armchair, the WEC is known for its unpredictability so the odd curveball shouldn’t surprise anyone.

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