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CALADO: Fuji Frustration

James Calado files his latest Sportscar365 column following Six Hours of Fuji…

Photo: MPS Agency

It’s fair to say we headed to Japan quite optimistic for a good result – especially following on from our win at Silverstone and as we had been pretty dominant in the wet at Fuji Speedway last year – and that makes the race’s outcome even more disappointing for Ferrari.

The race was taken away from us through an unfortunate set of circumstances and we ended up 4th which is frustrating, although we at least managed to score some good points.

It was good to be going racing again and the 6 Hours of Fuji was the half way point in this long Super Season.

It’s a very traditional race track, with high speed corners, one of the longest straights we race on outside Le Mans but overall it’s one of the shorter tracks on the calendar and very technical.

It’s always an action-packed event and the fans are just nuts! They are amazingly enthusiastic, super polite and follow rules like you’d probably never see fans do in Europe.

They come in their thousands in all shapes and sizes and make us all feel like real rock stars…us Ferrari drivers got as much cheering at a restaurant in the local town, Gotemba, as Fernando Alonso did! There are quite a few though who are, well, just a bit nuts.

Alessandro [Pier Guidi, James’ team mate on the No. 51 488 GTE] and I had a difficult Friday in Free Practice as we were on a different set up to Sam and Davide in the No. 71 sister AF Corse car.

We struggled for pace compared to the other car and the tire we expected to work didn’t, so we did a complete change in approach and went into qualifying with a bit of a ‘blind’ set up.

That worked pretty well and we knew we were there or thereabouts, confident we’d got the edge on our competitors on race pace. We qualified P6 but there was a second covering the top 8 so it was always going to be close.

It was wet on race morning, but thankfully not nearly as bad as in previous years and the damp conditions weren’t due to last. We got a good start and were quickly up to P3 so then I was just chilling in the car, knowing that when it dried out we had the pace to get past our rivals.

But it wasn’t to be our day. What are the odds of getting a puncture and a safety car coming out at same time? Whatever they are, this is what happened to us.

Just under 30 minutes into the race, we dived into the pits to change the tire as one of the GTE-Am Ferraris had a tire let go in the biggest way possible and he ended up in the barriers.

The safety car came out, the pits were closed and I had to sit in front of the red light at pit exit which lost us a lap, dropped us to P10 and destroyed our race.

That’s motorsport though, and there was nothing any of us could have done about it. We weren’t really sure what to do, whether to stay on slicks or wets, it was one of those 50/50 decisions as the track was drying but there was still a little rain about.

We decided we had nothing to lose so stayed on slicks and that ultimately gained us some places, especially compared to the Aston Martins which stayed on wets.

It was then a question of damage limitation, and quali lap after quali lap for the next 5 hours! We had a great battle with Ford, and were flat chat for the whole race but didn’t get the reward we wanted.

There’s nothing more disappointing than knowing you’ve got the pace, but not getting the result you want. We did fight back well though to P4 and clearly showed that we were quick which was positive going forward to Shanghai. Let’s hope the dancing dragon treats us better than the Rising Sun…

James Calado (@caladojames) is a Ferrari factory driver and the 2017 WEC GTE World Champion, driving for AF Corse in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

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