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Fuji Post-Race Notebook

Sportscar365’s post-race news and notes from the 6 Hours of Fuji…

Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

***Toyota claimed its eighth victory from nine FIA World Endurance Championship rounds held at Fuji Speedway. The Japanese manufacturer also claimed its fourth consecutive one-two at its home WEC race.

***Victory leaves Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa tied on 121 points with Alpine’s Nicolas Lapierre, Matthieu Vaxiviere and Andre Negrao. It yields a simple premise for the world title decider at the 8 Hours of Bahrain in November.

***The No. 8 Toyota drivers now lead the championship on countback, based on their two second places to Alpine’s one this season.

***Toyota’s WEC technical director Pascal Vasselon stressed the importance of a home win for the company with its Cologne-based LMH operation. “We have so many people here – many roots of our programs in terms of products and development, marketing and funding,” he said. “It’s very important for us to perform. We win or lose, but we need to perform.”

***The race ran without a safety car or Full Course Yellow interruption. It was the first fully green WEC round since the 2016 6 Hours of Fuji when Toyota beat Audi by 1.4 seconds in a memorable LMP1 hybrid battle. The 2016 winner completed 244 laps, while the winning LMH car on Sunday completed 232 laps: a difference of 12 laps or 34 miles.

***LMP2 winner Robin Frijns revealed that his WRT Oreca 07 Gibson only had one-way radio communication for the second half of the race. The Dutchman could hear his engineer, who by contrast could not hear the driver.

***WRT put their trust in Frijns hearing their orders and the crucial information got through. “I got information all the time that the No. 38 [JOTA] was boxing quite late,” Frijns said. “They tried to extend a stint from the start of the race. So when I came out from my last lap,  I was pushing hard to make sure I was in front of them.”

***Despite missing out on the LMP2 win, JOTA drivers Antonio Felix da Costa, Will Stevens and Roberto Gonzalez left Fuji with a huge 28-point championship lead. If their nearest rivals from the No. 23 United Autosports crew score maximum points at the 8 Hours of Bahrain, the JOTA crew can still clinch the title by finishing sixth or higher.

***The only retirement from the race was the No. 77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19, which had a driveshaft failure with Sebastian Priaulx at the wheel.

***The No. 94 Peugeot 9X8 received a 60-second stop and hold penalty for exceeding its permitted amount of cumulative deployed energy. The Peugeot was given a maximum stint energy allowance of 909 megajoules for Fuji. Energy consumption is calculated using information from the car’s driveshaft torque sensors.

***Four cars were handed drive-through penalties for abusing track limits: the No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR-19, the No. 64 Chevrolet Corvette C8.R, and the GTE-Am class Ferrari 488 GTE Evos from Iron Lynx and Spirit of Race.

***Nick Tandy assessed that Fuji was Corvette Racing’s “least competitive” race of the season from a pace perspective. “Really since Friday morning, it’s been a struggle,” he said. “I think the characteristics of this track and the track surface just don’t suit our car.”

***Phil Hanson said United Autosports struggled to get performance out of its Goodyear tires in the hotter conditions. The Anglo-American team finished fifth and seventh in LMP2. Hanson noted that United was quicker on Friday’s cooler track: “The tendency has been that when it’s been cooler we’ve been strong, and when it’s been hot we haven’t been. In the race, we were just not quick enough for the first six to eight stints.”

***Toyota technical chief Vasselon felt the pace difference between the Toyotas and the other Hypercar entries was closer than the two-lap margin of victory portrayed. “Taking our best car, No. 8, and the best Peugeot and the Alpine, the pure performance gap is two to three tenths,” he offered. “The biggest difference has been tire management. In the first stint, we are not much faster. In the second stint, we are a lot faster.”

***Vasselon also identified effective traffic management and fast pit stops as other contributing factors to the Toyota one-two.

***Alpine team principal Philippe Sinault reflected that it was “hard to make a difference strategically” due to the lack of FCYs and safety cars. “Despite the frustration due to the lack of on-track action, this race was what we expected,” he said. “We knew it would be difficult to challenge the Toyotas on their home track.”

***Sharing the Alpine driver’s view, Vaxiviere said that “It was hard to fight overall. For sure we didn’t have the pace to fight. I’m not satisfied with this race, but it’s cool that we arrive in Bahrain with equal points.”

***Tire strategy was important at Fuji, as different compounds yielded different strenghts and weaknesses at different times and different points of the track. GTE-Am winner Ben Keating explained how that affected the racing in his Michelin-supplied class:

“We opted to go with a medium tire that would give us more consistency,” said the TF Sport driver. “But it wasn’t as quick at the very beginning. I had a really good start, but three or four laps later Sarah [Bovy] got around me and took off. Then, at the end of the hour, she started to come back to me. She was on full softs.”

***Keating and Marco Sorensen extended their GTE-Am lead to 20 points by winning at Fuji alongside Henrique Chaves in one of TF Sport’s European Le Mans Series chassis. NorthWest AMR’s David Pittard, Nicki Thiim and Paul Dalla Lana are their closest rivals. Dempsey-Proton’s No. 77 Porsche retiring ensured that an Aston Martin crew will clinch this season’s title.

***Alessio Rovera, Nicklas Nielsen and Francois Perrodo moved into an eight-point lead in the LMP2 Pro-Am standings after taking their third victory of the season in the classification within a class.

***GTE-Pro has spaced out slightly after three crews headed into the race separated by a single point. Fuji winners Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado will land in Bahrain with an 11-point buffer to defend from Porsche’s Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen.

***Two-time Paralympic hand-cycling gold medallist Keiko Sugiura served as the grand marshal for Sunday’s race. Sugiura, who won the women’s road race and time trial at Tokyo 2020, waved the cars off for the formation lap using a Japanese flag.

***Ferrari’s LMH car is set to hit the track again in the next couple of weeks, according to the manufacturer’s sports car racing director Antonello Coletta, who suggested that it could be carried out at a circuit outside Italy.

***ARC Bratislava will return to the WEC grid for the 8 Hours of Bahrain, the Slovakian team confirmed on Monday. Miro Konopka’s organization opted to miss Fuji due to logistical constraints.

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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