***Audi’s rumored exit from the FIA World Endurance Championship at the end of 2017 would not affect Toyota Gazoo Racing’s future commitment to LMP1, according to TMG Vice President Pascal Vasselon. “It would not impact our decision to stay or not,” he told Sportscar365. “For sure, it would weaken the series. But I don’t think they will do it because they’re fighting so hard for the 2018 regulations.”
***Toyota has shown a return to form this weekend, on home soil. Kazuki Nakajima’s pace-setting time from Free Practice 3 marked the first time the Japanese manufacturer led a session since Spa. Nakajima’s countryman, Kamui Kobayashi, recorded the quickest single lap in qualifying, a 1:23.239, but will roll off fourth based on the best two-lap average with co-driver Stephane Sarrazin.
***Ford claimed its first GTE-Pro class pole since the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and was the first for UK-based Chip Ganassi Racing squad. “That result has been a long time coming,” said WEC team principal George Howard-Chappell. “The car seems to be well suited to the Fuji track and the drivers all did an excellent job. Now what we need to do is convert this into a good result in the race tomorrow.”
***Six drivers: Ricky Taylor, Tor Graves, Oliver Jarvis, Nic Minassian, Jonny Kane and Kirill Ladygin, have been reprimanded for not slowing during a yellow in Free Practice 2, when the No.6 Toyota TS050 Hybrid stopped on track with hybrid failure.
***Paul Dalla Lana is poised to return to the WEC next year for his fifth season with Aston Martin Racing. The Canadian told Sportscar365 he plans to upgrade to a 2016-spec Vantage GTE for the GTE-Am class, which will be open to 2016 and 2015-spec machinery via Balance of Performance. He will kick off the season in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and will also make his Bathurst 12 Hour debut.
***Larbre Competition is continuing to work to field a Corvette C7.R in the GTE-Pro class next year, alongside a planned return to the GTE-Am class. The French squad has extended its deal with GM factory driver Ricky Taylor through the rest of the 2016 season, with Taylor reportedly an option for next year.
***The only clash between the WEC and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next year is in early May, with the Spa-Francorchamps round and the new IMSA headline weekend at Circuit of The Americas.
***Francois Perrodo recently tested Thiriet by TDS Racing’s Oreca 05 Nissan at Paul Ricard, with an eye to make the move up to LMP2 next year. The Frenchman currently leads the GTE-Am championship with Emmanuel Collard and Rui Aguas in a AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia GT. “I will now have to make a decision for 2017, knowing the GTE-Am track is not ruled out in view of the Ferrari 488 GTE,” Perrodo told Endurance-Info.
***No decision has been made on Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s driver lineup for next year. A team spokesperson told Sportscar365 the decision to drop Marino Franchitti from the No. 67 squad for the remainder of the season was influenced by a two-driver lineup working better than three.
***Franchitti remains contracted to Multimatic and is taking part in endurance and durability testing with the Ford GT road car, which is slated go into production by the end of the year.
***A decision has yet to be made on whether the LMP1 Privateer subclass will continue with its own classification and podium recognition next year if only a single car, the ByKolles Racing CLM P1/01 AER, takes part. “How can you make a classification for one car? It would look a bit strange. We will manage this when we know about the entries,” ACO Sporting Director Vincent Beaumesnil told Sportscar365.
***The WEC will limit teams to just one tire manufacturer change per season, following Tequila Patron ESM’s switch from Dunlops to Michelins and then back to Dunlops in the last four races. “It was not in the rules before because we never had the case of having somebody changing all the time. When we saw this could happen, we’ve adopted it for next year,” Beaumesnil told Sportscar365.
***LMP2 teams will be able to re-brand chassis next year in the new-look category, Beaumesnil said. The decision plays into the favor of Signatech-Alpine, which currently campaigns Oreca 05 Nissans branded as Alpine A460.
***Nelson Panciatici has remained contracted to Signatech-Alpine, despite having been replaced in the No. 36 Baxi DC Racing Alpine A460 Nissan by Paul-Loup Chatin for the rest of the season. “It’s not excluded that we will see him in the future, team principal Phillipe Sinault said. “He has other duties in parallel with WEC and it was difficult for him to combine the two.”
***2016-spec GTE-Pro cars will eligible for both GTE-Am and the European Le Mans Series GTE class next year. “We have the intention to reduce the performance of the new cars to keep the old cars competitive. So if you have the current Porsche or Aston Martin in Am, you’re not enforced to invest in a [upgrade] kit and spend money,” Beaumesnil said.
***A trip to Fuji Speedway is not complete without a visit to the old banking outside Turn 1 (pictured above). The circuit, built in 1965, was originally designed to be a 2.5-mile high-banked super speedway to host NASCAR-style races in Japan. However, budget issues halted the project and only a section of the 30-degree banking was completed, and used through 1974 as part of the road course.
Laurent Mercier contributed to this report