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Fuji Thursday Notebook

Sportscar365’s Thursday notebook from the FIA WEC paddock at Fuji Speedway…

Photo: Jose Bispo

***The FIA World Endurance Championship returns to Fuji Speedway this weekend for the first time since 2019. A visit to Japan was planned for last season but the coronavirus pandemic prompted the WEC to cancel the event and replace it with a second race in Bahrain.

***All GTE-Am cars will run on last year’s specification tire following a request from Michelin to the WEC. Michelin’s request stated that “due to significant perturbation at the Groupe Michelin production plants, Michelin has no other options than to supply to the entire GTE-Am category with the 2021 specification for the 6 Hours of Fuji.”

***Team Project 1 was not penalized for its late driver change after Brendan Iribe stepped out of the No. 56 Porsche 911 RSR-19 at short notice. According to a stewards’ report, the American was in close contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19. It was earlier described as a “family matter” by a member of the Inception Racing program that Iribe funds.

***Renger van der Zande said that it feels “amazing” to race to Japan and highlighted the passion of the local fans. “Some guy chased me in the airport to sign a box full of model cars that I drove,” the Dutchman told Sportscar365 ahead of his WEC cameo with Vector Sport. “He was waiting for all the WEC people. I can’t wait to see the racing here.”

***Peugeot’s sports car racing program is competing in Japan for the first time in 30 years. Its last Japanese appearance came at the 1992 Suzuka 1000km, which Derek Warwick and Yannick Dalmas won sharing that year’s World Sportscar Championship title-winning Peugeot 905. The LMP1-generation Peugeot 908 never raced in Japan, with all of its Asian outings coming in China.

***Toyota will take a decision on whether it will enact team orders between its cars “according to circumstance” during the race, according to technical director Pascal Vasselon. The No. 8 crew is second in the championship, 20 points ahead of their teammates in the No. 7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid. “We never plan in advance; we decide during the race,” said Vasselon. “You can have so many different circumstances that you can’t anticipate it.”

***Vasselon added that Fuji plays to the characteristics of the lighter Alpine LMP1 car, rather than the LMH machinery from Toyota and Peugeot. “With the LMH cars, we are all in the same performance ballpark and profile,” he said. “The devil will be in the details. It is difficult to tell if one car will be suited or not. The Alpine is very different and this track layout where sectors two and three are largely influenced by downforce. Clearly it is a circuit that favors the Alpine.”

***Prema team principal Rene Rosin described his team’s recent European Le Mans Series victory at Barcelona as a “catalyst and a motivator” for the sister WEC program, which has yet to register a victory in its debut season. Prema leads the ELMS standings having won three races so far, but sits fourth in WEC after four events.

***Vector Sport and GR Racing are situated in a separate garage block compared to the rest of the field. The two British squads are positioned closest to pit exit. Vector and GR have filed a joint entry for the next Le Mans Virtual Series and have been co-organizing some aspects of their logistics this season.

***Team WRT is racing at Fuji for the first time as an LMP2 outfit, however its predecessor DTM program competed at the venue in 2019 for the joint DTM-Super GT ‘Dream Race’. “We had quite a good result with Ben Treluyer,” said team principal Vincent Vosse. “He came a bit from nowhere and we were fighting in the lead. We don’t want to come from nowhere now, but we just have to put everything together.”

***Vosse hopes that WRT will be able to assist with some of BMW’s LMDh tests later this year. “Obviously we will be involved in the testing from 2023,” he said. “But to know the car and to be involved, and to be aware of issues or whatever, it will be a good thing to be part of some testing this year. But this is not something that is fixed or is in my hands.”

***A group of schoolchildren from Senpukugaoka Elementary School spent the day at Fuji Speedway and got to meet several WEC drivers during their visit.

***Toyota’s drivers geared up for the manufacturer’s home race by trying the popular traditional Japanese board game ‘shogi’ alongside some professional players.

***The Toyota lineup was also present at last weekend’s 5 Hours of Motegi Super Taikyu round, where they took part in a fun time trial competition with Toyota President Akio Toyoda. The laps took place in a hydrogen-powered Corolla and a GRMN Yaris.

***Almost 50 drivers are racing at Fuji for the first time this weekend. Only two of the drivers competing – Porsche stalwarts Richard Lietz and Christian Ried – have appeared in all eight Fuji WEC races to date.

***A preliminary 40-team entry list for the next Le Mans Virtual Series season has been released. Notable entrants include Porsche, Mercedes-AMG, BMW and Ferrari, as well as several high-profile sim racing outfits. A Vanwall-badged entry from LMH constructor ByKolles is also present. ByKolles has been trying to get a Vanwall-badged LMH car on the real-world WEC grid.

***Driver lineups for the 2022-23 Le Mans Virtual Series will be revealed on Monday. 10 more entries are expected to join for the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual on January 14-15.

***The WEC’s last visit to Fuji did not include any support series, however this time around touring cars and single-seaters are on the undercard. TCR Japan has two races on the bill, while Formula Regional Japanese Championship is staging a triple-header round.

***A recent calendar update from FIA WTCR confirmed that the global touring car series will support the WEC season-ending 8 Hours of Bahrain in November. Race 1 will take place on the Friday, while the second race will be held on the morning of the WEC race on the Saturday.

***Scrutineering for the 6 Hours of Fuji took place on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Track action begins on Friday with a 90-minute opening Free Practice session starting at 11 a.m. (10 p.m. Thursday ET). Free Practice 2 takes place at 3:30 p.m. (2:30 a.m. ET).

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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