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Fuji Weekend Notebook

Sportscar365’s news & notes from round four of the FIA World Endurance Championship…

Photo: MPS Agency

***The FIA World Motor Sport Council indicated that progress is being made on the proposed ‘Hypercar’ technical regulations for the 2020-21 World Endurance Championship season. A statement from the Council, which met Friday in Paris, said “details” of the new rulebook “were approved”.

***An estimation of the required budgets was also presented “with a view to allowing both manufacturers and private entries to be competitive within the defined financial framework.”

***The 2019-20 calendar was given the official go-ahead after being issued in August, with the Sebring event still remaining to-be-confirmed and dependent on the outcome of next year’s shared event with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

***The popular Fuji ‘circuit safari’ returned (pictured above) after a successful introduction last year. Spectators boarded motor coaches and were treated to the sights and sounds of WEC cars up-close in a live, un-timed session held just before FP3.

***ACO president Pierre Fillon presented Signatech Alpine with its 24 Hours of Le Mans winners’ trophy on Friday. Nicolas Lapierre, Pierre Thiriet and Andre Negrao were confirmed as LMP2 victors after an appeal against the post-race disqualification of the No. 26 G-Drive crew was rejected.

***Weng Sun Mok will retire from racing after next month’s 6 Hours of Shanghai. Endurance-info reports that the Clearwater Racing driver, 57, is set to be replaced for Sebring, Spa and Le Mans, while Keita Sawa and Matt Griffin are understood to be staying on with the program.

***In a Facebook post, Mok said: “These 13 years have been extremely rewarding, but it is time to end the hunt for this world championship. I will not stop driving, but it will only be occasionally, for fun.”

***Former tennis ace Kimiko Date will serve as this weekend’s official starter. The triple Grand Slam semi-finalist and four-time Japanese Open champion, who retired last year, is set to wave the field off on its formation lap.

***In what has become a tradition at Fuji, a group of local schoolchildren visited the circuit on a special field trip. The 10 and 11-year olds from Meirin Elementary School in Oyama were given a tour of the paddock, while a lucky few got to pose questions to the likes of Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Giancarlo Fisichella in Friday’s driver press conference.

***Alonso is racing at Fuji Speedway for the first time since 2008 when he won that year’s Japanese Grand Prix with Renault. Friday practice, which the Spaniard led, marked a decade to the day that he took the win which was to be his last with the French team.

***Button, meanwhile, has already competed at the circuit twice this year in Super GT. “I’m enjoying being here with an LMP1 car as it’s really interesting to have that comparison in terms of the times and where you gain and lose time,” he said.

***As part of its home race activities, Toyota Gazoo Racing held a fan event on Wednesday which involved all six of its LMP1 drivers taking part in an online simulator race against each other.

***Toyota has won on five of the championship’s six visits to Fuji. The 2.8-mile course is one of three venues where all of the Japanese manufacturer’s LMP1 cars – the TS030, TS040 and TS050 – have taken a victory, with the other being Shanghai and Bahrain.

***2018-19 debutant BMW is the only manufacturer not to have won the GTE-Pro class at Fuji before with Porsche, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Ford all previously reaching the top step of the podium. Ferrari is the most successful of the group with three wins in 2014, 2015 and 2017.

***Friday’s practice sessions were repeatedly interrupted by red flag stoppages because the ‘banana curbs’ located around the track kept coming loose. This resulted in a significant loss of track time, although some of it was reclaimed through the extension of FP3 from a 60-minute session to 90 minutes.

***The extension was facilitated by this weekend’s schedule, which is not particularly tight. Only the Japanese Formula 3 Championship is supporting the WEC with two races.

***Three drivers are making their WEC debuts at Fuji. Bronze-rated Satoshi Hoshino, who drove a Flying Lizard Audi R8 LMS GT3 in the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona, helped put the No. 88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR on pole in GTE-Am.

***Additionally, Porsche Carrera Cup Germany champion and factory junior Thomas Preining is set for his first appearance with Gulf Racing, while James Allen is making his WEC and LMP1 debut with DragonSpeed.

***Aston Martin Racing managing director John Gaw said the new-generation Vantage GTE’s first-ever WEC pole was “hugely satisfying” to watch. “We knew from the numbers that it was always possible, but until you do it they are just numbers,” he said. “It just takes the team on now to another level.”

***However, sources have suggested that Aston Martin and BMW, which qualified second, may struggle with tire wear over the race based on trends from practice.

***Stefan Muecke offered an explanation for the No. 66 Ford GT’s lack of pace in qualifying, after it lapped ninth in GTE-Pro: “The track conditions changed a bit for qualifying as the temperature dropped a little. We struggled with understeer and just couldn’t get the tires switched on. This means it’s easy to fall prey to track limits penalties so we both had lap times deleted during that session.”

***Rebellion Racing changed the engine of its No. 3 car between FP3 on Saturday morning and qualifying in the afternoon.

***The final round of the Le Mans eSports series will take place during Sunday’s race. A two-hour contest between 10 of the Asia-Pacific region’s best gamers and the two fastest fans from an on-site competition will decide who qualifies for the Super Final held at the 24 Hours of Le Mans next June.

***Velocity is showing parts of the race live, including the opening stint from 9:30 p.m – 11 p.m  EDT on Saturday night and the closing stages from 3 a.m – 4:30 a.m on Sunday morning. Motor Trend on Demand will also carry live coverage.

***Eurosport is broadcasting the final 90 minutes of the race, starting at 7:30 a.m. BST, with English service commentary on Eurosport 1 UK and International provided by Mark Cole and Tom Gaynor. Click here for full international TV listings.

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365 and e-racing365, with a focus on the FIA World Endurance Championship and various electric racing series.

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