I love Japan and it’s always a pleasure to return to a place I was fortunate enough to call home in 2007, whilst racing in Japanese formula 3. Having raced at Fuji numerous times over the years, it’s a track I know very well and one I always look forward to on the WEC calendar.
As we have seen in recent years, the weather can play a huge role in the race, and this year was certainly no different!
With it being wet already in FP1, and the forecast looking like it would deteriorate over the weekend, we set about working on a wet set up. Straight away the car felt good, and having done almost no driving in an LMP2 car in the wet – except for three laps in Mexico – I was pleasantly surprised by the grip levels.
We immediately topped the times before I handed over the car to my team mates.
At the end of the session we had slipped down to P3 as the track continued to improve, but we were quietly confident with our pace. In FP2, conditions were considerably worse, and after a handful of laps we decided not to run anymore; the time my team mate had set was enough for P1.
For FP3, the track was starting to dry and we focused most our running on the intermediate tyre, but again we showed very good pace with all three drivers so we headed into qualifying very confident.
Continuing the trend of rotating the qualifying drivers, Ho-Pin and Thomas qualified the car. It was a difficult session as the conditions were constantly changing, and this meant making the right tyre call was very difficult.
Unfortunately, despite starting on the intermediate tire, we decided to pit as the rain increased but this proved to be the wrong decision, which ultimately cost us a shot at pole so we finished the session P3.
With the forecast for torrential rain in the race, we knew that it would be heavily interrupted by safety cars, and there was a real potential that it could be stopped as it had been in previous years.
This made the strategy extremely difficult, as it was important to maintain track position in case it was red flagged.
I took the start, and after managing to avoid a spinning car No. 13, I set about trying to challenge car No. 31. Having had such good testing pace I was confident that we would be strong in race conditions.
It quickly proved not to be the case, as I was struggling with a lot more understeer than we encountered in testing, and this made the car very difficult to rotate.
I tried every line possible searching for grip but the balance of the car simply wasn’t there to fight with both Senna and Lapierre. Interestingly, our sister car No. 37 was experiencing the same balance issues.
Conditions throughout the race were constantly changing, and the race was not only interrupted by a red flag but also numerous safety cars, as not only the spray increased but also the fog moved in to make conditions extremely difficult.
There were laps where it was almost impossible to see, and I would say it was the worst conditions I have ever driven in.
Despite not having the pace of Nos. 31 and 36, by the time I handed the car over to Ho-Pin after almost three hours we were still firmly in the race in P2.
Ho-Pin again struggled with the balance issues I had experienced, but we continued to fight at the front with some good strategy for the next few hours until the race was stopped just after 4.5 hours.
We were hoping that the race would get restarted as we were still confident we might be able to fight for the win or at least get ahead of No. 31. It wasn’t meant to be as the fog continued to move in and eventually the race was stopped.
P3 in tricky conditions is a strong result, but having our main competitors ahead meant that the championship fight is now down to just 10 points, so it’s going to be a real fight in the last two races!
With the team’s home race next up in Shanghai, it’s all to play for!