Alpine driver Nicolas Lapierre has described the French team’s approach to this weekend’s 6 Hours of Fuji as “damage limitation” considering it does not expect to challenge Toyota Gazoo Racing for the win.
Lapierre, Matthieu Vaxiviere and Andre Negrao lead the FIA World Endurance Championship by 10 points, but their LMP1-spec Alpine A480 Gibson was off the pace in the Free Practice sessions at Fuji Speedway.
Its title rival Toyota Gazoo Racing was the quickest Hypercar competitor in the buildup, with the No. 8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid leading two sessions.
No. 8 Toyota drivers Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Ryo Hirakawa are the Alpine trio’s closest rivals in the championship with two rounds to go.
Alpine received a power reduction in the Balance of Performance for Fuji, while the LMH cars from Toyota and Peugeot got an 18 kg weight break.
It is understood that the BoP change was made to address the fact that the Fuji circuit layout is better suited to the Alpine, which is lighter and has higher downforce levels.
“It’s been OK,” Lapierre told Sportscar365 regarding the team’s start to the event.
“It’s our first time here with this car so we are checking a few things including tires. The conditions are changing because the temperature is raising, so it’s a bit tricky.
“We are not going to fight with the Toyota for sure, but we want to be as close as possible.
“With the Peugeot, it’s hard to see. They have been really up and down and have done some good sectors, but never put it all together. So let’s see what the race brings.
“We are missing 15-20 km/h of top speed compared with the Toyota, which is quite a lot.
“The Toyota is super strong in the last sector, which we didn’t expect. We thought we could catch them a bit there, but it’s not the case.
“We need to have a strong race and do damage limitation on the points.”
Lapierre acknowledged that the tight and twisty final two-thirds of the Fuji track should have suited the Alpine but wouldn’t comment on whether he felt the BoP tweak was excessive due to the Toyota apparently being stronger there.
“There has been quite a big change compared to Monza,” he said.
“We have what we have, and we have to fight with it. At Monza, we were better in the corners and slower in top speed. But it was a close fight in terms of performance.
“Here it’s a different story. They are stronger in the third sector where we expected to be better. I guess the weight loss helped them quite a lot there.
“We don’t want to focus on the BoP; we just have to do what we can with our car.
“We are still ahead in the championship. For sure it’s going to be tough. If you look at Bahrain, it will suit them much better because it’s mostly straight-line and power.
“We want to do the best we have with our car. Maybe Peugeot comes into the fight as well so it will be a bit mixed up, but our expectations are much lower than before.”
Toyota Crew Stress Need for Fuji Victory
Hartley and Buemi have both said that the No. 8 Toyota needs to win the 6 Hours of Fuji and leave the Japanese circuit with the championship lead, as the title battle hots up.
Toyota is used to entering the season finale with the upper hand: the last time one of its crews left the penultimate round without a points lead to defend was in 2017.
“We’re 10 points behind in the championship so we really need to beat them,” said Hartley.
“We really need to be ahead of Alpine to have a good chance [in Bahrain].
“The victory becomes more important because you open up the points even more.”
Buemi shared the New Zealander’s sentiments: “Even though Bahrain is more points, we still need to beat them.
“And you never know what will happen to the BoP. Maybe they change it, and Peugeot becomes very strong and gets a 1-2, so the big points are taken and you fight for [lower positions].
“The gap between the points gets less and less. We need to finish ahead of them.
“We had a few technical issues in Monza, also car No. 7 at Le Mans and our car at Spa.
“We feel like we understood quite a few of those issues and we feel we have sorted them out. But we don’t feel 150 percent confident that nothing will happen.”