Toyota Gazoo Racing has claimed its first FIA World Endurance Championship victory in nearly two years, in a thrilling, down-to-the-wire Six Hours of Fuji.
Kamui Kobayshi edged out a hard-charging Audi R18 of Loic Duval by 1.439 seconds, after a fuel-only stop for the No. 6 Toyota TS050 Hybrid that put the Japanese manufacturer out front in the final hour.
Duval, who pitted with a nine-second lead, made up more than ten seconds in the closing minutes on fresh Michelin tires but was unable to get around the Toyota in the end.
It marked a monumental win for the Japanese manufacturer on home soil, its first since Bahrain 2014 and the first for ex-Formula One star Kobayshi, who shared driving duties with Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin.
Duval and co-drivers Lucas Di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis settled for second after dominating the first half of the race, in a flawless run for the No. 8 car.
The No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley finished less than 18 seconds behind in third, putting all three LMP1 manufacturers on the podium.
Sunday’s race ran caution-free, in arguably one of the hardest-fought and most competitive races in championship history.
Toyota’s sister No. 5 entry came home fourth after opting to change tires on its final stop, ahead of the championship-leading No. 2 Porsche trio of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb, which completed the top-five after struggling with handling issues.
It was another tough day for Audi, with the No. 7 car retiring with hybrid failure after Benoit Treluyer pitted the diesel-powered contender just 20 minutes complete.
The car returned to action one hour later, with the front driveshafts removed, but was deemed illegal by officials as it was outside of the car’s homologation.
G-Drive Racing claimed its long-awaited first LMP2 class victory of the season, in another late-race thriller that saw the Jota Sport-run team overcome a penalty.
Will Stevens took the No. 26 Oreca 05 Nissan across the line 1.398 seconds ahead of the No. 43 RGR Sport Ligier JS P2 Nissan of Bruno Senna in second.
Senna lost the lead with five minutes to go to Stevens, who powered by the Brazilian on the front straight, just moments after being forced to surrender the position due to a deemed illegal overtake move.
Stevens, subbing for Rene Rast, shared top class honors with Alex Brundle and Roman Rusinov.
The No. 36 Signatech Alpine A460 Nissan of Nicolas Lapierre, Gustavo Menezes and Stephane Richelmi completed the class podium in third, despite Lapierre fading in the late stages.
The No. 13 Rebellion Racing R-One AER of Dominik Kraihamer, Matheo Tuscher and Alexandre Imperatori locked up the LMP1 Privateer title with top class honors.
It came following engine failure for the No. 4 ByKolles Racing CLM P1/01 AER early in the race.
RESULTS: Six Hours of Fuji