Kazuki Nakajima starred in Toyota Hybrid Racing’s victory at the Six Hours of Fuji, taking the team’s second win in this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). In doing so he became the first Japanese driver to win a FIA World Championship since – fittingly – Hitoshi Ogawa won the 1992 World Sportscar Championship race at Monza driving a Toyota TS010.
“What a day!,” said Nakajima, who ensured that teammate Alex Wurz started from pole position by setting the best time in qualifying. “It is a great achievement and it was a team effort so many thanks to my team-mates and the team, who prepared a great car, as well as everybody at Toyota who prepared such an impressive hybrid system. We all achieved this together. To win a world championship race as a driver has been my aim for my whole career so it is a great day. The crowd was fantastic; it was great to see so many Toyota flags in the grandstands. I was so excited in the last few laps. I was getting the message from my engineer to push hard because I had to make a gap for our last pit stop, so it was quite challenging. I was pushing like crazy and finally we just made it.”
Nakajima took advantage of a stumble for the rival Audi squad to escape a close battle for the top spot with the championship leaders in the final two hours of the race, using the performance advantage of the Toyota TS030 Hybrid to pull out a large enough lead that he could afford a late ‘splash-and-dash’ pitstop and remain in the lead to score the victory.
Wurz had started the car, pulling into a narrow lead over the two Audi R18 in the race, but never fully escaped, Toyota’s second driver Nicolas Lapierre scrapping with the lead Audi, losing the lead after clashing with a slower car in the WEC field. However, the team’s decision to double-stint Lapierre on the same set of Michelin tyres allowed him to retake the lead. A collision between the chasing R18 and a GT car caused a double delay – a pitstop of repairs, then a penalty – for the Audi while the safety car period that followed set-up Nakajima’s charge to the checkered flag just a few kilometres from the TS030’s hybrid system is developed.
“It is a great result for us,” said Lapierre. “It was an exciting race which is good for the championship and all the fans who came to Fuji Speedway today. It was a tight fight with Audi. For my part of the race we decided to double-stint the tyres so we could make up some time. It worked well and we got to the front, then I tried to control the gap even if the tyres were a bit old. It worked because at the end I had a little margin.”
“We knew at the end we had to take an extra pit stop so Kazuki had to push really hard, which he did very well. We are very happy to win here. Since the beginning of the year everyone has been speaking about how important this Fuji race is for Toyota and we made it.”
“Since the beginning of this programme I have looked forward to the Six Hours of Fuji and always I targeted victory,” admitted team president Yoshiaki Kinoshita. “To have such an exciting race and win in front of our home fans is a very special feeling. The whole team performed really well and stayed focused despite the extra pressures of our home race. Alex, Nico and Kazuki fought for the whole race and I very proud of them, particularly Kazuki because he was not in Sao Paulo to enjoy our first win.”
“The whole team has been overwhelmed by the wonderful atmosphere generated by the Japanese fans; thank you so much for the support. I am also pleased to see that this weekend has already established the Six Hours of Fuji as a real highlight in the WEC calendar. Fuji Speedway deserves big congratulations for organising such a fantastic event.”