Kazuki Nakajima appeared to wipe tears from his face before becoming the primary target for champagne soaking on the podium as he rounded off a stellar weekend for him and the entire Toyota Hybrid Racing team by taking the checkered flag at the Six Hours of Fuji.
The win for Toyota – Alex Wurz and Nicolas Lapierre sharing the TS030 Hybrid with Nakajima, who had also took pole position for the race – was a wildly popular one on home soil as they again outpaced Audi in an FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) race. However, the performance for far from dominant with Audi being at least partly the architects of their own defeat.
As has been common in the second half of the WEC season the Toyota was again the fastest car, but issue of fuel mileage remained, Nakajima forced to pit for a splash and dash stop 20 minutes from the end of the race. The stop dropped him back to just five seconds ahead of the Andre Lotterer, anchoring the #1 Audi squad. Briefly, there was a glimmer that Audi could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but with the Toyota’s superior pace at his disposal Nakajima eased away to seal a second win for the Toyota program, 11 seconds the official margin of victory.
A margin large enough to make a short stop and retain the lead flattered the Toyota team a little, the race a far closer prospect in the first half of the race.
An uncharacteristically ragged stint from Lapierre threatened to give the race to Audi, the Frenchman having a run-in with the then LMGTE Pro leading Team Felbermayr-Proton Porsche, Benoit Treluyer close enough to take advantage of a minor hiccup that cost only three seconds at the start of the third hour of the race.
Lapierre’s problems were doubled when he ran wide at the final corner while trying to take back the lead, after which he settled in behind Treluyer awaiting the next scheduled stop. When it came, the shorter pit time for the TS030 – 56 seconds versus 1:20 for the Audi – delivered Lapierre into a 17 second lead that shrank initially – Treluyer reaping the benefit of the fresher tyres from the longer stop – before the Frenchman clattered into Stefan Mucke’s Aston Martin at the apex of turn ten.
The contact, which damaged the front bodywork on the Audi and spun the Aston Martin, brought first an unscheduled stop for Treluyer – another 1:44 spent in the pits – then stop go for Marcel Fassler as punishment as Treluyer was deemed to have caused the contact.
Another 36 seconds in the pits.
Without those delays it is likely that the final 20 minutes would have had a very different complexion.
Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish were very much the second best Audi once again, finishing third overall, brought onto the lead lap only by Nakajima’s splash-and-dash. The result meaning the twosome now lie 16.5 points behind their Audi teammates, a deficit that means that barring disaster in Shanghai, Lotterer, Treluyer and Fassler will collect the WEC drivers title, needing only to finish sixth in the season finale.
There will be no such last round worries for Rebellion Racing, who with another LMP1 privateers’ win for Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost sealed the LMP1 teams’ title over Strakka Racing who could only finish sixth, losing out to JRM’s David Brabham, Karun Chandhok and Peter Dumbreck for fifth place despite them making a late stop to replace the rear bodywork of the HPD ARX-03a.
Starworks Motorsports also secured their world title, Peter Baron’s team – new to ACO regulation racing this year – sealing the LMP2 title with a fighting second place behind title regular rivals ADR-Delta.
At the front of the class it was a superb display by the team of John Martin, Tor Graves and Shinji Nakano, the trio leading all by 20 laps of the 220 total completed in their class win of the season. Pecom Racing accounted to one of the other laps and Starworks for just five more but the largest supporting role went to the #32 Lotus team.
Their de facto team leader Tonio Liuzzi took the class lead on the opening lap, keeping the point for six laps in the Lola coupe before John Martin took the position. However, Luizzi remained close enough to pick up the scraps of the lead that fell down the order whenever the ADR-Delta car pitted. It was a pattern that only ended with the introduction of the team’s ‘Am’ driver Kevin Weeda in the fifth hour, the car starting to fall away from the podium places as other teams’ faster drivers began their final stints, Sarrazin, OAK Racing’s Oliver Pla and Pecom driver Pierre Kaffer bundling Weeda down to fifth place in his double stint before Liuzzi was returned to the cockpit for a difficult final hour that included contact that resulted in a mandatory stop to replace the rear bodywork after the right side legality panel had broken off.
As Weeda fell away Sarrazin fought up the order in a championship winning stint. Teammate Ryan Dalziel had been the one to take the car briefly to the head of the class – despite coming into contact with Allan McNish at turn ten with minimal damage to both machines – but the stop to put Sarrazin in the car had dropped them back down the order.
Sarrazin quickly dispatched the #26 Signatech Nissan car for third place before track down and passing Weeda, Kaffer too passing the Lotus driver to put Pecom third in class. That finishing order still would have been enough for Starworks to clinch the title, but a late drama for Pecom Racing – a flash fire during a pitstop and a brief visit to the garage guaranteed it, and gave OAK Racing the final step on the podium alongside ADR-Delta and new champions for Starworks Venezuelan driver Enzo Potolicchio completing the team.
While Starworks have secured the title, Peter Baron the kernel at the centre of a bundle of bodies in the team’s garage as celebrations began, second place is still left to fight four, Pecom Racing’s fourth place dropping them back onto the same points total as ADR-Delta for the final weekend of the year.
Despite their brush with Lapierre’s Toyota Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz won LMGTE Pro, snapping AF Corse’s sequence of wins, the advantage of the Ferrari’s superb fuel mileage pegged back for the race.
The pair won with a lap advantage in the Team Felbermayr-Proton Porsche over the AF Corse Ferrari of Gimmi Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella, Stefan Mucke and Darren Turner third for Aston Martin Racing, Turner giving up second place with a final pit visit inside of the race’s final 15 minutes.
The sister – LMGTE Am – Porsche remains in contention for the class title going into the championship finale, though Paolo Ruberti, Christian Reid and Gianluca Roda lost ground to rivals Larbre Competition finishing ‘only’ third in class. Meanwhile Julien Canal, Patrick Bornhauser and Pedro Lamy took the 25 points on offer for victory (to add to the bonus points garnered by the sister car for pole position) to extend their points lead to 20, an advantage largely down to the 50 points for their 24 Hours of Le Mans victory, an event where the Porsche squad left empty handed.
Krohn Racing – Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson and Michele Rugolo – took second place in class.
The FIA World Endurance Championship concludes on October 28 at the Chinese Grand Prix hosting track in Shanghai.