Toyota claimed a memorable victory in front of a huge home crowd at the Fuji round of the World Endurance Championship.
The #6 TS050 Hybrid driven by Stephane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi crossed the line just 1.439 seconds ahead of the best of the Audi R18s.
It was the closest green flag finish in the history of the WEC, and the second closest overall following the 6 Hours of Sao Paulo in 2014 which required a safety car.
Toyota’s first WEC race victory in nearly two years was hallmarked by excellent reliability and a clever strategy gamble at the final round of pit stops.
The Toyota had been trailing the #8 Audi of Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loic Duval for much of the six hour contest, but the decision by the Japanese team to double stint its final set of tyres proved crucial.
Audi carried out a full service on its final stop, meaning Toyota saved around 15 seconds by not changing tyres.
That brought Kobayashi out into the lead of the race, with Duval close behind on newer rubber.
Despite losing grip and getting caught in traffic, the Japanese driver managed to keep the Audi at bay and take Toyota’s first WEC race win of the season.
It was also the first overall victory for Kobayashi, while Conway and Sarrazin were both part of the lineup that claimed the marque’s previous victory at the 2014 6 Hours of Bahrain.
Completing the podium was the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid driven by Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley.
Webber finished 17 seconds down on the winning Toyota in another solid points result for the reigning world champions.
Their Porsche had been in contention throughout the middle portion of the race – running second to the lead Audi – but when Toyota short-fuelled its #6 car during the penultimate round of pit stops the 919 dropped down to third.
Fourth place went to the sister Toyota shared by Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, which wound up 53 seconds down at the finish.
Completing the top five was the #2 Porsche of Marc Lieb, Neel Jani and Romain Dumas. The championship leaders struggled for pace all weekend, and were unable to mount a serious podium challenge.
In sixth was the Rebellion Racing privateer entry, which benefited from early problems to Audi’s #7 car.
Benoit Treluyer was running well during his opening stint when his MGU hybrid system failed in the first hour. Audi brought the car back into the pits for lengthy repairs, but any hopes of a points finish were dashed when the driveshaft needed changing.
Audi Sport boss Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich later said that had his team sent the repaired car back out, it would not have conformed to the WEC’s LMP1 regulations and so would have been disqualified by the race organisers.
In LMP2, G-Drive Racing won a thrilling two-way fight against the Mexican RGR Sport squad which was only decided in the final 10 minutes.
Roman Rusinov, Alex Brundle and stand-in Will Stevens claimed the Jota-run outfit’s first win of the season (despite taking five pole positions) thanks to a bold move by Stevens near the end of the race.
Stevens had initially been penalised for an off-limits overtake on Bruno Senna which saw the G-Drive ORECA squeezed against the pit wall, but when the tyres began to fade on Senna’s Ligier the British ex-Formula One driver fought back to retake the place.
Stevens ultimately crossed the line 1.398 seconds ahead of Senna, who shared the RGR car with Ricardo Gonzalez and Filipe Albuquerque.
Third place went to the Signatech Alpine trio of Nicolas Lapierre, Stephane Richelmi and Gustavo Menezes.
Completing the top five in LMP2 were the two Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligiers. Series débutants Giedo van der Garde, Sean Gelael and Antonio Giovinazzi impressed on their debut to take fourth, with Giovinazzi engaging in a brilliant dogfight with Albuquerque in the first hour.
GTE-Pro was dominated by the two Chip Ganassi-entered Ford GTs, with Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell taking the spoils.
It marked Priaulx’s maiden win in the WEC, and Tincknell’s first since the 6 Hours of Spa in 2015.
Tincknell inherited the lead from the sister Ford of Olivier Pla and Stefan Mucke during the second half of the race. A spin for Pla allowed the Briton to sneak past and stay in front until the chequered flag.
Third and fourth went to the two AF Corse-run Ferrari 488s, both of which could provide no answer to the pace of the Fords.
Aston Martin Racing wound up fifth and sixth, although Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen still hold the lead in the World Endurance Cup for GT drivers.
The Vantages struggled all weekend to match the pace of their turbocharged rivals, following a pre-race balance of performance ruling which reduced the size of their air restrictors and added a rear gurney to each car.
Aston Martin did have reason to celebrate in GTE-Am, however, as Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda scooped their fourth win of the campaign ahead of the points leading AF Corse Ferrari 458.