A lot of the fans were hoping for a little more to come from the 6 Hours of Fuji on the weekend, but weather dictated a different outcome. The should-have-been six-hour race ended up only lasting about three and a half after rain and fog put multiple delays on the seventh round of the World Endurance Championship. However, the weather did extend some championship battles to at least the next race when they were assumed to be wrapped up by now, whilst throwing some into complete disarray as certain teams could not contend with the bizarre weather from the Fuji Speedway.
Brendon Hartley, Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber were on course to take both the Driver’s World Endurance Championship and the Manufacturers’ for Porsche in Japan, which would have been a big fallout for Toyota Gazoo Racing who were at their home race. However, when it came to race day the wet weather, that Porsche appeared to have mastered over the two days previous, became too much for the #2 team and they had to fight to finish fourth. Both Bernhard and Hartley complained to the team about handling issues on their 919 Hybrid, with Bernhard suggesting that maybe the cooler track conditions made it difficult for them to get heat into the tyres therefore causing handling issues for them. Bamber could not comment on the issue as the shorter race time meant he did not climb into the cockpit.
Porsche #2 still have a considerable advantage over the chasing #8 Toyota team, and so long as they finish ahead of the #8 in Shanghai they will take both championships. The only thing that Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima can do to stop the Porsche crew and take the championship battle to the final round in Bahrain is to win the race and take pole position, with the #2 finishing fourth. Anthony Davidson is no longer in contention for the Drivers’ championship as he missed the 6 Hours of COTA for personal reasons, falling 15 points back from his team mates.
Another victory for the #31 Vaillante Rebellion team sees Bruno Senna and Julien Canal only ten points behind LMP2-class leaders Oliver Jarvis, Thomas Laurent and Ho-Pin Tung with 52 still available to score before the season ends. Rebellion and Jackie Chan DC Racing had been the two cars to watch through the race after they had blown away the competition in qualifying, locking out the front two rows.
Signatech Alpine had been making good strong progress in the race, chasing down the #31 for the lead when the premature chequered flag stopped proceedings. Leaving them a competitive second place puts Gustavo Menezes exactly 25 points off the third-place finishing #38. A race victory from the strong #36 team of Nicolas Lapierre, Menezes and Andre Negrao and a DNF for the LMP2 Trophy leaders could see Menezes jump to the lead of the class.
If the #38 Jackie Chan car can keep up the competitiveness that they have shown throughout the season then the LMP2 title is surely theirs. The only possible way that the #38 trio could take the LMP2 title in Shanghai is if they won and took pole position, the #31 Rebellion came sixth. If the #38 wins, it does not matter where the #36 finishes as it will be too far adrift to have a mathematical chance at the championship.
It all went wrong for Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell who suffered many problems in the Japanese race, leaving them to finish at the back of the Pro grid and scoring just half a point. With the AF Corse ’51 taking their second win in a row, this poor result from the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car sees them drop to fifth in the championship, whilst James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi become the new GT Drivers’ World Endurance Championship leaders.
But it is not over yet. Still the GT Drivers’ championship is as close as it could be, and even with their poor performance the #67 is only a second-place finish off the lead of the championship. A second-place finish for the Frederic Makowiecki/Richard Lietz #91 Porsche has brought them back to second in the championship, just five points behind the new leaders. David Rigon sits third in the title hunt, 15 points behind the sister car with his team mate Sam Bird in fourth half a point behind the Italian.
The GTE Pro class is probably the closest championship fight still going. With the top five covered by 18 points and the top ten still mathematically in range of being able to take the championship it can be assured that the GTE Pro battle will not be decided until the 6 Hours of Bahrain.
The Pro class may be close, but nothing is as close as the lead battle in Am. A bad race for Aston Martin reflected a bad race for the #98 Aston Martin Racing trio. They went into the 6 Hours of Fuji having just retaken the championship lead from #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing and left back behind them, by a single point. The Dempsey team made good of a difficult race, managing to take the bottom step of the podium behind the two dominating Ferraris to secure their return to the top of the Am leader board. The trio of Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda will be hoping Aston can find their footing again in Shanghai as they will push hard to get the championship back.
A great performance on the weekend sees the #61 Clearwater Racing team securely in third, just six points off the lead of the Am class. the #54 Spirit of Race car may have taken the race win, but their inconsistent performance through the season so far sees them only fourth on 94 points. They remain with a small mathematical chance of taking the championship, but it would call for two perfect weekends to finish off the season.
Whilst the LMP1 battles may be over after next race, the three other classes look to be taking this to the wire. As the end draws closer, teams will be putting everything on the line to secure championships and class victories. Make sure not to miss a second of the conclusion to the 2017 World Endurance Championship.