As had been the case all weekend, the rain played a major part in the 2017 6 Hours of Fuji for the seventh round of this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship. Toyota Gazoo Racing were finally able to break Porsche‘s winning streak by taking their first victory in five races. The championship-contending #8 managed to close down on the leading #2 Porsche with a victory whilst the Porsche ended up a lap down in fourth.
Bruno Senna got the #31 Vaillante Rebellion to the front of the LMP2 pack in the early stages in the race. Nicolas Lapierre was catching in the #36 Signatech Alpine but the shortened race time saw the Rebellion take the honours. It was a day of luck all the way down the field as the #51 AF Corse of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi that started sixth in class came through the pack to take victory. A double Ferrari victory came in the GTE classes as the #54 Spirit of Race car took the Am win.
It was a messy and chaotic race from the green flag as rain and fog had descended on the track. The weather was always going to be a contributing factor in the race, and it turned out to be the most deciding matter of the sic-hour endurance event. The race got underway behind the safety car as the heavy rain and low cloud made conditions not idea. Four laps after the race had begun, the safety car pulled into the pits and wheel-to-wheel action was allowed.
Class pole sitter, #13 Rebellion, had a spin going into Turn One as the green flag dropped, causing the rest of the grid behind to be forced into evasive action. Luckily no one hit the ORECA 07/Gibson that was fairly invisible with the spray being kicked up from the other cars racing around the track.
Porsche suffered a pace deficit in the rain, with the German cars struggling to keep ahead of the Toyota duo. It was not long before the Toyota’s were in the lead and Porsche were struggling to keep up. Andre Lotterer, Neel Jani and Nick Tandy kept them honest on their home track, but the team that just needed to beat the #8 to win the 2017 championship could not stay on their tail, suffering handling issues and trouble getting heat into their tyres.
#8 were due another pit stop which would have brought the LMP1 foursome closer together on track, but the second red flag of the day – due to weather conditions – and the ultimate early end of the race meant Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima took the home victory with a big margin.
Two red flags, five safety car periods and one virtual safety car had seen massive delays to the 6 Hours of Fuji, but because over 70% of racing duration had been completed before the final red flag (occurring with 90 minutes of track time left) full points were awarded to each team. Because of this, the championship battle rolls forward to the penultimate round of the season in Shanghai.
After the poor start of the sister car, the #31 Rebellion in the hands of Senna and Nicolas Prost lead most of the session that was in green flag conditions. As with a lot of the cars this race, only two of the three drivers actually got into the cockpit of the car because of the limited racing time. The WEC rules state that, in these circumstances, even drivers who have not driven will be awarded race points. This means that Julien Canal is still in the fight for the LMP2 trophy along with his team-mates who took victory today.
Prost had a 15 second advantage on the chasing #36 Signatech when the second red flag came out and ended the race early. But the #31 had been the car to beat from the opening laps, where Senna made a great start and began gradually extending a lead whilst contending with the tricky track conditions. The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing team were still hovering in the background and finished third to keep Rebellion’s points gain on them as small as possible.
The Porsches clearly did not like the wet weather conditions on the track today as even the GT cars struggled. Calado and Pier Guidi made excellent work of moving through the field and were able to take the lead of the class of the #92 Porsche GT Team. From there, the duo began ending out a lead on the Porsche, protecting them at the end of the race when there was a chance the last ten minutes on the clock were going to be raced. That was aborted when worse weather conditions fell over the track again. The bottom step of the podium was awarded to the second #91 Porsche.
The day went horribly wrong for pre-race GT points leaders in the #67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK car. Initially falling down the order to fifth, they ultimately ended up eighth and at the back of the class. Andy Priaulx was handed a one-minute stop/go for running a red light in the pit lane which dropped them out of contention. Trying to recover, he later received a puncture from contact with Kevin Estre in the #91 that sent him into the barriers. With the GT Pro championship being so close, Priaulx and team mate Harry Tincknell no longer lead the class, and have two races left to recover their poor performance from today.
Ferrari topped both GTE classes as the AF Corse-run Spirit of Race Ferrari took their first win of the season. It was a close fight between the two Ferrari-running teams, with the pass for the lead being made during what turned out to be the final pit stops. After being waved off the starting grid by co-team owner Patrick Dempsey, the Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche brought home the good to finish third and take the last spot on the podium.
The #98 Aston Martin Racing was the last to take the ‘chequered flag’, as the #67 failed to finish, whilst the #13 Rebellion and #37 Jackie Chan cars were disqualified from the race.