Preview: FIA 2018/19 World Endurance Championship – 6 Hours of Fuji

5 Mins read
At the halfway mark of the 2018/19 WEC 'Super Season', 34 cars are prepared to battle at the Japanese Fuji Speedway this weekend.
Credit: FIA World Endurance Championship

Marking the halfway point of the 2018/19 FIA World Endurance Championship, the 6 Hours of Fuji is the fourth round of the eight races to feature in the one-off ‘Super Season’. Two months have nearly passed since the last round at British track Silverstone, so it is needless to say that everyone is ready for the return of the endurance grid. In those two months that have gone by, multiple changes have been made to the field up and down the paddock, with 34 cars taking to the track this weekend.

#38 Jackie Chan DC Racing in the pit lane

Credit: FIA World Endurance Championship

After looking like they were set to clean sweep the full WEC season with 1-2 finishes, Toyota Gazoo Racing will be looking to perform strong a their home race around Fuji Speedway. Their disqualification from the 6 Hours of Silverstone has broken Fernando Alonso‘s clean sheet in the WEC, but after a flawless 24 Hours of Le Mans dominance back in June, the Spanish two-time Formula One Champion still looks set to add another World Title to his name, along with team mates Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima.

The biggest news to affect the LMP1 grid was the withdrawal of not one, but both Ginettas ahead of round four of this year’s WEC, with Manor Racing walking away from the project altogether. Off the back of losing Manor, Ginetta have still not officially confirmed taking over the team, and have now caused more concerns over their future in the series, dropping out of their third race this season. Ginetta’s track record is highly concerning, with them only having competed at Le Mans so far. The team remain on the provisional entry list for the last round of 2018, 6 Hours of Shanghai, but whether they will take part in their first six-hour race of this season remains to be seen. The Checkered Flag will deliver more updates on the Ginetta situation as it unfolds.

A new Equivalency of Technology has been announced ahead of the Japanese race, after approval from Toyota. The Japanese championship leaders will have more weight added onto their car and lose their lap stint advantage for their home race. The WEC, FIA and Automobile Club de l’Ouest have made a move to try and bring the Hybrid cars and Privateer cars closer competitively on track. The six-hour endurance race on Sunday will reveal if positive steps have been made in this area.

Of all the LMP cars, only the LMP1 #10 DragonSpeed will be running a duo of drivers. Ben Hanley and James Allen will be sharing the duties in the car, as third driver Matevos Isaakyan, who was absent from the last race at Silverstone, will join Stephane Sarrazin and Egor Orudzhev in the #11 SMP Racing. This will mark Allen’s international racing debut, making his first endurance appearance outside the European Le Mans Series.

Signatech Alpine had their Le Mans victory upheld in the two month break between the races, after waiting for the appeal submitted by G-Drive Racing to be cleared. G-Drive were found to be using an illegal fuel rig at the 24-hour event, which led to both of their entries being disqualified. This lost the #26 – that had a very dominant race – the prestigious victory.

This keeps the French team ahead in the LMP2 Endurance Trophy standings, with 72 points, but their closest rivals are nipping at their heels. Having won both six-hour events that have run so far this season, the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing trio sit only four points behind the class Le Mans winners. This class is still wide open in terms of who will take the title at next year’s Le Mans, as only 26 points separates the top four. The additional points won at Le Mans, compared to the standard 25-18-15 points system for the six-hour events, has had a very small impact on the championship standings.

Patriotic fans will be pleased to see Keiko Ihara returning to the WEC for the first time since 2014. The Japanese driver will race in front of his home crowd with the LMP2 Larbre Competition #50. Joining Erwin Creed and Romano Ricci in the cockpit of the sole-running Ligier, the team will be hoping for a strong race.

With a new BoP set for this weekend, could change be coming in the GTE classes?

Credit: FIA World Endurance Championship

The first alterations to the automated BoP have come into action for the GTE cars this weekend. BMW, Ford and Porsche have all seen weight and boost changes come their way ahead of this weekend’s race, with BMW MTEK Team the biggest winners, getting a large weight break and additional boost. Ferrari and Aston Martin have been missed from this round of BoP alterations due to the fact they both received a ‘black ball’ rule alteration at Silverstone. This puts them on a different BoP cycle to the rest of the class, as the automated system needs two six-hour events to calculate a fair average. It is expected that the Italian and British teams will exclusively have BoP alterations for the race in Shanghai next month.

Although Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK have been the dominant team and looked to be the ones to beat, it is Porsche GT Team‘s #92 leads the World Endurance GTE Drivers’ Championship. Their Le Mans victory in the Pink Pig sees them 14 points clear of the #66 Ford, whilst the top-performing AF Corse #51 sits 27.5 points further back, 13.5 points behind the Ford.

BoP has been a big talking point in the first half of the season, with Aston Martin, BMW and Ferrari feeling that the automated system hurts contenders coming in with new cars (Ferrari’s 488 this season is an evolution on last seasons, meaning that it technically falls under the description of a new car as it is different enough from last year’s challenger). With BMW looped into the most recent BoP alteration, this is the first time it will really be clear if the automated system will work in bringing in new constructors and allowing them to battle competitively in the field.

This weekend could have the attention of a lot of other GT manufacturers. The start of the season has not been the easiest for BMW, with their highest placed car, #81 driven by Martin Tomczyk and Nicky Catsburg, 14th in the GTE Drivers’ Championship with 17 points. However, if the WEC can show that the new automated BoP does work this weekend, and BMW can battle fairly with the rest of the grid, that could be the reassurance other car companies need to want a slice of the WEC action.

Still buzzing from their Le Mans class victory, Christian Ried, Julien Andlauer and Matt Campbell will be chasing their third consecutive win this season in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche. They have a very strong position in the GTE Am Endurance Trophy standings, holding 33 points over Clearwater Racing. Their form and performance has been faultless in the last two rounds of the championship, and if they can keep this performance up it will be very difficult for anyone to stop them claiming the class title that they so nearly took in 2017.

The final additional driver to the field for the 6 Hours of Fuji is another home favourite. Satoshi Hoshino will be climbing onboard the second Proton Competition car, #88, with co-drivers Giorgio Roda and Matteo Cairoli. Hoshino has a lot of experience with the 911 Porsche as a Porsche expert in Asia, and should have the home crowd cheering the team on.

Racing action commences at 03:00 BST on Friday 12th October with the first practice session. Qualifying is at the early time of 06:00 BST on Saturday, whilst lights go out for the 6 Hours of Fuji at the unsociable hour of 03:00 BST on Sunday the 14th. Let The Checkered Flag be your source of updates throughout the weekend as we bring you the latest news from the Endurance paddock.

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The Checkered Flag’s correspondent for the FIA World Endurance Championship. Working in motorsport as a hobby and as a professional, Alice is a freelance digital communications manager, video editor and graphic designer at OrbitSphere. She also runs and manages her own YouTube channel - Circuit The World - with videos on gaming, travel, motorsports and reviews.
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