Analysis: FIA World Endurance Championship – 6 Hours of Fuji

by Alice Holloway
Start of the 6 Hours of Fuji, WEC 2019

The FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Fuji was the first time the new LMP1 Success Ballast was trialled, and it became the talking point of the weekend that over shadowed everything else.

Trying to bridge the gap between the LMP1 hybrids and privateers, the FIA devised a Success Ballast system that would see time penalties per lap added to cars, altered depending on their championship standings. In theory, this seemed like a good way to control the competition between the cars and try and keep the championship alive between Toyota Gazoo Racing and the privateer teams.

However, since creating a slightly complex calculation to determine how much pace should be taken from the cars in LMP1, many alterations were made before it was even put into action. At the Prologue, the correction factor was set at 0.006 seconds but by time the first round of the championship came around it had already increased to 0.008. It was a shock to discover, ahead of first practice at Fuji, that correction factor had once again increased, now to a more effective 0.012.

This had the biggest effect on the Silverstone-winning #7 Toyota, with the drivers claiming the Success Ballast made them powerless to fight against the sister car, which is why the #8 had such an easy six-hour race. The biggest issue we noticed at TheCheckeredFlag, however, was that the additional time per lap both Toyotas had did little to bring the privateers in with a chance of challenging for the lead.

Even the heavily hindered #7 finished two laps up on the fastest non-hybrid, meaning that all the Success Ballast achieved in Japan was separating the two Toyotas, and removing any form of battle in LMP1. This will certainly need to be reviewed ahead of Shanghai next month.

Both Toyotas will be in the same position come Shanghai, having achieved the same results as each other over the last two races so now sitting on the same points in the championship. The 4 Hours of Shanghai should be another reference point for the FIA to see if this system will actually work or if it needs a big rethink.

#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing in the pit lane at Fuji Speedway, WEC, 2019
Credit: FIA World Endurance Championship

With the late disqualification of the #38 JOTA Sport, the LMP2 championship has had a big mix up from the results in Silverstone. Regular podium dwellers #29 Racing Team Nederlands have had a strong opening two races, and their consistency along with their maiden WEC victory in Japan has put them at the top of the pecking order.

The disqualification also aided Silverstone-winners Cool Racing, who had a slightly forgettable Fuji race. Promoting them to fifth didn’t push them any further up the championship order, but it gave the duo of Nicolas Lapierre and Antonin Borga a stronger second-place position and brought them closer to the Dutch duo of Frits van Eerd and Giedo van der Garde leading the LMP2 standings.

The Jackie Chan DC Racing car sits third in the championship, the highest-placed trio of drivers as Will Stevens, Gabriel Aubry and Ho-Pin Tung have all competed in both of the first races. They are only four points off second-place after the altered finishing order of the 6 Hours of Fuji.

#86 Gulf Racing and #29 Racing Team Nederland on track at Fuji Speedway, WEC, 2019
Credit: FIA World Endurance Championship

The fight in GTE Pro looks to be tilting to a more Aston Martin versus Porsche battle, but Ferrari are not far behind. Only two races in and the top five are covered by just nine points, with first-placed #92 Porsche GT Team leading by one point over #95 Aston Martin Racing.

The exception is sadly the #71 AF Corse which trails by 25 points due to not finishing the 4 Hours of Silverstone. With seven races to go, the championship looks likely to keep us on the edge of our seats and stay wide open until the season finale at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, Ferrari’s struggling for pace at Fuji was not a good sign for the team, and they will need to recover their pace ahead of the next round in Shanghai to keep this a three-way battle.

Aston Martin and Porsche now have a win a piece, but Porsche are just ahead in the Manufacturers’ title battle as their two second-place finishes in their second car beat Aston Martin’s two third-place finishes.

#92 Porsche GT Team on track at Fuji Speedway, WEC, 2019
Credit: FIA World Endurance Championship

The consistency of the AF Corse #83 Am trio has kept Emmanuel Collard, Nicklas Nielsen and Francois Perrodo at the top of the Am championship, even after the mega display of race craft from the TF Sport #90 crew in Fuji. Ten points separate the two, with the Ferrari-backed team not failing to finish on the podium so far this season.

The closest challengers to the front of the Am championship, sitting in third, are Olivier Beretta, Kei Cozzolino and Motoaki Ishikawa in the MR Racing #70. They are six points behind the TF Sport trio, but their finishes of third in Silverstone and fourth in Fuji put them in a strong position.

Third-place Am finishers in Fuji, and last year’s class champions, #57 Team Project 1 are still trying to recover from a poor Silverstone race. On 16 points they are a long way off the leaders, who are on 43, but one bad race from the #83 crew could see the entire class turned upside down.

#83 AF Corse leading LMP cars on track at Fuji Speedway, WEC, 2019
Credit: FIA World Endurance Championship

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