Toyota Reign Supreme in Fuji

by Alice Holloway
Toyota Gazoo Racing podium at Fuji Speedway

In arguably one of the easiest wins for Toyota Gazoo Racing in their FIA World Endurance Championship career, the #8 in the hands of Brendon Hartley, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima cruised to the finish line with a 40-second lead over the sister car, taking their first win as a trio.

Talk from Toyota all weekend has been about the Success Ballast and how it has made the home race for the #7 crew very difficult. This was made clear when, throughout the race, the #8 car was able to maintain a strong 40-second lead over the #7. So much so, that even when the #8 was handed a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane, it was able to get back out on track with a 25-second lead – a lead that grew to 40-seconds again by time the chequered flag fell.

The biggest issue with the Success Ballast is that it did not seem to do what it is intended to do: bring the privateer-non-hybrid cars into the fight with Toyota. Within two hours the Toyota pair had put a lap on third-placed Rebellion Racing, and by the end of the race the two cars were two laps down. Even with Rebellion’s pace advantages in the Success Ballast, there was still nothing they could do.

It all went wrong for Team LNT during the six-hour event. Due to failing to set two laps and produce an aggregated lap time in qualifying, the #6 started at the back and it wasn’t set to get any better for the British team. Suffering a rear puncture during the race and being hit with a six-minute stop/go penalty for exceeding their tyre allocation had them 14 laps down on the rest of the LMP1 cars at the end of the race.

The #6 only finished fourth due to problems suffered by the sister #5 car. With Ben Hanley on board, a brake failure saw the team pushing the car back into the garage. It was a quick turn around for them, only losing 16 minutes for the repairs, but this calculated to 16 laps on track, leaving them with nothing to do but hope for other cars to have issues as they chased the chequered flag.

Rebellion Racing #1 on track at Fuji Speedway, leading an LMP2 and the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing, 2019
Credit: FIA World Endurance Championship

All eyes were on the newly-crowned Formula 2 champion as Nyck de Vries had a stunning final stint to take the #29 Racing Team Nederland to their first WEC LMP2 class victory. Starting seventh on the grid didn’t make the win the easiest feat for the trio of Dutch drivers but Giedo van der Garde, Frits van Eerd and de Vries pushed hard to get the victory they’ve been chasing for over a year.

van der Garde and van Eerd did a great job to get the car through the pack and traffic so de Vries hit the track class fourth, with 90 seconds to the leaders.

The battle for the lead of LMP2 had been between the two JOTA cars – #37 Jackie Chan DC Racing and #38 JOTA Sport. When de Vries took over the car with just under two hours to go, it looked like the gap was too big for him to overcome.

Anthony Davidson was on the charge in P2, putting pressure on Ho-Pin Tung who was at the helm of the #37. He managed to make the pass on Tung, taking what he believed was net first in the final round of pit stops, but little did he know de Vries had been wrestling the #29 car around the circuit to abolish the 90-second lead the battling duo had over him.

Making just a splash and dash for his final stop with 25 minutes on the clock, de Vries appeared out of the pit lane 6 seconds ahead of Davidson. There wasn’t enough time or pace in the #38 JOTA car for Davidson to be able to do anything about it.

The #37 Jackie Chan car settled for third on the podium, but it ended up being a lap down on the leading pair after an engine issue made their last hour of racing very nerve wracking.

Aston Martin Racing #97 leading the class-leading #95 Aston Martin on track at Fuji Speedway
Credit: FIA World Endurance Championship

The Dane Train made it a win a-piece for the Aston Martin Racing duos in the new Vantage, by securing victory at the 6 Hours of Fuji. Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen started third on the grid, and the first half of the race became a battle of the Aston Martins.

Starting ahead, the #95 had the advantage as the duo of green cars began climbing through the order. At the first round of stops it was an Aston Martin one-two, and a split strategy saw the #97 of Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin leading the class.

Their pace was good, but with fresher tyres it didn’t take long for the #95 to get back ahead of the sister car and start asserting its lead over the rest of the pack. Porsche GT Team and AF Corse continued to squabble behind them, but the Aston Martins just looked to be uncatchable.

The pair continued to trade placed throughout the third hour, but the #92 Porsche of Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen managed to get between them and claimed second place. After what was a forgettable qualifying for the #92 duo, it was a great recovery drive to see them up on the podium. Their consecutive second-place finishes puts them at the top of the GTE Drivers’ Championship.

Ferrari seemed to fade in the race, struggling for pace and being caught out with the weather around the three hour mark. A brief rain shower brought out the Full Course Yellow, which Ferrari did not optimise and pit their cars. This lost them time when they did come to take their next stops, making it too large of a gap for them to close to the cars in front.

The pole-sitting Porsche crossed the line two laps down on the rest of the GTE Pro field, suffering from a drive-through penalty for abusing track limits.

Jonny Adam, Salih Yoluç and Charlie Eastwood on the podium, Fuji Speeday, 2019
Credit: FIA World Endurance Championship

The #90 TF Sport showed the pace it had been shining with on Friday to secure their first win of the season and its maiden WEC victory. The rapid pace of Salih Yoluc, Charlie Eastwood and Jonny Adam left them with a 42-second advantage on the Silverstone-winning #83 AF Corse for a lights-to-flag win.

Ben Keating, Felipe Fraga and Jeroen Bleekemolen in the #57 Team Project 1 were disqualified from qualifying after it was discovered in Parc Ferme that there was an issue with the door fixing screw, which put the #90 on pole. They raced hard and got the car back to third in class to take the last step of the podium.

It was another disappointing day for the works Aston Martin Am #98 who were taken out of the race before it even started. Local driver Satoshi Hoshino took the #98 out with his Dempsey-Proton Racing #88 in the first lap, getting it wrong going through Turn 10. Both cars made it to the end of the race, but the #88 Dempsey car was 36 laps down and the damaged #98 finished 46 laps off the leaders, about 22 laps off the class winners.

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