Toyota have scored one of the most bizarre 1-2 victories at the 6 Hours of Fuji despite challenging Porsche on merit amidst a backdrop of race stops and restarts due to poor race visibility. The win closing the championship to 39 points.
With light rain falling, the 6 Hours of Fuji started with numerous laps under the safety car – much like it did two years ago – but with many drivers complaining of zero visibility down the straight. At 60km/h this might be a challenge, but at 250km/h you’d want some pretty decent insurance.
When the safety car did eventually come in, as low zone was enforced from turn 15 to turn 1 to start the race in a controlled manner. When the field was allowed to get on with business, Buemi dove inside Lotterer for 2nd, removing the Porsches dive-plane and exposing Lotter to Kobayashi in the process.
The battle behind allowed Bamber to pull out a three-second lead in the number 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid, but would settle down to half that once everyone had made their own arrangements. In LMP2, Bruno Senna had bolted in the number 31 Vaillante Rebellion to lead the two Jackie Chan DC Racing entries of Alex Brundle and Oliver Jarvis.
A spin from Nelson Piquet in the second Rebellion caused a mix-up in the GTE Pro field, allowing Keita Sawa to pull an extraordinary seven second lead in the GTE Am field while the factory Porsche’s of Richard Leitz and Michael Christensen were in the top three positions, split by the number 67 Ford GT of Harry Tincknell.
Sebastien Buemi was complaining of traction issues, with the Toyota crew asking what they could do to assist in the Swiss driver’s pursuit of Bamber. The predominant issue however was traffic, with visibility lower than John Carpenter’s cinematographer. Kobayashi wasn’t fairing any better in third, now fourteen second behind the leader.
Back in LMP2, Nicolas Lapierre won an intense arm wrestle with Alex Brundle to seize 2nd in class, however with visibility getting worse, Race Director Eduardo Freitas enforced a yellow flag zone on the main straight. This was communicated to drivers on the radio as seeing the flags was an issue in itself!
Lotterer was now enjoying more grip than Kobayashi, who was struggling to apply power in the TS050 Hybrid. Despite dome robust defence from the Japanese driver, Lotterer was able to slot the number 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid into third place.
With precipitation reaching overload and low cloud encroaching fast at the 1 hour mark, the safety car was brought out to bring a little sanity to proceedings. As such most took the opportunity to gain a free pit, stop for fresh wets while the LMP2 field would require extra fuel regardless. Lotterer would take the opportunity to change a front nose due to the damage sustained during his first-lap battle with Buemi.
Twenty minutes later and the race was red-flagged and the field would reassemble on the main straight to await further instruction – or the good grace of Mount Fuji-San.
The pit-stops allowed Matthia Lauda, who had not yet pitted, to gain an unexpected GTE Am lead in the number 98 Aston Martin and should the race not restart, a potential victory. After thirty minutes, the field was given the all clear to restart – primarily due to the better drainage from 2013 where only fifteen laps were completed.
As the safety car peeled off, leader Earl Bamber took the opportunity to pit whilst the slow zone was still enacted on the main straight, this left Stefan Mucke’ number 66 LM GTE Pro Ford effectively leading the queue. Mucke and the number 51 Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi would resume their battle for the lead in that class, with Guidi briefly scything down the inside of the Ford but having to hand back the place after going off track.
Up front, Nakajima and Lopez were doing the business for Toyota after the race stoppage with Porsche having been penalised heavily in the process. Neel Jani was now 40 seconds off the leader with the sister Porsche of Timo Bernhard struggling with rear grip and some three seconds off the ultimate pace. Within a few laps, Nakajima had lapped Bernhard to inflict some more psychological damage on the current World Championship leader.
The number 25 Manor of Simon Trummer was the first real victim of the race, spinning into the tyre wall at Turn 15 and sustaining frontal damage, however the team would get the car repaired and turned around in record time. At the same time the number 37 Jackie Chan DC Racing entry of Alex Brundle was in the garage for repairs for a potential battery issue.
Visibility would once again force a safety car and give Toyota a chance to change the steering wheel on the number 7, TS050, the wheel seemingly not to Jose Maria Lopez’s approval. At the restart, Nakajima wasted no time in getting the hammer down to maintain his nineteen second lead over Nick Tandy in the number 2 Porsche.
Poor visibility and a few on track incidents would plague the remainder of the race; the first being a huge off for Matthias Beche in the number 13 Rebellion entry which saw the Oreca clip the barriers end-to-end and bring out another safety car incident. Not long after, the number 76 Ford and number 92 Porsche would shake up the LM GTE Pro order after having a coming together.
The final nail would however come in the form of another red flag period due to poor visibility – Kazuki Nakajima one who doubted the race should be restarted. The race leader may have had a vested interest, but to be fair, conditions were the worst they’d been all day when drivers such as Sam Bird were already questioning continuing.
Most expected to be called at 75% distance with full race points awarded. However, with ten minutes left on the clock, race control called for a restart – startling those who’d already made their way to the car park for the trip back to Gotemba.
They needn’t have bothered, with fog once again rolling in and cancelling the restart. All being equal, the race was won by the number 7 TS050 Hybrid of Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and the returning Anthony Davidson. It would be a 1-2 for Toyota, being backed up by Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez. Third was the number 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Nick Tandy.
LMP2 was won by the number 31 Vaillante Rebellion of Nicolas Prost and Bruno Senna, followed by the number 36 Signatech Alpine of Nicolas Lapierre and Andrea Nagrao. Third was Mighty 38 Jackie Chan DC entry of Ho Pin Tung and Oliver Jarvis.
In LM GTE Pro, AF Corse struck back to seal victory in the hands of James Calado Alessandro Pier Guidi ahead of the number 91 and 92 Porsches of Fred Mackoweicki/Richard Leitz and Kevin Estre/Michael Christensen.
Miguel Molina, Thomas Flohr and Franceco Castellacci took LM TE Am honours in the Spirit of Race Ferrari ahead of Matt Griffin/Keita Sawa/Weng Sun Mok and the Dempsey Proton entry of Marvin Dienst and Christian Ried.
Images: Adrenal Media/FIAWEC
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