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FIA WEC: 6 Hours of Fuji – Toyota scores home race 1-2; Ihara on LMP2 podium

Halfway through the race the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia driven by Gianmaria Bruni led GTE Pro ahead of Davide Rigon in the #71 sister car. Fernando Rees ran third just 6 sec behind the Ferraris in the #99 Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8. The #95 Aston and David Heinemeier-Hansson led GTE Am.

Toyota was 1-2 at its home circuit, the #8 Toyota Racing TS040 Hybrid driven by Sebastien Buemi just over 10 sec ahead of the #7 and Alexander Wurz.  The #20 Team Porsche 919 Hybrid ran third by just 32 sec, Timo Bernhard behind the wheel. The Porsches were initially double-stinting their tires, but time lost in the second half of the initial try caused them to abandon the strategy and instead follow the single-stint approach used by both Toyota and Audi.

The #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan and Julien Canal led LMP2 by 52 sec over Matthew Howson in the #47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan.

The #51 and #99 traded the GTE Pro lead on pit cycles as the race progressed. But with 90 min to go it was still Ferrari 1-2, Bruni in front of Rigon. Aston Martin held down the top two spot in GTE Am, Kristian Poulson now in the #95 leading Paul Dalla Lana in the #98.

In LMP2 the #35 OAK Racing Morgan-Judd driven by Japanese female Keiko Ihara took advantage of a 90-sec penalty on Sergey Zlobin and the #27 SMP Racing Oreca-Nissan for a pit land speed violation to move into third in class. The G-Drive Ligier continued to run out front, 47 sec in front of Richard Bradley and KCMG.

With one scheduled pit stop left Buemi led Kazuki Nakajima as Toyota remained in front. Third place, however, had shifted to Tom Kristensen in the #1 Audi Sport Team Joest R18 e-tron quattro who passed the #14 Porsche and Romain Dumas for the position when they suffered short-lived electrical difficulties.

In the end, the #8 Toyota took its third victory of the year (Silverstone and Spa), 25.627 sec ahead of the #7. The win extended Buemi and Anthony Davidson’s drivers’ championship lead to 27 points over the #2 Audi of Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer, and Andre Lotterer, with the 1-2 giving Toyota an 8-point lead over Audi in the manufacturers’ standings. The #20 Porsche (Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley) finished third.

“Congratulations to Toyota on victory in their home round,” said Dr. Wolfgang Ulrich, head of Audi Motorsport. “We managed a case of damage limitation in Japan because we continue to be in a promising position in the manufacturers’ world championship. It was foreseeable that we’d be having a difficult time at Fuji. Still, our two driver squads and the whole team were not unsettled by this and scored valuable points for us in Japan.” The Audis finished fifth and sixth.

G-Drive (Canal, Olivier Pla, Roman Rusinov) took its third LMP2 win of the year, having also won at Silverstone and Spa to start the campaign. The victory was, however, the first for its new Ligier-Nissan coupe, the first two having occurred in open top Morgan-Nissans. Pla overcame a puncture and took advantage of GT traffic to make a late-race pass on Alexandre Imperatori in the KCMG and take the lead for good.

”You think that it’s easy, but it never is,” said Pla. “We had things under control until the last stint. Unfortunately, with the puncture, we didn’t take a risk and decided to return to the pits to change the rear left tire. From there, I only had one option, which was to attack like never before and to push the car to its limits to catch up to the #47 again. Once I was back up to it, I tried to overtake it on turn 10, but I wasn’t close enough. Afterwards, we hit some traffic, and I managed to overtake on the outside of turn 5. Afterwards, I knew that I had the right car to widen the gap. Frankly, it’s a great victory and the first victory for the Ligier JS P2 which is very important for all the work done up til now. It’s just great.”

The OAK Racing #35 (Ihara, Gustavo Yacaman, Alex Brundle) remained in third. “I’m very happy to be on the podium,” said Ihara, “and first I’d like to say thank you so much to Jacques Nicolet because he understood my passion to race and he gave me a chance to drive with very strong drivers and I’m very happy. I’ve tried to participate in the FIA WEC from the start of the year and finally, I got here, on the podium, the first female driver on a FIA WEC podium! I want to say thank you so much to the team, my team mates and to all the supporters.

Ferrari finished 1-2 in GTE Pro, drivers’ championship leader Bruni and Toni Vilander bringing the #51 across the line just 2.9 sec ahead of the Rigon and James Calado in the #71. The #99 Aston (Rees, Alex MacDowall, Darryl O’Young) earned its first podium of the year. “I knew when I was at the front of the class that we had the edge over the Aston Martin,” said Bruni, “but I had a little contact with an LMP2 and I lost the lead to Rees.  After that I put my head down and said to myself, let’s go back to where we should be.  I was 20 seconds behind Rigon but caught him and got back the lead and I think we won the race from that stint. Toni kept the lead and was very fast in his last stint so it all ended very well.”

The #95 and #98 finished closed out the race 1-2 in GTE Am, with the #75 Prospeed Competition Porsche 911 RSR finishing third.

 

 

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