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WEC: 6 Hours of Fuji – Toyota, G-Drive take first wins of 2016

The #7 Audi Sport Team Joest R18 started on pole, but all three LMP1 makes led at some point early in the race. The #7 retired during the first hour, race officials determining that its drive-train was out of homologation.

Leaders half way in were the #8 Audi, the #42 Strakka Racing Gibson-Nissan (LMP2), the #66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Team UK GT (GTE Pro), and the #98 Aston Martin Racing Vantage (GTE Am).  

Competition at the front of the field was extremely tight, the #6 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid just 7.644 sec off the pace, with the #1 Porsche Team 919 Hybrid another 10 sec back and the #5 Toyota also running within 1 min of the leader.

Richard Bradley (#44 Manor Racing Oreca 05-Nissan) was in a tight battle for second in LMP2 with Gustavo Menezes (#36 Signatech Alpine-Nissan) before Bradley pulled in a scheduled pit stop with 2 hr 50 min remaining. Sam Bird (#71 AF Corse Ferrari 488) took first in GTE Pro a few minutes later and then pitted from the lead.

Stephane Sarrazin (#6 Toyota) remained with 10 sec of the race-leading Audi (Lucas di Grassi) at the 2:42 mark. Mark Webber (#1 Porsche) was just 7 sec back of Sarrazin. Di Grassi pitted 5-6 laps ahead of schedule at 2:36, turning the car over to Loic Duval and ceding the lead to Sarrazin’s Toyota, which ran 3 sec ahead of Webber. Menezes pitted from the LMP2 lead at the same time, Alex Brundle taking the lead in the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 05-Nissan.

Sarrazin pitted the #6 Toyota at 2:24, Webber briefly assuming the point before pitting himself the next lap. Timo Bernhard exited as the new driver of the #1 Porsche just as the Audi and Toyota passed the end of pit lane, creating a three-car dogfight for P1. The 2 sec which covered the Top 3 set a new World Endurance Championship record for race margin this far into a contest. The #26 pitted from the lead with 2:16 to go.

A victory for the #8 Audi would cut the P5 #2 Porsche’s championship lead from 36.5 points to 21.5 points with two races to go if they finished in the same positions. The #1 Porsche took P2 from Sarrazin and Toyota on track with 2:10 remaining, passing it briefly back before retaking it on the main straight at 2:07. Brundle led Menezes by 6.7 sec in LMP2, with Jonny Kane’s Strakka another 8.5 sec back.

With 2 hr to go roughly 12 sec covered the Audi-Porsche-Toyota Top 3. The #26 G-Drive machine remained in front in LMP2. The #67 Ford GT led Pro competition with the #98 Aston Martin remaining on the GTE Am point. The #67 pitted from the lead at 1:56, the #66 moving to the front before pitting itself.

Kamui Kobayashi (#6 Toyota) trailed Duval in the #8 Audi by just 6 sec with 1 hr left. The #1 Porsche (Brendon Hartley) ran third, 3.7 sec behind Kobayashi. Will Stevens led LMP2 in the #26 G-Drive, Harry Tincknell GTE Pro in the #67 Ford GT, and Mathias Lauda GTE Am in the #98 Aston.

The Audi pitted from the lead with 49 min to go. Duval stayed in the car and new tires were put on. Toyota came in 6 min later for fuel only, Duval running more than 2 sec/lap faster than the rest of the LMP1 field. Toyota’s stop was 25 sec quicker than Audi, putting it in front. Hartley was told it would be 7 laps until the Porsche pitted from the lead, which stood at 31 sec with 36 min to go.

Porsche stopped 2 min later, Webber taking over for Hartley and new tires applied. The running order one all cars had returned to track was Toyota, Audi, Porsche. The #43 RGR Sport by Morand Ligier JS P2-Nissan (Bruno Senna) pitted from the LMP2 lead with 29 left, retaking the track just 1 sec ahead of the Stevens in the #26 G-Drive, the whole LMP2 Top 3 covered by 6 sec.

G-Drive took the lead on track 2 min later, passing on the outside of the main straight after being pushed wide. Kobayashi had expanded his overall lead to 9 sec with 24 min remaining. Stevens was told to give the LMP2 lead back to Senna, race control declaring that he had exceeded track limits in making the pass.

With 10 min left Duval, running on new tires, had cut Kobayashi’s lead to 4.1 sec. The Toyota expanded its lead to 6 sec with 8 min to go. Stevens passed Senna for the LMP2 lead at the 5-min mark. The Audi had closed to 1.4 sec with 2 min left.

Kobayashi took Toyota’s first win of the season, with Senna doing the same for G-Drive in LMP2. The #67 Ford GT won GTE Pro and the #98 Aston Martin GTE Am.

 

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