Toyota Gazoo Racing’s #7 TS050 HYBRID scored its first win of the 2018/19 FIA WEC ‘Super Season’ at the Fuji Speedway today, Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez taking a controlling victory over the team’s sister car, leading another formation finish by the Japanese marque.
It was a strong run from the three winners, who started at the back of the prototype field. The #8 of Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima crossed the line 11.4 seconds behind the winners, but three laps clear of the nearest non-hybrid competitior – the #1 Rebellion Racing R-13.
“A thousand thanks to everyone working on this programme, this one is a very important race,” said Lopez. “We’ve been so close and to this point hadn’t got a win. This is my first win with Mike and Kamui, it’s a great feeling.”
“My teammates did a great job, yesterday in qualifying we were disappointed but we came back to win,” added Kobayashi.
For the privateer runners in the top class it was a race of attrition in the end. Two cars had clean races – the #1 and the ByKolles ENSO CLM – and finished third and fifth respectively. The other four cars either had mechanical issues or, in the case of the #3 Rebellion R-13, an off.
Finishing fourth was the #11 SMP Racing BR1, Jenson Button, Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin making the finish as a trio for the first time this season, in a race which for them marked real progress. Throughout the race, the car set fast times. Button in particular, was impressive behind the wheel, leading at the end of Hour 1, before fighting his way back to take fourth off the ByKolles CLM in the final stint of the race.
The #11 proved to be the only real threat to the #1 crew, but an alternator belt issue cost the team multiple laps and forced them to spend the second half of the race fighting back through the field.
LMP2 meanwhile, was dominated by Jackie Chan DC Racing, the Chinese-flagged team scoring its second 1-2 finish in a row. This time however, the #37 all-Malaysian crew took the win over the #38 crew, Jazeman Jaafar, Nabil Jeffri and Weiron Tan all drove faultlessly and took control of the race in the second hour, going on to win by 30 seconds.
“It’s unreal, it feels unreal. It was a solid team effort, I feel so proud, there’s more to come,” Jaafar said.
Third, behind the two JCDC cars was the newly-crowned Le Mans-winng Signatech Alpine A470, which had a strong race, but couldn’t match the pace of the two ORECAs ahead when it mattered in the final act of the race. The podium was sealed early in the race for the French team, Nicolas Lapierre getting past Matthieu Vaxiviere’s TDS Racing ORECA to take third in the second hour of the race at Turn 1.
The best racing of this year’s 6 Hours of Fuji was found in the GTE Pro class, all five marques at times involved in the fight for the win.
Once the rain subsided and the track dried out, the #92 Porsche, #82 BMW, #67 Ford and #71 AF Corse Ferrari emerged as the contenders. However, the #71’s chances of winning ended early, when Davide Rigon suffered contact with the DragonSpeed ORECA, forcing the team to pit to repairs and lost the lead which Sam Bird fought so hard for.
That left the other three cars fighting for the win. In the end the #92 Porsche of Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen was strongest towards the end, and took the win, just 12 seconds ahead of the #82 BMW, which scored the marque its best result of the season. The #67 Ford finished up third.
“We were wrong on our tyre choice in the rain, then made a wrong strategy call. But we fought back, maintained our pace and were strong until the end. Mega teamwork from Manthey and Porsche,” Estre said.
In GTE Am it was a landmark result for Team Project 1, taking its first ever WEC win, after a standout performance from Egidio Perfetti, particularly early in the race when it was wet. Patrick Lindsey and Jorg Bergmeister too didn’t put a foot wrong, the German crossing the line 19 seconds clear.
While Project 1 appeared in control in the final hours, the other podium spots in the were decided late on. The #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche snatched second right before the end of the race Matteo Cairoli getting the better of Jonny Adam in the TF Sport Aston Martin at the Dunlop corner, forcing the Scotsman to settle for third.