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FIA World Endurance Championship – 6 Hours Of Fuji – LMP1 And LMP2 – Race Report (17.10.16)

Victory in October 16’s 6 Hours Of Fuji, Round Seven in the FIA World Endurance Championship, went to the #6 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 driven by Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi. Second, and only 1.439 seconds behind at the chequered flag after 6 hours of intense racing, was the #6 Audi Sport Team Joest R18 piloted by Lucas di Grassi, Loïc Duval and Oliver Jarvis.

Taking the final podium spot was the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid, driven by Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Harley.

The #8 Audi Sport Team Joest R18 led away from the line, having qualified on pole and led for much of the race. However, slightly longer pit-stops than either the #6 Toyota or the #1 Porsche meant that di Grassi, Duval and Jarvis were never able to establish a comfortable lead. They were, however, not involved in the scrap for second place between the Toyota and the Porsche and could their own race.

Going in to the final hour it looked as if the race was Audi’s to lose. However the outcome hinged on the final set of stops. The #8 Audi R18 stopped first and changed tyres, giving it what Audi thought was the grip advantage going into the final stint. Toyota Gazoo Racing , however, elected to take fuel only, allowing Kobayashi, who took the final stint, to gain an advantage of over 10 seconds in the stops alone. This negated the nine-second lead that Duval in the #8 Audi had built up going into the stops.

Despite having the faster car and, indeed, putting in fastest laps in the closing stages, Duval in the #8 Audi R18 was unable to close the gap sufficiently to the #6 Toyota who took the victory by less than two seconds.

The win was Toyota’s first since Bahrain two years previously and will be some small consolation for its heart-breaking disaster at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year.

“This was a very tense and exciting race between all three LMP1 manufacturers,” said team President Toshio Sato after the race.”It was a six-hour sprint race. We could do no more; everyone in the team performed to the maximum today against such close competition. It was a clean fight, decided by speed on track and in the pits as well as strategy. All credit to Audi and Porsche for their part in this great show.

The final result of the 6 Hours of Fuji means that Porsche Team now have a 59 point advantage over Audi at the top of the FIA World Endurance Manufacturers Championship. Toyota remain in third, 30 points behind Audi with two rounds of the championship remaining in the season.

In LMP2 the battle was all about G-Drive Racing and RGR Sport by Morand. G-Drive Racing, having qualified on class pole, looked to have the win, its first in the FIA World Endurance Championship , in its pocket. Bruno Senna, in the #42 RGR Sport by Morand Ligier JS P2, had other ideas however.

Like Toyota, RGR Sport by Morand elected only to take fuel in its final stop and after the stops had unwound, the #42 car held a small advantage.

Stevens, in the #26 car, pushed hard and attempted a pass on the pit straight, only to be the victim of robust defending by Senna who pushed the #26 car until, as the stewards adjudged, all four wheels were off the circuit. Although Stevens managed to make the pass stick, the stewards asked him to give the place back some laps later.

Stevens, though, was on an charge, and eventually passed Senna at Turn One in the dying minutes of the race to take the Kent-based team’s first win in FIA World Endurance Championship victory. Stevens, it would seem, came of age as a sportscar driver at Fuji.

Third in the LMP2 class, and some 25 seconds behind, was the #36 Signatech Alpine of Menezes, Lapierre and Richelmi.

The Fuji result means that the #36 Signatech Alpine retains the lead in the FIA World Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Teams by 35 points over the #43 RGR Sport by Morand Ligier JS P2. The #26 G-Drive Racing ORECA 05 sits in third on 114 points. With two rounds still to go, there is still all to play in the LMP2 class.

The eighth, and penultimate, round of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship, the 6 Hours of Shanghai, will be held on November 6.