2016 and 2017 Fuji retrospective (+ video)
The final two races in our short series of reviews on WEC Fuji races of the past.
2016 – Strategy wins the day for Toyota in three-way fight
The 2016 edition of the 6 Hours of Fuji was perhaps one of the greatest races in championship history, with less than 20 seconds separating the top three cars after a thrilling strategic battle involving all three LMP1 manufacturers.
Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi scored Toyota’s first win since 2014 by just 1.5 seconds over the chasing Audi of Lucas di Grassi, Oliver Jarvis and Loïc Duval. A daring strategic gamble, sending Kobayashi out on stint-old tyres to leapfrog the Audi which had led the majority of the race, undoubtedly contributed to Toyota’s victory. Porsche also remained in the mix until the end and led the Toyota until the penultimate pitstops, but Mark Webber could not match the pace of the lead pair due to a deteriorating handling problem.
Ford secured a first 1-2 in the GTE Pro ranks and future F1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi made his WEC debut in LMP2, but it was ex-F1 racer Will Stevens who stole the headlines with his first victory for G-Drive after passing Bruno Senna – twice – in the closing stages. The Briton was forced to allow Senna’s RGR Sport Ligier back ahead after crossing track limits, but made it stick a second time with just a few minutes to go, kick-starting a run of three successive victories for the JOTA Sport-run team in China and Bahrain.
2017 – Toyota conquer the fog and mist
Toyota Gazoo Racing took a 1-2 finish after a dramatic race held in challenging wet and foggy conditions. Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson took the TS050 HYBRID to victory ahead of the sister car, with both cars seeming to have better tyre performance than Porsche throughout the weather-affected race.
Rounding out the podium was the Porsche 919 of André Lotterer, Neel Jani and Nick Tandy. A lost dive plane following contact with Buemi’s Toyota had affected Lotterer’s pace but, with new front bodywork, Jani and Tandy fought back and were in contention to challenge for the win before the multiple stoppages - six Safety Car periods, one Full Course Yellow and two red flag periods - punctuated the eventful race.
Ferrari claimed maximum points in both the LMGTE Pro and Am categories in the race which was eventually stopped with 4 hours 24 minutes and 50 seconds on the clock. James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi took their Ferrari 488 GTE to their third win of the season, eventually finishing just 0.96s ahead of the Porsche 911 RSR of Frédéric Makowiecki and Richard Lietz.
LMP2 saw the Vaillante Rebellion crew of Bruno Senna, Nicolas Prost and Julien Canal claim their second victory of the season. The race featured a spectacular and controversial incident between CEFC Manor TRS Racing driver Jean-Eric Vergne and Rebellion racer Mathias Beche in the fourth hour. The two touched several times before Beche impacted the barriers.
Taking a first victory in the WEC was the LMGTE Am Spirit of Race Ferrari trio of Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Miguel Molina, with Clearwater Racing making it a 1-2 for the Prancing Horse.