Ant D's Fuji Favourites
Who impressed WEC commentator and sportscar specialist Anthony Davidson at Fuji Speedway last week?
It was an intriguing six hours of racing at Fuji Speedway last Sunday, one where title challengers started to build serious momentum for 2022 WEC glory in two of the categories – LMP2 and LMGTE Am - while the Hypercar and LMGTE Pro championship battles couldn’t be closer.
WEC co-commentator, 2014 WEC champion and all-round sportscar expert Anthony Davidson casts his critical eye over those that shone and the standout performances under the forbidding majesty of Mount Fuji.
Hypercar: Ryo Hirakawa, Toyota Gazoo Racing
“Seb (Buemi) started to open the gap and then Brendon (Hartley) really stretched it over Jose Maria Lopez, but the person I think I would give it to is Ryo Hirakawa.
“He had to run with it you know, even though the gap had already been created, and then Mike Conway got in the car. He's usually super-fast and Ryo arguably built a bigger gap against Mike than Brendan was able to do with Jose-Maria, and he just continued that, that same kind of speed.
“He didn't have to, as the damage was done for No.7 but still he was flying. The lap times were very quick and he didn't put a foot wrong. Neither did Brendan, but Ryo just caught my eye.
“He's still very inexperienced in that team. I see him developing more and more and he's getting faster and more reliable as well. I see some of his tenacity coming out more, which is really nice to see a driver developing like that.
“He's building confidence the whole time. With that comes speed and I like the way that the No.8 car crew is starting to develop strongly now.
“I think both Brendon and Seb have done a great job in not just welcoming him into their car crew, but you can clearly see they're nurturing him as well, which is exactly what you would expect from such a professional team of drivers like that.”
“I also have to mention James Rossiter because I thought he was terrific and showed some very encouraging pace for Peugeot.
“I know James well from when we were test drivers with Honda in F1. He’s still quick and it was a shame they had the issues. But it was all quite promising and I think they will be right up there in Bahrain.”
LMGTE Pro: Antonio Fuoco, No.52 AF Corse Ferrari
“It seemed that car No.52 with (Antonio) Fuoco and (Miguel) Molina had the speed and were the fastest car out there. They seemed to be looking after the tyres even better than No.51 Ferrari too.
“But I think there was a bit of team orders going on there for the drivers’ championship stakes as No.51 (James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi) are much more in the mix title-wise.
“I think it made sense but unfortunately for the fans watching on, who wanted to see a fight between the two cars, it was never going to happen because clearly Ferrari wants something out of the championship this season.
“Both Molina and Fuoco both looked strong. But I think I will just tip it to Fuoco for his consistency and his speed.
“The shame was that it looked like he had to settle for second best that day, but I'm sure he'll get his turn and rewards in the future.”
LMP2: Sean Gelael, No.31 WRT Oreca-Gibson
"A couple of drivers stand out for me in LMP2 - Sean Gelael and Jonathan Aberdein.
“Aberdein’s first stint was absolutely sensational. He got turned around in Turn 10, possibly sustained a tiny bit of damage to the car in the process but he then just got his head down and showcased some absolute determination and brilliance.
“His lap times his turning were mighty. It was really impressive to watch him slice his way back through the field and also just the speed he could carry.
“Unfortunately, later on in the race that speed seemed to disappear a bit. I think he maybe got a bit too keen on one of his sets of tyres and lost a bit of time in his second stint compared to da Costa. So, that kind of tarnished his race a little bit.
“But from Gelael we saw a brilliant opening stint and it was really impressive because he was very committed on the first corner. It's a high risk move that he did, and it could have gone wrong, but he got himself straight into the lead. He then opened up a really healthy gap over Roberto Gonzalez and that continued to grow so he could then hand the car over to his teammates already a healthy lead.
“He really did stand out for showing that commitment and speed and consistency. We didn't see him back in the car again, unfortunately, so you can only judge him on the time he had in the car.
“Da Costa was again very quick in that middle part of the race where he overtook Aberdein through tyre saving and fuel saving. That was a that was an impressive stint as well.
“But it kind of goes under the limelight because the lap times weren't shiny because of fuel saving, but Antonio was excellent all weekend.”
"However, Gelael was my standout because he laid the best foundations for the WRT victory, so he deserves some great plaudits.”
LM GTE Am: Rahel Frey, Iron Dames Ferrari 488 GTE EVO
“Ben Keating was great in qualifying again and I really thought it was entertaining between him and the Iron Dames car of Sarah Bouvy.
“He did a lovely job there as I think the Ferrari ultimately just had the speed so to do what he did in quali, well, hats off to him.
“But then his opening stint at the race was difficult. I know there were a couple of pros that started and they worked their way through but he seemed to drop back a bit perhaps with tyre issues.
“So, the driver that stood out was Rahel Frey from Iron Dames, I thought she was mega.
“The bit that stood out was her fighting with Nikki Thiim in the No.98 Aston. She properly held her own and even looked like she had the edge speed wise over Nikki, and obviously Nikki is the benchmark in GTE Am.
“In an Aston Martin we all know what he's made of, he's a world champion, so we don't have to wax lyrical about him again.
“Rahel was under massive pressure from him but she didn't allow him by and then got into a rhythm and started to just edge a gap on him.
“I know that Ferrari had speed but still to do that against Nikki Thiim that really shows class. I was well impressed by that part of the race, so I think I will give her the performance of the category because it was really exceptional.”