Race report LMP: Toyota win on home ground, Rebellion and Starworks seal titles
Dusk was starting to fall over Fuji Speedway as Toyota Racing’s Kazuki Nakajima took the chequered flag in front of a grandstand wholly given over to the Japanese manufacturer. The clouds gathered little by little over the mountain peaks which surround the track but they didn’t discourage the 32,000-strong crowd (50,000 over the three days) which came to cheer on Toyota’s triumph, plus that of Nissan in the LMP2 class. The 6 Hours of Fuji will no doubt linger in Japanese fans’ memories for some time, the event having received a very warm welcome!
While Audi has already wrapped up the Constructors’ title, Toyota could be relied on to take the fight to the Four Rings in this latter part of the season. After its first victory in the 6 Hours of São Paulo, the No.7 TS030 Hybrid shone on home ground thanks to Nicolas Lapierre, Alex Wurz and Kazuki Nakajima who were fast on each of the three days of the event. The Japanese manufacturer took its second win in only its fifth race, an enviable statistic especially as the successes were achieved against a far more experienced adversary.
The battle was close right to the end with a gap at the finish line of just 11 seconds between the winning Toyota and the No.1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of double 24 Hours of Le Mans victors André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer. This trio, having been awarded a penalty for contact with the No.97 Aston Martin, had to make one more stop than planned and lost the fuel consumption advantage it held over its Japanese rival. Their second place wasn’t enough to allow them to take the Drivers’ title as the second Audi, the No.2 of Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen, also finished on the overall podium, having not been able to maintain the same rhythm as the top two cars after the first hour.
Alex Wurz: “This is an extremely special day, not only for the TOYOTA Racing team but for the entire TOYOTA family who have supported us. Our first win in Brazil was already an incredible experience but to win here, so close to Higashi-Fuji Technical Centre where the TOYOTA Motor Sport Division is based, is something else. We have had great support all weekend, from TOYOTA members and also from the thousands of fans here at Fuji Speedway. It’s been an incredible experience. We promised to fight for the win but Audi made it very difficult. This win is the result of an enormous team effort, from Japan to Cologne. From the start of the weekend everything was targeted on race balance and strategy; we executed it and got the result we wanted so big thanks to the team.”
Nicolas Lapierre: “It is a great result for us. It was an exciting race which is good for the championship and all the fans who came to Fuji Speedway today. It was a tight fight with Audi. For my part of the race we decided to double-stint the tyres so we could make up some time. It worked well and we got to the front, then I tried to control the gap even if the tyres were a bit old. It worked because at the end I had a little margin. We knew at the end we had to take an extra pit stop so Kazuki had to push really hard, which he did very well. We are very happy to win here. Since the beginning of the year everyone has been speaking about how important this Fuji race is for TOYOTA and we made it.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “What a day! It is a great achievement and it was a team effort so many thanks to my team-mates and the team, who prepared a great car, as well as everybody at TOYOTA who prepared such an impressive hybrid system. We all achieved this together. To win a world championship race as a driver has been my aim for my whole career so it is a great day. The crowd was fantastic; it was great to see so many TOYOTA flags in the grandstands. I was so excited in the last few laps. I was getting the message from my engineer to push hard because I had to make a gap for our last pit stop, so it was quite challenging. I was pushing like crazy and finally we just made it.”
If the final outcome between the factory teams was tiny in terms of the gap, the race amongst the LMP1 Privateers was quickly settled. The No.12 Rebellion Racing Lola-Toyota finished a lap ahead of its nearest rival, which allowed the British-based Swiss team to lift the FIA Endurance Trophy in the category one race before the end of the 2012 season. Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost were never headed in the race, leaving the other protagonists to battle it out for second place which eventually went to the No.22 JRM HPD-Honda. In fact, David Brabham, Karun Chandhok and Peter Dumbreck emerged as winners in a fantastic duel with rivals Jonny Kane, Nick Leventis and Danny Watts, drivers of the No.21 Strakka Racing HPD ARX 03a-Honda.
Nicolas Prost: "The team has reached its goal today! We did a perfect season this year; we secured the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP1 Teams, winning five races in seven. We've had a super race today. All week during the free practice sessions, we ran the car with high fuel and old tyres, so our laptimes weren't spectacular, but we found a good setup and, in doing so, a good car for the race. The team is definitely not the same team that I joined in 2009; it has advanced and we are now a team that is able to consistently race for the top place of privateer LMP1 field.”
Neel Jani: "By finishing in fourth place overall, we achieved the maximum result we could expect in today's race. We have had the week-end we wanted! We secured the Teams' title, that was our main goal for this season, and are now third in the FIA WEC Drivers World Championship. The fight for the drivers' Championship podium is in our own hands.”
Just as Rebellion Racing succeeded in getting its hands on the FIA Endurance Trophy in its category, so also did Starworks Motorsport in LMP2 thanks to the second place finish of Stéphane Sarrazin, Ryan Dalziel and Enzo Potolicchio at the wheel of the No.44 HPD ARX 03b-Honda. The trio, who were invincible at Sebring, Le Mans and Brazil, couldn’t match the No.25 ADR Delta Oreca 03 Nissan of John Martin, Tor Graves and Japanese driver Shinji Nakano, winners of the LMP2 class by a comfortable margin of one lap. The Starworks car managed to stay ahead of the No.24 OAK Racing Morgan Nissan, Jacques Nicolet, Olivier Pla and Matthieu Lahaye climbing onto the third step of the podium for the second consecutive time following the 6 Hours of Bahrain.
Ryan Dalziel, Starworks Motorsport: “It will probably take a little while for our Championship win to sink in. It was a program that I felt kept getting stronger and stronger. When you look at the results we have had, it is incredible that a first-year team with no experience in motorsport outside of North America and with engineers who had never been outside America, could come here and do this. It all comes down to having the right people in place. We took the right decision in going for the Honda HPD chassis, then the Dunlop tires worked well with the car. A lot of our success came from having a reliable car – not necessarily the fastest car. It is incredible to put your name next to a world championship. I don’t care whether it is a team championship or a driver championship – in racing it is a team and we all deserved to win this.”
Teams and drivers will now turn their attention towards China for the 6 Hours of Shanghai, the final round of the 2012 FIA World Endurance Championship at which the Drivers’ title will finally be decided. Rendez-vous then on the 28th October to find out who the winners will be!
Photo: OYAMA-CHO (SHIZUOKA PREFECTURE, JAPAN), FUJI INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY, 6 HOURS OF FUJI, SUNDAY 14TH OCTOBER 2012, RACE.