Toyota Lead Class of Their Own in Fuji

Toyota Racing were an unstoppable force today as the #8 TS040 of Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi secured a dominant victory in the FIAWEC 6 Hours of Fuji.

Toyota 8 Fuji

Despite all three LMP1 manufacturers leading at various points in a breathtaking first lap it was a day that never looked to be in anyone else’s hands. After a couple of searching dives from Porsche’s Mark Webber and Audi’s Andre Lotterer the raw pace of the home team’s 1000hp prototype came to the fore, with Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima quickly powering off into the far distance.

The threat from behind repeatedly failed to materialise with an early slow puncture putting Webber out of contention for the win and the #14 Porsche also beset by reliability issues. Audi Sport, usually the behemoths of regularity, turned up to Fuji Speedway with a weak package that couldn’t compete on top speed.

Where the top prototypes failed to provide the door-to-door spectacle, however, the LMP2s brought it along by the bucketload. KCMG and G-Drive both showed their mettle at regular intervals throughout the 6 hours, with stunning battles between Alex Imperatori and Olivier Pla bookending the action.

It was Pla who came out on top despite some lightning fast moves through traffic on Imperatori’s part, the G-Drive Ligier-Nissan taking its first win in only its third race. KCMG proved that their win last time out in Texas wasn’t a fluke, and a third place for Oak Racing in the venerable old Morgan-Nissan means that Keiko Ihara becomes the first woman to take a podium in the WEC.

Less impressive was the showing from LMP1-L, a class which will be ditched at the end of the season but lived up to its ‘light’ designation in Fuji. With both Rebellions plagued by drivetrain issues and a dramatic pit lane fire putting an end to Lotus’ race it’s clear that work needs to be done before the privateers can race with the big factory guns in 2015.

Practice and qualifying times had offered up the tasty prospect of an AF Corse vs. Aston Martin battle in GTE Pro, but yet again it was the unwavering reliability of the Ferrari drivers that left them to take a solid class one-two.

Helped along by a first corner incident between the #97 Aston and #92 Porsche, the two 458 Italias had only the Craft-Bamboo V8 Vantage to keep them honest. It didn’t all go their way initially as Fernando Rees, Alex Macdowall and Darryl O’Young drove the wheels off the #99 to lead at regular intervals, but it was too much of a task for the Aston team to keep it up through to the end of the race.

Class victors Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander now have a firm grasp on the championship and can seal the deal with a good result at the next round in Shanghai. The #71 Ferrari also showed its true pace after a season that has so far been beset with problems, James Calado in particular finally able to show his ability after his recent move to GT racing.

Aston Martin had a much better time of it in the orange-stickered GTE Am class with a strong 1-2 showing that never looked under pressure. The ‘Dane Train’ #95 continued its run of excellent form at the hands of Nicki Thiim, David Heinemeier Hansson and Kristian Poulsen while the #98 came home half a lap later and into second place.

The coveted final spot on the podium was hard-fought over right up to the chequered flag as the two Porsche 911s of Prospeed Competition and Proton Competition tried desperately to hang on until the end. It was the slightly older GT3 RSR of the former that came out on top over the line, the gap just six tenths of a second.

The day belonged to Toyota, however. In front of a fanatical home crowd and a legion of budget-setting bigwigs the German-based Japanese team did everything right. There was relief etched on the faces of the blue and white clad racers as the champagne went flying; the men in suits needed to be shown what they were paying for and this was the best way to do it.

The next round of the FIAWEC is just three weeks and a stone’s throw away in Shanghai where Davidson and Buemi will be keen to extend their healthy championship lead. Another 25 points will be up for grabs so the field will need a quick turnaround; with only three races left the World Endurance Championship is heading towards its conclusion, and it’s every car for itself.

(Photo ©Richard Washbrooke - Adrenalmedia.com)

Jamie Snelling is a WEC accredited freelance journalist and many times Speed Chills veteran. Tweet him @SpeedChillsView