Few post-war circuits are as legendary as Fuji Speedway. From James Hunt and Niki Lauda's epic battle at the end of the 1976 season, to intense JGTC competition, Fuji really hosts it all. The most recent round of the WEC's 2017 season, the Six Hours of Fuji, did not result in victory for Porsche in any class. While Porsche LMP1 and GT cars finished on the podium, ultimate victory was claimed by Toyota on their home turf in Japan under red flag conditions.
Race Report: LMP1
At the close of Round 7, Porsche retains the LMP1 class lead over Toyota, with 270 points to Toyota's 211.5. Despite promising qualifying at Fuji, rainy conditions, and a poorly-timed pit stop hindered the team's performance on-track. Heavy rain and fog slowed lap times significantly compared to previous years. Earl Bamber claimed the fastest lap of the race, with a 1:37.702. For reference, the all-time fastest LMP1 lap at Fuji was set by Mark Webber in qualifying two years ago at 1:22, followed by his fastest race lap the same weekend of 1:27.759.
Lengthy periods under caution, and numerous laps following the safety car hindered Porsche's ability to maintain leads over their Japanese rivals in LMP1. With the safety car on-track from the start to lap 5, again from lap 29 to lap 33, nearly continuously from lap 79 through lap 94, and finally from lap 111 until the race was ended under red flag conditions, the team's finely tuned pit strategy began to come unglued.
The #1 car of Neel Jani, André Lotterer and Nick Tandy saw the most passing action of the two Porsches. After starting in second place, the #1 car fell to fourth place behind the two Toyotas during lap 6. By lap 22, Lotterer passed the trailing Toyota to gain third place. Tandy claimed the lead from Toyota at lap 77. After a lengthy caution period, followed by about twenty laps of racing, the team ultimately lost their lead. A tire change at lap 111 saw them rejoin the race in third overall, where they remained until the race was red-flagged on lap 114.
The #2 car, driven by Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley started from the pole, with Earl Bamber performing his first ever WEC start in the 919 Hybrid. Bamber maintained the lead through the second safety car period at the end of lap 28. When the race was first red-flagged at lap 39, the #2 car required a fuel stop. When the race re-started after the red flag, the #2 car required an immediate pit stop, pushing them to fourth place. Timo Bernhard took over after the restart, and was lapped by the #8 Toyota on lap 56, just before the next safety car period. The #2 car ended the race in the pits for refuelling, having been unsuccessful in regaining the lost lap.
Porsche retains a commanding lead in the points standings in LMP1, with a 68.5 point lead over their sole competitors. Team principal Andreas Seidl had the following to say:
"Congratulations to Toyota for winning in Fuji. The pendulum today swung back and forth several times. Before the first red flag, we were gambling. If it would have been the end of the race, we would have won it with our number 2 car. But with the timing of the ultimate red flag we were unlucky. If the race had continued, we would have seen a battle for victory between the number 7 Toyota and our number 1 car. We generally had difficulties getting the tyres to work at the re-starts causing us to drop back a few times. However, it is important that we take home some more points for both championship classifications. It was a very difficult weekend for our drivers and the entire team but everyone stayed focused which I thank them for.”
Race Report: GTE
Porsche's GT effort proved much more successful in the wet conditions, with both cars finishing on the podium. Richard Lietzand and Frédéric Makowiecki claimed second in class, trailing the leading Ferrari 488 GTE. Due to a crash, Michael Christensen and Kévin Estre were robbed of their lead, and finished third overall. Following balance of performance issues in previous races, the 911 RSR found its pace, and was consistently fast throughout the weekend. The team had the following to say:
Alex Stehlig, Programme Manager WEC: “The conditions today were very tricky. The many safety car phases and red flags made it very difficult for the engineers to make the right decisions. However, the team worked brilliantly and had interpreted these interruptions correctly. It was bitter that an already lapped competitor cost our leading #92 car a possible win. The #91 drove a steady race, but directly after the restart it didn’t have the pace for a short time to fend off the Ferrari. Second and third are still great results. We were among the fastest over the entire race weekend. It’s a shame that it wasn’t enough to yield our first win in this world championship.”
The #91 RSR started the race on the pole, and was able to hold the lead for a period between safety car stretches. Ferrari ultimately won overall, stretching their championship lead to 238 points to Porsche's 191. Leitz and Makowiecki remain within striking distance in the driver's championship standing and trail Guidi and Calado by just five points.
In GTE Am, Porsches achieved 3rd and 4th place finishes.