Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway, and Stéphane Sarrazin have won the Six Hours of Fuji for Toyota Gazoo Racing. The No. 8 Audi led most of the race, yet a decision not to change tires on the final stop enabled the No. 6 Toyota to jump past the Audi. The victory at Toyota’s home track was the first for the Japanese manufacturer since 2014.
Starting from the front row, the No. 8 Audi Sport Team Joest and the No. 1 Porsche Team entries led the field at the start. The No. 7 Audi had a brilliant start with Benoit Tréluyer overtaking both Toyota Gazoo Racing entries for the third place. In the early laps, Tréluyer was able to put pressure on Mark Webber in the second-placed No. 1 Porsche, yet on lap six he was overtaken by Kamui Kobayashi in the No. 6 Toyota.
22 minutes into the race, the No. 7 Audi had started to slow down and it had to pit. Due to hybrid system issues, the car rejoined the race one hour, 20 minutes later without the hybrid system, yet was disqualified due to the changes in it.
Half an hour into the race, Kobayashi in the No. 6 Toyota overtook Webber in the No. 1 Porsche for the second place.
The No. 8 Audi was the first of the lead cars to pit. The No. 6 Toyota pitted two laps later and rejoined ahead of the No. 8. However, Lucas di Grassi in the Audi passed Mike Conway in the Toyota already on the same lap.
The No. 8 Audi was comfortably leading the race, however it was doing shorter stints than the Toyotas and Porsches. After three and a half hours, Stéphane Sarrazin in the No. 6 Toyota rejoined from the pits ahead of the No. 8 Audi, yet Loïc Duval in the Audi immediately passed the Toyota. Before the four-hour mark, Timo Bernhard overtook Sarrazin, putting the No. 1 Porsche into second place.
The No. 6 Toyota got past the No. 1 Porsche with an early penultimate stop, six laps before the Porsche. Going into the final hour, the No. 8 Audi was leading, yet it was going to need a longer final stop than its rivals from Toyota and Porsche.
The No. 8 Audi pitted with 50 minutes to go for fuel and new tires. After the stop Loïc Duval was storming around the track, setting the fastest lap.
Four laps after the Audi’s stop, the No. 6 Toyota pitted. Taking only fuel, Kamui Kobayashi was able to rejoin ahead the No. 8 Audi by over 10 seconds. Six laps later, the No. 1 Porsche pitted. With a tire and driver change, it rejoined behind the top two of the Toyota and the Audi.
With fresher tires, Duval was able to close the gap to Kobayashi but not enough to get within a striking distance. In the last two laps, the leaders were struggling with traffic, giving Duval the last chance to catch the leading Toyota. Yet Kobayashi cleared the traffic well enough to win the race by 1.4 seconds.
The No. 1 Porsche finished in third place, 17 seconds from the winning Toyota. The No. 5 Toyota was fifth, 53 seconds behind the sister car. The championship leaders Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, and Marc Lieb finished a lap down in fifth place as the No. 2 Porsche had balance issues throughout the race. With the result, Kobayashi, Conway, and Sarrazin climbed into second place in the drivers’ standings, 23 points behind the leading No. 2 Porsche crew with two races remaining.
Rebellion top privateer LMP1, G-Drive wins in LMP2
The Six Hours of Fuji featured two privateer LMP1 entries, one from Rebellion Racing and one from ByKolles Racing Team. The No. 13 Rebellion was the top privateer LMP1, finishing in overall sixth place whereas the ByKolles entry retired after 79 laps.
In LMP2, the No. 26 Oreca-Nissan of G-Drive Racing dominated the class from the early stages. However, RGR Sport by Morand had been able to delay their stops and thanks to a shorter pit stop, RGR Sport’s Ligier-Nissan rejoined just ahead of the G-Drive Oreca from the final stop. A lap later, Will Stevens in the G-Drive machine overtook RGR Sport’s Bruno Senna by going between Senna and the pit wall on the main straight. However at 20 minutes to go, Stevens had to give up the position as the overtake happened outside the track limits.
After swapping the positions, the RGR Sport Ligier was leading the G-Drive Oreca until the last five minutes when Stevens overtook Senna on the main straight. Senna couldn’t anymore claim back the lead and G-Drive Racing won the LMP2 class by 1.3 seconds to RGR Sport by Morand. Nicolas Lapierre brought the LMP2 standings-leading Signatech Alpine machine home in third place, 27 seconds behind the class winner.
Ford Domates GTE-Pro, Aston Martin GTE-Am
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing was in their own class at Fuji Speedway. The No. 67 machine of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell led the Ford 1-2 ahead of the No. 66 machine of Stefan Mücke and Olivier Pla.
The Fords were followed by AF Corse’s pair of Ferrari’s. Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado finished in third place in the No. 51 machine, 41 seconds from the winning Ford. Sam Bird and Davide Rigon were fourth in the No. 71 Ferrari.
The pair of Aston Martin Racing’s Vantage V8s finished in fifth and sixth place and the sole GTE-Pro Porsche of Dempsey – Proton Racing finished in seventh place.
In GTE-Am, Aston Martin Racing’s Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda, and Paul Dalla Lana won the class by a lap over the No. 83 Ferrari of AF Corse. The No. 78 KCMG Porsche completed the GTE-Am podium, two laps down from the winner.