2016 FIA WEC: Six Hours of Fuji preview
While most race series have already reached their conclusions, over the next six weeks, the FIA World Endurance Championship hits the busiest part of its season, starting this weekend with the Six Hours of Fuji in Japan.
The first of three flyaway events, this weekend’s race at the former home of the Japanese Grand Prix is part of a Far East double-header, with the WEC circus heading to China for the Six Hours of Shangahi on 4-6 November before the 2016 season finally comes to a close in Bahrain on 17-19 November.
Mathematically, it is possible that the no. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid line up of Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas could wrap up the 2016 FIA World Endurance Driver’s Championship this weekend at the Japanese circuit.
Heading to Japan, the crew (winner’s this year at the 24 Hours of Le Mans) enjoy a 37.5-point advantage over the no. 8 Audi R18 e-tron quattro with 50 points left to play for after the conclusion of the Six Hours of Fuji.
It’s an outside chance at best, especially with the no.2 Porsche not enjoying the best of luck in recent races. Since winning Le Mans, Jani, Lieb and Dumas have been hampered by small issues, limiting the trio to a pair of fourth places in Texas and Mexico.
Instead, it has been the no. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber (the latter announcing yesterday that he will retire at the end of the season) who have been in the ascendency, winning the last two races to bring themselves back in with a slim chance of retaining their 2015 titles.
The reigning champions’ current advantage seemed to have stayed with them in free practice too, the no. 1 entry setting the fastest time of the day, with the no.2 car a second further back in fourth (albeit just a tenth behind the two Audis).
In the GTE-Pro class, any hopes Porsche had of retaining its 2015 crowns have been virtually extinguished this year, the updated 2016 911 RSR struggling to keep pace with its turbocharged rivals (often as a result of unfair BoP changes).
Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen sit 51 points off the top of the table heading to Fuji, although the duo – driving the no. 77 Dempsey-Proton RSR – were second fastest in the first free practice session, just 0.329s slower than the pace-setting no. 67 Ford GT’s time of 1m39.216s.
The Porsche 911 RSRs greatest chance of success comes in the GTE-Am class where the no. 88 Abu Dhabi-Proton entry of Patrick Long, David Heinemeier Hansson and Khaled Al Qubaisi is right in the thick of the title battle, sitting second in the points behind the no. 83 AF Corse Ferrari 458.
The battle between the leading Am class Porsche and the Ferrari looks to continue around the 2.84-mile Fuji International Speedway, both cars setting comparable times in free practice with the 911 RSR fractionally ahead so far on ultimate pace.
After a third free practice session tomorrow morning, qualifying gets underway 2:00pm local time tomorrow before the six-hour race kicks off at 11am on Sunday morning.
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