2016 FIA WEC: Six Hours of Fuji race report
All good things must come to an end and so it was that at the Six Hours of Fuji – the seventh round of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship – Porsche’s winning run in the LMP1 class was ended by a strong performance by the Toyota squad.
Since taking its 18th victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Porsche had been unbeaten in the WEC, the no. 1 crew of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley winning the last three races to add to the no. 2 car’s triumph at La Sarthe.
However, at the Fuji International Speedway (situated in the shadow of Mount Fuji, 60 miles southwest of Tokyo) the Porsche 919 Hybrid duo’s domination was curtailed in what was undoubtedly the most competitive WEC race since this Le Mans.
The no. 1 Porsche’s strong form continued in qualifying where Webber and Bernhard combined to put the car second on the grid, a mere 0.025s behind the pole-sitting no. 8 Audi R18 and just 0.144s ahead of the no. 5 Toyota TS050.
Neel Jani and Marc Lieb still couldn’t rekindle their Le Mans form however, unable to break under the 1m24s barrier in the no. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid they had to start sixth in the championship-leading entry they shared with Romain Dumas.
The no. 2 Porsche’s pace didn’t improve in the race either. After momentarily getting up to fifth on the first lap, Dumas spent much of the first stint in sixth until the demise of the no. 7 Audi to technical problems handed the position back to the Frenchman.
From here, the race was a relatively lonely yet difficult one for the championship leaders. Stymied by handling issues (partly due to rubber build-up affecting the aerodynamics), Dumas, Jani and Lieb could only reach the chequered flag in fifth, seeing their lead in the drivers’ championship diminish as a result.
Meanwhile, Webber, Hartley and Bernhard were kept right in the thick of the lead battle for most of the six-hour encounter around the ex-Japanese Grand Prix venue. After Webber dropped to third during the opening stint, Bernhard was able to regain the position as the race passed halfway distance.
Cooler temperatures were helping the no. 1 Porsche as the German began closing in on the lead Audi throughout the rest of his stint only for Hartley to rejoin the track back behind the no .6 Toyota after the next fuel and tyre stop.
The 26-year-old fought tooth-and-nail, swapping positions with the TS050 several times until the final round of fuel stops when Webber got back behind the wheel. Porsche decided to take a fresh set of tyres while Toyota gambled on keeping their old set, the shorter stop time gaining the Japanese team track position.
The move paid off for the no. 6 car though, giving Toyota its first FIA WEC win since 2014 as Webber had to settle for third. The result saw Porsche extend its lead in the manufacturers’ battle to 59 points over Audi, while the no. 1 crew’s podium kept their slim drivers’ championship hopes alive.
In the GTE-Pro class, Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen in the Demsey-Proton Porsche 911 RSR again struggled against their newer competition, coming home last in class, a lap behind the sixth-placed car.
The Porsche 911 RSR also had to fight an uphill battle in the GTE-Am class although there was a least a little more reason to cheer as the KCMG squad of Christian Ried, Joel Camathias and Wolf Henzler took their second podium of the year.
Finishing third for the second successive race, the no. 78 entry saw off the Gulf Racing 911 RSR of Adam Carroll, Michael Wainwright and Ben Barker, the British squad just missing out on a debut WEC podium for the third consecutive race.
On outright pace however, the iconically-liveried blue-and-orange 911 RSR was the fastest GTE-Am Porsche with Barker lapping faster than any of the other Am-class 911 drivers in qualifying and the race.
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