Toyota dominant at Fuji; RTN and TF Sport take first WEC wins

Toyota dominant at Fuji; RTN and TF Sport take first WEC wins

Le Mans/WEC

Toyota dominant at Fuji; RTN and TF Sport take first WEC wins

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Toyota Gazoo Racing’s No. 8 Toyota TS050 HYBRID was untouchable in today’s six-hour race at the Fuji Speedway. On home soil for the OEM, Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley scored the team’s seventh win in eight races at the circuit in WEC competition, leading home a 1-2 finish.

The sister car, the No. 7 TS050 HYBRID finished second, and was never really in contention for the win, hindered by the ‘Success Handicap’ applied for its Silverstone win, Jose Maria Lopez, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi finished on the lead lap, but were unable to extract the pace required to battle for the lead.

“It was a good race for us. There was a bit of a mistake for us in the middle of the race with a drive-through but we all had the pace and kept it clean,” said Nakajima, who now has four wins at Fuji in WEC competition.

Mike Conway told RACER that the handicap applied to the car made a tangible difference in the No. 7 crew’s race pace.

“Yeah, I mean, we could see we were down, three, four tenths a lap at least,” he explained. “But, we did what we could and kept the sister car honest, all the way through to race. And that’s all we could do really.

“We knew this was going to be tough from the outset — there was definitely a gap between the two cars.”

As for the privateer cars from Rebellion Racing and Team LNT, they had the one lap pace here, and top speed but not the consistency over a stint to fight up front.

Rebellion Racing’s R13 took the fight to Toyota early.

The No. 1 Rebellion R-13 was the best of the rest here and completed the podium. Gustavo Menezes, Bruno Senna and Norman Nato were strong throughout, but once the race settled down gradually faded away, and had a quiet run to the finish, unchallenged by the two Team LNT Ginettas.

There was a flash of excitement, though. Senna was able to create an entertaining opening hour, the Brazilian getting past Kobayashi at the start and spending much of the first stint battling for the second spot on the podium.

During that time, the Toyota’s superiority exiting corners were apparent, as was the R-13’s top speed on the main straight. The fight between the two resulted in multiple sequences where Kobayashi had to fight past Senna who on the pit straight was able to get a tow and retake the place.

“It was fun — in the beginning we had enough grip to keep them behind,” Senna said.

“It’s a shame about the safety car as I think we could have taken the lead. I had to give them a fight, I knew once they got ahead they’d pull away.”

For Team LNT it was another outing that showed promise, but also inconsistency. The British team clearly is still getting used to the task of racing in the WEC’s top class.

The No. 6 G60-LT-P1 took fourth in LMP1, after starting a lap down following a post-qualifying stewards’ decision, while the No. 5 dropped to last in the top class after issues during the race.

A brake failure and puncture caused by brake cooling issues forced Ben Hanley into the garage for repairs during Hour 5. This dropped the No. 5 crew behind the delayed sister car before a six-minute stop and hold added insult to injury, the penalty was handed to the crew for using too many tires, costing it further time.

In LMP2, it was a dream result for Racing Team Nederland, which scored its first ever FIA WEC victory after a stunning performance in the changeable conditions. The class was full of intrigue, with multiple contending teams all spending time in the lead. The mixed conditions caused by light rain saw some drivers struggle and others prosper.

For Racing Team Nederland this was a phenomenal performance, the team in contention throughout the race thanks to standout performances from Giedo van der Garde and Nyck de Vries. Van Der Garde stormed to the lead from seventh on the grid in the opening laps, and from then on pulled a gap at the front. That created a platform for de Vries and team owner/driver Frits van Eerd to build on.

F2 champion de Vries played a huge part in the team building enough of a lead for van Eerd to defend during his time in the car in the tricky conditions.

This result made it two wins out of two races for Michelin against its new competitor Goodyear, which at times looked like the stronger of the constructors.

“Last year we were in the shadows because we were in a Dallara and the team to me wasn’t at the level it should have been racing in FIA WEC,” said de Vries, who was in the car for over three hours of the race. “I always put effort into my work and I expect that from those around me. Last year we weren’t on the same page, so it was the correct decision to move to TDS and the ORECA chassis. The car was amazing.

“I just did my job today, I was just hoping for a podium because I missed on the Silverstone occasion. To score a win with Frits is surreal really. He is so passionate about motorsport and cars, he deserves this more than any of us.”

In the final hour, having already spent much of the middle portion of the race fighting for the lead and keeping the team in contention, de Vries emerged from his final pit stop in the lead and had to fend off Anthony Davidson in the JOTA ORECA behind. Davidson, couldn’t catch him, instead the Dutchman pulled away and finished 25 seconds clear at the front.

A win here followed up the team’s first WEC podium at Silverstone perfectly. Are the guys at RTN now thinking title? Not yet, but van Der Garde did confirm that van Eerd will now contest Shanghai, a race he was due to miss due to business commitments. “He’ll be there,” he said. “He’s getting all excited!”

JOTA finished second on the road, ahead of the Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA (also run by JOTA), which started from pole and was a contender during Gabriel Aubry and Will Stevens’ time in the car. However, after the race JOTA’s ORECA was disqualified from the results, meaning the Jackie Chan DC car inherited second place in LMP2.

The reason for the disqualification was because in post-race scrutineering the car’s “outside neutral switch was unable to disconnect the transmission,” a breach of the technical regulations.

The DQ also elevated United Autosports to the final podium spot, salvaging what had been a disappointing race. Filipe Albuquerque, Phil Hanson and Oliver Jarvis had the speed to fight for a win here, but their race was compromised by multiple electrical issues which caused the team’s ORECA to lose power and stop on track. Albuquerque pushed hard in the final hour to snatch fourth from High Class Racing, which subsequently became third in the final results.

The latter’s ORECA completed the top five, and starred in this one. The one-two-punch of Toyota junior Kenta Yamashita and Anders Fjordbach was good enough to see the Danish team lead at multiple points during the race before Bronze driver Mark Patterson’s stint at the end.

Super GT points leader Yamashita and team regular Fjordbach were on fine form, and combined to deliver what is certainly the team’s greatest race since its move into prototype racing back in 2017.

Next page: GT classes and results

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