Porsche came third and fifth with its two 919 Hybrids in a thrilling six-hour race at the Fuji International Speedway on 16 October 2016, preserving its lead in both the manufacturers’ and drivers’ classifications. Fuji was always going to be a tough contest and it did not disappoint because when the chequered flag fell after 244 laps, all three manufacturers in the LMP1 category were within 18 seconds of each other. In the end it was Toyota’s day, much to the delight of the home crowd. The race at the foot of Mount Fuji was held in constantly dry conditions at ambient temperatures of around 20 degrees Celsius.
Having started from second on the grid, the reigning world champions, Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber finished third. This year’s Le Mans winners and current championship leaders, Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb, who had started from sixth position, finished in fifth place. Dumas, Jani and Lieb still lead the drivers’ points table but by the reduced margin of 23 points. With two more six-hour races left in the season, Porsche (263 points) has increased its lead over Audi (204) in the manufacturers’ standings, while Toyota follows with 174 points.
The #1 start-driver, Mark Webber, held second position behind the #8 Audi, but on the 21st lap let Kamui Kobayashi through in the faster #6 Toyota. The order at the top: #8 Audi, #6 Toyota and the #1 Porsche, remained like this for most of the race, a period that included five stops for refuelling and driver and tyre changes. Towards the end of the race Bernhard passed the Audi and was closing on the Toyota when he had to hand over to Hartley. A tremendous duel ensued between Hartley and Kobayashi but with 220 laps on the board, the Kiwi handed over to Webber. In the closing stages, the Aussie battled with the car’s balance and had to accept third place behind the Toyota and the Audi.
For the drivers in the #2 Porsche it was a race long struggle with the car’s balance. Not long into the race Dumas complained that the rear of the car felt loose, then after 73 laps the tyre picked up some debris that affected the car’s aerodynamics, requiring a change of the front nose section. These factors delayed the car and towards the end of the race it was not possible to improve the car’s position and they had to settle for fifth place.
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1, said, “Since Le Mans we have won all the WEC races. Today it is a podium finish, but after an exciting race. In the end only seconds decided the first three places. Congratulations to Toyota for their win on home soil. Respect to Audi for a strong performance as well. We were able to improve our position in the manufacturers’ standings. Now we head to the final stages of the season, we are looking forward to the last two races of the season.”
Timo Bernhard (#1 Porsche): “I took over from Mark after the start stint and it was all okay. Later I had a very fair fight with Stéphane Sarrazin in the Toyota. I overtook him twice, the first time he managed a counterattack but the second time I really got passed him. I even closed the gap to the leading Audi but then had to leave the racing line to avoid contact with an LMP2 car and picked up lots of rubber there. That’s normal endurance racing business, but here in Fuji you often have a huge amount of marbles. Afterwards I had to clean my tyres and then the gap increased again.”
Brendon Hartley (#1 Porsche): “I was the third driver in the car and had a pretty smooth stint. When I got back into the car I had a nice fight with the Toyota. In the end he was in front and didn’t change tyres at the last pit stop. We did change tyres and were obviously hoping to benefit from the competition’s tyre degradation, but that didn’t happen and we remained third. After three race wins in a row we of course would have preferred another one, but regardless it was a very strong race today.”
Mark Webber (#1 Porsche): “The start and first lap of the race was pretty clean racing for everyone. Then we settled into the groove. The Audi and Toyota were faster than us in the beginning but we stayed in the game and improved when the track temperatures came down a bit. On my second stint I got some time back on the Toyota and the Audi who apparently had a problem at the pit stop. The race was coming to us a little bit and for a very long time all three cars at the front could equally have won the race. Congratulations to Toyota.”
Romain Dumas (#2 Porsche): “At the start I didn’t take any risks and then during my first stint I had big problems with the rear being very difficult to control. After we had changed the front bodywork the car’s balance improved a lot. On my second stint I had significantly more grip. Of course, I’m not happy with today’s result.”
Neel Jani (#2 Porsche): “We lost too much time at the beginning of the race. I drove a double-stint – the first half was okay, but in the second half there were pieces of rubber from the tyres that got stuck in the front hood and disturbed the aerodynamics. After we changed the nose of the car, I could drive at the same pace as the leading Audi. If we want to win the World Championship, we need to make progress.”
Marc Lieb (#2 Porsche): “It was really difficult for us today. The car was not easy to drive, we missed the right balance and were too slow.”
The next race, the 6-Hours of Shanghai, will be on 6 November. This is the penultimate race of the 2016 season.
Edited by: Glen Smale
Images by: Porsche