TOYOTA GAZOO Racing maintained its perfect record in the 2019-2020 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season with a one-two victory on home ground in the 6 Hours of Fuji.
The reigning World Champions won at Fuji Speedway for the seventh time in eight years, with the #8 TS050 HYBRID of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley earning victory from pole position.
“It’s a really nice feeling to take my first victory with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, especially to do it on home soil as well,” commented Hartley. “It’s the last time we get to race the TS050 HYBRID at Fuji so to win was great; I’m going to enjoy this moment.
“We had a pretty clean race and Kazuki did an amazing job on the intermediate tyres. We had the advantage over the #7 car with success handicap today but that will not be the case in Shanghai when we can expect a very close race.”
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López finished second, leaving both car crews tied on the same points in the lead of the World Championship. TOYOTA GAZOO Racing leads the teams’ standings by 35 points from Rebellion.
The new success handicap system was implemented for the first time this weekend, imposing lap time penalties on LMP1 cars based on World Championship position and its effects became clear in the opening laps.
With Sébastien at the wheel, the #8 TS050 HYBRID, which carried a one second per lap handicap, held off a strong challenge from the #5 Ginetta to lead from the start while Kamui in the #7 car, with a 1.4secs lap time penalty, had an exciting fight for second.
Kamui lost out to Rebellion #1 through the first corners but, after a safety car due to an accident involving GT cars, on four consecutive occasions he overtook at the end of the lap only to be re-passed before turn one. That was due to the Rebellion’s 40km/h top speed advantage, a consequence of fuel and hybrid boost restrictions imposed by the success handicap system on the TS050 HYBRID.
Once established at the front, both TS050 HYBRIDs steadily stretched their advantage, helped by the fastest pit work in the field, although the #7 was unable to challenge for the lead due to the 0.4secs-per-lap difference in success handicap.
With two hours gone, late in the first stints of Mike and Brendon, light rain started. An hour later the track surface became too slippery so both cars switched to hybrid intermediate tyres, with José and Kazuki taking over their respective TS050 HYBRIDs.
When conditions improved enough for a switch to slick tyres, the #8 car’s lead stood at around a minute but that was reduced to less than 30secs with two hours remaining when Kazuki was forced to take a drive-through penalty for exceeding the pit lane speed limit.
Sébastien took over the race-leading #8 for the final 90 minutes with Kamui giving chase in the #7. The gap remained stable as the end approached and Sébastien took the chequered flag in the TS050 HYBRID’s final race in Japan, 33.955secs ahead of Kamui. The #1 Rebellion finished two laps behind in third.
The result marked Sébastien’s 16th outright WEC victory, extending his series record, and the fourth time Kazuki has won his home race, while Brendon stood on the top of the podium for the first time as a TOYOTA GAZOO Racing driver.
Following the team’s second one-two finish of the season, the success handicap on both cars will be increased for the next race, the 4 Hours of Shanghai on 10 November, although the lap time penalty will be identical for each car as both TS050 HYBRIDs have the same number of World Championship points.
6 Hours of Fuji results:
1st #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 232 laps
2nd #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +33.955secs
3rd #1 Rebellion (Senna/Menezes/Nato) +2 laps
4th #29 Team Nederland (Van Eerd/Van der Garde/De Vries)+10 laps
5th #38 JOTA (Gonzalez/Da Costa/Davidson) +10 laps
6th #37 Jackie Chan (Tung/Aubry/Stevens) +11 laps