Kazuki Nakajima clinched a thrilling home victory for Toyota in the Fuji 6 Hours on Sunday to defeat Audi and claim the Japanese manufacturer’s second win in the inaugural FIA World Endurance Championship.
The duel between the lone TS030 Hybrid and the lead Audi R18 e-tron quattro of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler raged all afternoon, and although Nakajima, Alex Wurz and Nicolas Lapierre always appeared to have the edge on outright pace, victory was only decided after a late splash ’n dash for fuel.
The Toyota squad had the advantage of being able to double-stint their tyres throughout, whereas both Audis needed new rubber at each stop. But Nakajima, who stayed on board for a final triple stint, always knew that Toyota’s strategy required that late stop for fuel. The former Williams Grand Prix driver needed to build a gap of more than 40 seconds over a charging Lotterer to cling on to the lead for the final 20 minutes – and he managed it with just seconds to spare.
“I was getting the message to push and it was quite diffcult,” said the overjoyed son of former Lotus GP driver Satoru Nakajima. “I just made it, but Andre was giving me a hard time. What a day!”
Audi’s Le Mans winners could only rue a contentious stop-go penalty, which proved to be the difference between victory and second place at Fuji. Treluyer had mistimed a pass on Stefan Mucke’s Aston Martin Vantage at the tight Turn 10 and rammed the GTE car into a spin. The collision ripped off the R18’s front splitter, forcing Treluyer to pit. But a safety car to remove debris from the scene of the accident looked to have saved the trio from any serious delay – until the penalty decision came over the radio.
Treluyer admitted the collision had been his fault. “He was letting me past, but I hesitated, he didn’t think I was coming through and he closed the door,” said the Frenchman. “I had to be aggressive, but perhaps I was too much.
But team-mate Lotterer, who double-stinted his tyres for the first time at the end of the race in a last-ditch bid to beat the Toyota, felt the penalty was a harsh call. “Our only chance at the end was to double-stint, but it meant I had no weapons to fight,” he shrugged. “We were close, but a really harsh penalty put us behind. We’d been doing a great job to stay in the fight up until then.
The second R18 of Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen finished a distant third after a frustrating afternoon. McNish had run second behind Wurz at the start, only to be surprised by Lotterer, who made a dive down his inside into Turn 10 as they lapped slower cars. The move angered McNish. “I didn’t see the need to do that. It’s not the way we usually do things at Audi, but it’s his decision.”
After that, the Scot suffered from a rubber pick-up vibration and fell back from his team-mate and the Toyota. “Our long-run pace earlier in the week had looked pretty good, so there is an element of disappointment with the result,” he said with some understatement.
Third place still leaves the pair with a mathematical chance of the World Championship with just Shanghai to come, but it will require Lotterer, Treluyer and Fassler to record a non-finish in China, with McNish and Kristensen finishing at least second for the veterans to steal the crown.
The Rebellion Lola of Neel Jani and Nicolas Prost finished fourth and first of the privateers, ahead of David Brabham, Peter Dumbreck and Karun Chandhok in the JRM Racing HPD ARX 03a.
There was more Japanese success in LMP2 as another former GP driver, Shinji Nakano, helped John Martin and Tor Graves to victory in ADR-Delta’s ORECA-Nissan. But the biggest celebrations were reserved for the team that finished behind them. Second place in class was enough for drivers Ryan Dalziel, Stephane Sarrazin and Vicente Potolicchio to deliver the inaugural World Championship title for LMP2 teams to the Starworks Motorsports squad.
Team Felbermayr pairing Marc Lieb and Richard Leitz won the GTE Pro class in their Porsche 911 RSR, ahead of Ferrari duo Gianmaria Bruni and Giancarlo Fisichella. Mucke recovered from the Audi assault to take third in class with Darren Turner.