Fuji Six Hours

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Fu’i S eedwa ,

THERE WAS A LOT OF PRESSURE ON Kazuki Nakajima and the Toyota Racing team at theft home round of the inaugural FIA World Endurance Championship. Company president Akio Toyoda headed the list of VIPs who carried the highest expectations of the one T5030 Hybrid. Nothing less than victory would do.

That Nakajima should be at the wheel to deliver that win was a perfect ending to a great race at Fuji, a track owned by the car giant itself. The son of 1980s Fuji Formula 2 race-winner Satoru Nakajima, teamed with Alex Wurz and Nicolas Lapierre, just kept hB lead after a late ‘splash and dash’ pitstop for fuel to complete a narrow defeat of Audi’s Le Mans winners Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler. Strategy over raw pace was key. The T5030 could double-stint its tyres throughout the afternoon, a feat Audi’s pair of R18 e-tron guattros could not

match. Still, the lead Audi should have won in Fuji, only for a contentious stopgo penalty to thwart its bid.

In his chase of the Toyota, Treluyer ran into Stefan Mucke’s Aston Martin at the tight Turn 10, spinning the Vantage round and damaging the R18’s front splitter. A safety car period to clear debris from the incident appeared to save BenoTt’s blushes, only for the penalty call to ruin his day.

Loiterer claimed the penalty was “harsh” and it was the German who gambled on double-stinting hB tyres on the final stint in a bid to overhaul Nakajima. The Japanese needed a gap of more than 40 seconds to pit and still keep his lead, and he just managed it. “I had no weapons to fight,” a glum Loiterer said later. But at least Audi’s trio strengthened their grip on their World Championship lead. Team-mates Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen’s distant third place leaves them with only slim hopes of winning the title at the Shanghai

season finale. McNish had run second to Wurz in the opening stint, only to be surprised and annoyed by Loiterer’s dive down hB inside as they lapped

traffic at Turn 10. Loiterer’s move was clean, but McNish suffered a rubber pick-up vibration thereafter and fell off the pace. Both McNish and Kristensen clashed with traffic as they tried to make up time during a frustrating afternoon for the Le Mans legends. At least for Audi the manufacturers’ World Championship is already in the bag, the hybrid R1 8s having sewn up the title earlier in the season. The new technology, introduced this year has won Le Mans and a World Championship in its first

season so to suggest Toyota’s victory in Japan marks a change in the world order of spots car racing would be something of an exaggeration. Instead, what is clear is that the dominant force in the sport has a new fight on its hands after the withdrawal of Peugeot this year and that’s great news for the World Championship.

ADR-Delta claimed the LMP2 class, with former Prost and Minardi GP driver Shinji Nakano another home winner. Behind them, US-based Scot Ryan Dalziel, former Peugeot ace Stephane Sarrazin and Vicente Potolicchio did enough to secure the inaugural LMP2 teams’ World Championship for the Starworks squad.

As the magnificent backdrop of Mount Fuji faded into the darkness, Nakajima reflected on the biggest win of his career to date. “To win a World Championship race has always been my ambition,” he said through the biggest of grins. “It’s just great to share this with my team-mates and everyone at Toyota.” The breakthrough win in Brazil had been special. But on home turf, in front of a large and enthusiastic partisan crowd? For everyone at Toyota, this was unforgettable. Damien Smith

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