Porsche close in on FIA WEC titles despite weather affected race in Fuji

The Porsche LMP Team had to be content with third and fourth place finishes at the seventh of nine rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). The six-hour race on the Fuji International Speedway was hampered by persistent rain plus fog and staged in only 14 degree Celsius ambient temperature and 16 degree track temperature. Interruptions and neutralisations influenced the track action. Neel Jani (CH), André Lotterer (DE) and Nick Tandy (GB) finished in third place. This year’s Le Mans winners Brendon Hartley (NZ), Earl Bamber (NZ) and Timo Bernhard (DE) had started from pole position and came home fourth with Bamber impressively recording the fastest race lap (1:37.702 minutes on lap 19 of 115). The second red flag came after four hours and 31 minutes and the race was not restarted. As just over 75 per cent of the scheduled race duration had been completed, full points were awarded. In the manufacturers’ world championship standings, Porsche continues to lead with now 270 points, Toyota follows on 211.5 points after their one-two win on home soil. Hartley/Bamber/Bernhard top the drivers’ rankings with 172 points, their advantage over the best placed Toyota drivers having melted to 39 points. Jani/Lotterer/Tandy remain in fourth position now on 98 points. At the eighth and penultimate 2017 WEC race in Shanghai (CN) on November 5th, Porsche wants to convert its match point into a successful title defence.

How the race went for car number 2:
Earl Bamber performs his first WEC start in the 919 Hybrid. When the safety car disappears at the end of lap 5, Bamber stays in the lead. Before the second safety car period begins at the end of lap 28 because of fog, he has built up a gap of over 12 seconds to the number 8 Toyota (Sébastien Buemi). When the race is red flagged after 39 laps, he is the only LMP1 that hasn’t yet refuelled. At 12:50 hrs the race is restarted and Bamber needs to immediately pit. After 40 laps, Timo Bernhard takes over with fresh rain tyres. He is now fourth behind the two Toyotas and Neel Jani. Bernhard gets lapped by the number 8 Toyota on lap 56 with the latest safety car period coming moments later. After 63 laps, Bernhard hands over to Brendon Hartley who continues with fresh rain tyres behind the safety car in P4 of the LMP1 category. End of lap 65 the safety car releases the field, end of lap 79 it comes back on track and later again after laps 88 and 111 leaving Hartley powerless to unlap himself. When the race is ultimately red flagged after 114 laps, he is in the pits for refuelling.

The Porsche LMP Team after the race
Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1:

“Heavy rain, thick fog, a start behind the safety car, two red flags and numerous safety car periods and yellow zones: Given these adverse conditions, we can be glad that nothing serious happened today. In the end it was a lucky one-two race win for Toyota. But we were close and in Shanghai we will do everything to do the next step in order to defend our championship titles.”

Andreas Seidl, Team Principal:
“Congratulations to Toyota for winning in Fuji. The pendulum today swung back and forth several times. Before the first red flag, we were gambling. If it would have been the end of the race, we would have won it with our number 2 car. But with the timing of the ultimate red flag we were unlucky. If the race had continued, we would have seen a battle for victory between the number 7 Toyota and our number 1 car. We generally had difficulties getting the tyres to work at the re-starts causing us to drop back a few times. However, it is important that we take home some more points for both championship classifications. It was a very difficult weekend for our drivers and the entire team but everyone stayed focused which I thank them for.”

Drivers Porsche 919 Hybrid car number 2
Brendon Hartley (27, New Zealand):

“It was going great for Earl in the beginning. He was in P1, leading by over ten seconds, but then we had safety car after safety car which obviously affected our race. We had very tricky conditions today with a slippery track and poor visibility. But we kept the car on track and had clean stints.”

Earl Bamber (27, New Zealand):
“I started the race and the visibility, especially in traffic, with spray and fog was really very, very bad. I didn’t see anything. It was the right call to red flag the race after a bit over an hour. The water level wasn’t the problem but the fog had to clear and that didn’t happen.”

Timo Bernhard (36, Germany):
“After I took over from Earl, I had huge problems to get the tyres to work. I was driving in heavy traffic with lots of spray and very poor visibility. There wasn’t much I could do to heat the rubber up. Then the leader overtook me and the safety car came out. That was very unfortunate for us.”