WEC: Fuji returns as championship enters title-deciding phase

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Fuji International Speedway is located 100km west of Tokyo, nestled in the foothills of iconic Mount Fuji and will host 36 cars this weekend, including five in the Hypercar and LMGTE Pro classes and thirteen each in the LMP2 and LMGTE Am.

Originally designed as a NASCAR-style venue before being repurposed as a road course, at 4.56km the circuit is nearly 800m taller than Mount Fuji, Japan’s tallest mountain at 3776m altitude. Fuji International Speedway is also cited as being the first race track to feature in a video game.

The circuit boasts one of the longest straights in motorsport, 1.475km long, emphasizing power and aerodynamic efficiency, with the first corner being a natural overtaking opportunity.

Typhoon Hinnamnor (Typhoon No. 11) attacked Japan earlier this week with its path accurately predicted by the Japan Meteorological Agency as well as north of Fuji, but nonetheless thunderstorms and their less stormy brethren are forecast throughout the weekend with low clouds, humidity and temperatures up to 30 C.

The home advantage in the Hypercar category is most certainly Toyota’s, with the Japanese company owning the circuit and having proven victorious in seven of the eight times it has been raced since the start of the FIA ​​WEC a decade ago. . Porsche took the only non-Toyota victory at the track, in 2015. It should be noted that Toyota did not take the checkered flag in the 2013 edition of the event, when extreme rain prevented the race from start and the result was declared from qualifying positions.

36 cars on the entry list means both the biggest WEC field ever seen at Fuji, six more than in 2019. Only 54 of Fuji’s 103 drivers have raced there in the series before, with 49 newcomers at the 6 Hours of Fuji.

Mount Fuji itself is a dormant volcano, and over the weekend the action should break out on track again.

HYPERCAR
In the Hypercar class, it was a pair of Toyotas and Peugeots against the Alpine Elf Team that went so well at Monza, with no appearance from the Glickenhaus on pole position at Monza.

With such a successful history at the site which has been owned by the parent company since 2000, the Toyota Gazoo Racing GR010 Hybrid Hypercar will make its home debut with much anticipation.

The last 6 Hours of Fuji in 2019 was won by Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley and it was the fourth in a row at Fuji for the Japanese manufacturer. 2022 Le Mans winners Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa, in the #8 GR010 HYBRID, were second last time out at Monza and are second in the Drivers’ Championship, 10 points behind André’s Alpine lead crew Negrão, Nicolas Lapierre and Matthieu Vaxivière.

Defending champions Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López finished third at Monza after a ding-dong battle with the winning Alpine while leading the race, and they are aiming for a second win of the year in their #7 GR010 HYBRID.

Just 15 points behind Toyota in the constructors’ standings, Alpine arrives in Japan after victory at Monza.

Second victory of the season for Lapierre (victory at Fuji for Toyota in 2012 and 2013), Negrão and Vaxiviere extend their advantage in the classification to 10 points over the winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Hartley, Buemi (also Fuji winner in 2014 and 2017) and Ryo Hirakawa in the #8 Toyota, which finished second in Italy. The #7 Toyota of Kobayashi, Conway and López remains third in the standings, albeit 20 points behind.

While the Peugeot Sport TotalEnergies team may be new to Fuji, its #94 roster of Loic Duval, Gustavo Menezes and James Rossiter has Japanese pedigree. Duval took victory at Fuji en route to the 2009 Formula Nippon crown and had won on the track in Super GT in 2006 and 2007, while Rossiter took his first Super GT victory at Fuji in 2013. Their local knowledge could -they pay off and bring Peugeot the first big result of the WEC this weekend.


LM GTE Pro
It couldn’t be closer in the points race between Ferrari and Porsche in GTE Pro. With just two races to go before the class bids farewell, there is only one point between the front-running crews from the respective manufacturers, each offering to have the final say before moving on to the Hypercar class in 2023. .

Finishing third last time out was enough to move defending champions James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #51 Ferrari above Gianmaria Bruni’s #92 Porsche in the standings, while Kevin’s #91 sister car Estre and Michael Christensen is just one point away. further in third.

After testing positive for COVID-19 and being replaced at Monza by Fred Makowiecki, Bruni’s regular co-driver Richard Lietz returns to the #92 Porsche for Fuji, where he and Marc Lieb took victory over Bruni (then at steering wheel of Ferrari) and Giancarlo Fisichella in 2012.

Corvette Racing claimed its maiden WEC 2022 victory at Monza with a superbly judged fuel economy display from Nick Tandy and Tommy Milner, and the British-American pair will be hoping to continue their form as the #64 C8.R makes its Japanese bow.


LMP2
In LMP2, the #38 Jota Sport crew have the biggest points advantage of any class leader with a 19-point lead over their nearest rival. Second at Monza after winning their class at Le Mans and finishing third at Spa, that enviable consistency from Antonio Felix da Costa, Will Stevens and Roberto Gonzalez put them in charge ahead of Oliver Jarvis and Josh Pierson in the #23 United Autosports USA Oreca-Gibson.

LMP2 is the solitary category where the class title can be claimed at Fuji with the #38 Jota capable of winning the title in Japan. The #38 is currently 19 points clear of the #23 United Autosports USA car and 27 points ahead of the #41 RealTeam by WRT and #9 Prema Orlen Team. If #38 Jota wins, while #23 United, #41 RealTeam and #9 Prema won’t finish, then #38 wins the titles.

Only 15 of Fuji’s 39 LMP2 drivers have ever raced on the WEC circuit. Prema #9, Vector Sport #10 and Jota #28 are all a trio of Fuji rookies, while Jota #38 is the only trio to have raced here before.

But with RealTeam by WRT’s squad of Ferdinand Habsburg, Rui Andrade and Norman Nato hitting their stride with a win at Monza, Jota can’t afford to let his focus drop. The Realteam #41 crew sit in third place in the standings, 27 points behind Jota, close enough to strike should anything go wrong for the points leaders.

René Rast will be replaced in the WRT sister team by fellow Audi factory driver Dries Vanthoor, who drove the Belgian team’s third car at Le Mans, while two-time Daytona 24 Hours winner Renger van der Zande joins Vector Sport instead of DTM. bound Nico Müller.

LMGTE Am
In the GTE Am category, only four points separate the two leading contenders from Aston Martin. A dramatic crash at Monza for Henrique Chaves in the #33 TF Sport Vantage meant the Le Mans-winning car he shared with Marco Sorensen and Ben Keating picked up no points in Italy, but Nicki’s #98 NorthWest AMR machine Thiim, David Pittard and Paul dalla Lana could not take full advantage of it by finishing eighth.

Aston Martin won GTE Pro (with Thiim/Sorensen) and GTE Am (with TF Sport) honors in 2019, so watch out for a battle royale of British cars. Their closest challenge may come from #77 Porsche Proton Dempsey drivers Harry Tincknell, Seb Priaulx and Christian Ried, the only crew to win twice this year within 20 points of the top in third.

It’s a home race for D’Station Racing who are hoping for big things with the #777 Aston while sister car #33 TF Sport uses its European Le Mans Series chassis after the Monza crash for the team.

20 of the 39 GTE Am drivers are making their WEC Fuji debuts in 2022. Eight of the 19 drivers who have previously raced in Japan have already won on the circuit, including current top three Platinum drivers Marco Sorensen, Nicki Thiim and Harry Tincknell.

Driver changes are seen in the #54 AF Corse Ferrari with Italian Davide Rigon replacing Kiwi Nick Cassidy who is in charge of the DTM at Spa, while a late driver change for the #56 Team Project Porsche 1 sees the American pilot Brendan Iribe replaced by the Japanese pilot. Takeshi Kimura.

Track action for the 6 Hours of Fuji begins Friday with the first two 90-minute practice sessions, with Saturday seeing the final practice and then qualifying from 2.40pm local time. The race starts at 11 a.m. local time on Sunday.


Program for the 6 Hours of Fuji FIA WEC 2022

Friday, September 9, 2022
Free practice 1: 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. local
Free practice 2: 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. local time

Saturday, September 10, 2022
Free practice 3: 10.20am-11.20am local time
Qualifying 1: 2:40 p.m.-2:50 p.m. local
Qualifiers 2: 3:00 p.m.-3:10 p.m. local

Sunday, September 11, 2022
Race: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. local

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