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10 issues we realized from the 2023 WEC 6 Hours of Fuji

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The World Endurance Championship’s two-month summer season break ended with its annual journey to Fuji, the place Toyota continued an unbeaten stretch dating back to 2016 with a 1-2 finish. However the Japanese marque did not have it as simple because the end result on paper recommended, as Porsche emerged as GR010 HYBRID’s closest challenger to guide essentially the most laps in its finest exhibiting so far.

Le Mans Hypercar rivals Ferrari and Peugeot had been usurped within the pecking order whereas Cadillac additionally had a weekend to overlook, and Porsche’s buyer groups underlined the potential of the 963 LMDh package deal.

In the meantime victory for the #41 WRT ORECA put the Belgian squad in prime place to safe a second LMP2 title in three years because the #54 AF Corse Ferrari crew grew to become the fourth totally different GTE Am class winners of the season after a penalty handed to class champions Corvette.

Listed below are 10 issues we realized from the 2023 WEC 6 Hours of Fuji.

1. It is tough to beat a neighborhood driver at Fuji

Native data for Kobayashi helped him take the battle to Hartley within the last double stint

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Photograph by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Kamui Kobayashi was the undoubted star of the Fuji weekend within the #7 Toyota GR010 HYBRID. After scoring pole by a cushty margin of 0.624 seconds forward of Brendon Hartley within the sister #8 automobile, in the course of the last two stints of the race Kobayashi was by far the faster, pulling away to the tune of 39 seconds after being ordered by the Kiwi.

After each qualifying and the race, Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe technical boss Pascal Vasselon cited the “Kamui impact” when requested in regards to the #7 automobile’s velocity. Kobayashi’s intimate data of the circuit due to his many visits to the Shizuoka Prefecture venue in Tremendous System through the years gave him an edge, mentioned Vasselon.

There was reward too for Ryo Hirakawa, who took simply two laps to discover a manner by Kevin Estre’s Porsche for the lead of the race after Jose Maria Lopez had spent one of the best a part of an hour bottled up behind the Frenchman. That was regardless of Hirakawa being instructed by the workforce to not take dangers, on condition that the Porsche was on a distinct pit cycle to the Toyotas.

There have been ideas that some lingering injury to the #8 automobile from being nudged from behind by the #50 Ferrari in the course of the Flip 1 chaos might need been accountable for Hartley’s lacklustre tempo, however that didn’t appear to carry again Hirakawa. As a substitute, because the monitor cooled within the latter phases, Hartley appeared to wrestle with understeer and was unable to regulate the automobile to his liking as Hirakawa and Kobayashi had been in a position to.

Simply how a lot of an edge racing at Fuji in a Tremendous System automobile twice a 12 months provides Kobayashi and Hirakawa at their residence monitor is unclear, however it’s unlikely to be a coincidence that the 2 native heroes had been the standout performers of their respective automobiles. JK

2. Le Mans double factors might skew title end result once more

The #7 Toyota crew won for a fourth time in six races, but the title remains a long shot

The #7 Toyota crew gained for a fourth time in six races, however the title stays a protracted shot

Photograph by: JEP / Motorsport Images

One driver line-up has already gained greater than half the races within the 2023 WEC, however most likely isn’t going to take the title. Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez claimed a fourth victory in six races at Fuji, but they nonetheless path Toyota team-mates Sebastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hikakawa by 15 factors with solely 39 up for grabs on the Bahrain finale. The chances on a 3rd WEC title for the crew of the #7 GR010 HYBRID are shortening, however stay within the long-shot class.

The WEC championship battle remains to be skewed by the double factors on supply on the Le Mans 24 Hours, simply because it’s all the time been except 2018/19. The presence of two editions of the French enduro on the calendar within the so-called ‘superseason’ defined why solely factors and a half had been up for grabs.

Suppose again to 2016 when Porsche drivers Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb took the 50 factors on supply at Le Mans and went on to take the title with out ending higher than fourth in any of the remaining six races. You may name it the WEC’s post-Le Mans hangover, one thing it tried to shrug off with the ‘winter sequence’ format climaxing with the 24 Hours. That, after all, fell foul to COVID.

The occasions of this season haven’t actually re-opened the controversy on double-points at Le Mans. Conway, admittedly not essentially the most emotional or demonstrative of drivers, went so far as to say that the current system is “a bit annoying” forward of Monza in July. A transfer away from it, he reckoned, would “make the championship extra fascinating”.

The easy reality is that the domination of the championship by one producer, because the WEC is by Toyota in the intervening time, is all the time going to queer the patch when there are a comparatively small variety of races. When considered one of its automobiles doesn’t rating when the large factors are on supply and in addition has one other unhealthy or unlucky weekend — as Conway and co did at Portimao — it’s going to be a great distance again when their team-mates chalk up a robust end result at Le Mans as Buemi, Hartley and Hirakawa did with second place. GW

3. Porsche proves LMDh automobiles can reduce the mustard

Porsche couldn't hold off Toyota for the win, but it demonstrated that LMDh cars can challenge the LMH machines

Porsche could not maintain off Toyota for the win, however it demonstrated that LMDh automobiles can problem the LMH machines

Photograph by: JEP / Motorsport Images

The naysayers who’ve proclaimed that an LMDh won’t ever have the ability to beat the Le Mans Hypercars and win within the WEC are most likely going to have to alter their tune. Porsche proved over the course of the Fuji 6 Hours that its 963 is now a aggressive proposition. It was undoubtedly one of the best efficiency but by one of many LMP2-based prototypes within the sequence.

PLUS: How Porsche ensured Toyota’s WEC homecoming was anything but straightforward

It wasn’t simply that Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Estre and Andre Lotterer completed third – they did that earlier than at Portimao again in April. Relatively, it was the constant tempo of the German automobile that recommended the ‘different’ route into the Hypercar class will yield victories.

Cadillac had hinted at what is perhaps doable at Le Mans, significantly with the #3 Ganassi V-Collection.R that in the end completed fourth after a messy race. However the podium for the #6 Porsche final weekend was essentially the most coherent efficiency by an LMDh over a full race distance thus far.

It might be fallacious to say that the Porsche might have gained, despite the fact that it did lead for the higher a part of 4 hours. However it might need been second between the Toyotas. Or a minimum of that’s what the Japanese producer believed.

There was a refuelling glitch after the reconnaissance laps to the grid, which compelled an early first gasoline cease after which some heroic gasoline saving by Vanthoor to make sure the automobile didn’t must splash on the finish. PPM performed down its impact on the end result (because it most likely would!), whereas Toyota pointed to a major time loss ensuing from the gasoline saving.

Anyway, Porsche went residence with a podium that had nothing to do with different automobiles working into issues and the broader paddock with a perception that there actually are two methods to pores and skin a cat in Hypercar. GW

4. Ferrari will not be baited on BoP gripes

Ferrari wasn't truly in the fight in Japan and both cars were lapped

Ferrari wasn’t really within the battle in Japan and each automobiles had been lapped

Photograph by: Andy Chan

Ferrari has obtained its personnel nicely educated. Strive because the press corps would possibly in Japan, there appeared to be no likelihood of getting anybody wearing crimson to say the phrases Steadiness of Efficiency and even the BoP acronym, not to mention to debate it.

The foundations, when you didn’t know, forbid producers and their employees from discussing the BoP in public at ache of sanction by the stewards. And Ferrari is sticking by that proper now, although its refusal to say the pre-Monza adjustments which have left it trailing Toyota will be taken as an indication that it is a sore level.

Learn Additionally:

BoP baiting at Ferrari at Fuji was constantly met with a response that clearly got here off some form of firm crib sheet. It requested us to solid our thoughts again to a basic Le Mans 24 Hours through which the Italian producer’s 499P prevailed in a tooth-and-nail battle with Toyota’s GR010 HYBRID. We had been then requested to match that to the occasions of Monza and subsequently Fuji. GW

5. Proton has robust potential with buyer Porsche

A freak problem with seatbelts denied Proton a likely fourth place in only its second outing with a customer Porsche 963

A freak downside with seatbelts denied Proton a possible fourth place in solely its second outing with a buyer Porsche 963

Photograph by: JEP / Motorsport Images

In simply its second WEC race with the Porsche 963, buyer squad Proton Competitors hinted at its monumental promise. Harry Tincknell had been working within the prime 5 within the second hour, hassling the Ferrari of James Calado for fourth, just for what Neel Jani called a “freak issue” with the seat belts to strike as Tincknell obtained out handy over to Gianmaria Bruni.

Proton had been utilizing a distinct automobile at Fuji to the one with which it made its Hypercar debut at Monza, which was shipped off the USA to change into the German squad’s IMSA automobile from August’s Highway America race onwards. The brand new automobile had solely been given a short shakedown at Porsche’s Weissach headquarters earlier than it was raced at Fuji – so numerous teething points had been inevitable, in response to Jani, even when the belt slipping out of its buckle has to rank as one of many extra unlucky methods to lose a prime end result.

With out that drama, the Proton automobile would have doubtless completed fourth, which might have been a exceptional end result. And the excellent news for the workforce now’s that it has a correct check arising in Highway Atlanta forward of the Petit Le Mans IMSA finale on the similar monitor in October, the place it could lastly begin focusing correctly on extracting efficiency from the 963. A star flip in Bahrain, which follows Petit, wouldn’t come as an enormous shock. JK

6. Outlier Peugeot’s idea is tough to steadiness

The twisty final sector was too slow for the Peugeot to get the power down as its Monza promise seemed a long time ago

The twisty last sector was too sluggish for the Peugeot to get the facility down as its Monza promise appeared a very long time in the past

Photograph by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Any confidence that balancing the avant-garde Peugeot 9X8 with the remainder of the Hypercar pack goes to be really doable went out the window at Fuji. A automobile that was proper within the combine at Monza two months in the past was just about an also-ran on Sunday.

The French machine has all the time struggled with traction, no shock on condition that it has much less rubber on the again than its rivals. It runs the identical dimension wheels and tyres all-round — a key part of its wingless idea — whereas everybody else has greater rears than fronts.

The decrease deployment velocity of the front-axle hybrid system for the Peugeot compared with the Toyota and the Ferrari displays that – much less grip on the rear below acceleration means the 9X8 wants extra assist on the entrance. That assist was elevated a Fuji: the 150km/h deployment minimal (in contrast with 190 for the opposite LMHs) got here right down to 135km/h within the pre-Monza Steadiness of Efficiency adjustments for Japan and Bahrain to replicate the proliferation of low-speed corners on the these circuits.

Put merely, it wasn’t sufficient. The ultimate sector on the Fuji Speedway, absolutely not considered one of monitor designer Hermann Tilke’s most interesting works, was simply too sluggish for the brand new deployment velocity to have any have an effect on.

The 9X8 stays an outlier conceptually and that’s an issue with regards to setting the BoP. GW

7. Cadillac can not depend on outpacing Porsche

Even before it lost a wheel, Cadillac had struggled on old tyres and appeared unlikely to challenge for a strong result

Even earlier than it misplaced a wheel, Cadillac had struggled on {old} tyres and appeared unlikely to problem for a robust end result

Photograph by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Cadillac was left with loads of homework to do after a disastrous outing at Fuji that yielded a solitary level in tenth. That was regardless of Alex Lynn qualifying a promising fifth, forward of each manufacturing facility Ferraris and Peugeots, and a fast first pitstop on the finish of the primary hour thrusting the Chip Ganassi-run automobile into the thick of the rostrum battle.

However it rapidly grew to become clear that the Cadillac V-Collection.R was struggling on {old} tyres, one thing that’s purported to be the automobile’s robust level, with Lynn dropping like a stone in his double stint to eighth. The left-front wheel coming unfastened as a result of a sheared wheel ring within the fourth hour and two on-track penalties rubbed much more salt within the wounds.

Whereas its tenth place end at Monza was largely right down to unhealthy luck, this time it was just too uncompetitive to take the battle to the entrance. Submit-race, Common Motors sportscar programme supervisor Laura Wontrop Klauser mentioned the unstable climate might have been a think about what was most likely the automobile’s least aggressive exhibiting of the 12 months.

“When the monitor situations are always shifting it is actually laborious to get a gauge for what it’s essential to do,” she mentioned. “What we had [for the race] was very totally different to what we had the previous few days so that did not assist, however it’s what it’s and everybody has the identical downside.

“The excellent news is that now we have obtained six hours of knowledge of the automobile on the monitor floor, so we will take that again and we will assessment it and be prepared for subsequent 12 months.” Rachit Thukral

8. Fuji microclimate hampers single-car groups

Adding a second 963 to the mix for 2024 could help Jota in similar events with changeable conditions

Including a second 963 to the combo for 2024 might assist Jota in comparable occasions with changeable situations

Photograph by: JEP / Motorsport Images

In addition to Cadillac, Jota was left to lament the altering situations at Fuji, workforce boss Sam Hignett suggesting that the unstable climate prevented the workforce from getting a correct deal with on set-up – though fourth might have been on the playing cards had Antonio Felix da Costa not picked up a penalty for making contact with the workforce’s LMP2 automobile early on.

This was additionally true for the Jota P2 machine, which gained at Monza however might handle no higher than sixth at Fuji. Issues weren’t helped by David Heinemeier Hansson being circled by da Costa, however even earlier than that it didn’t appear to be the workforce’s choice to go off-strategy was going to repay as two-car squads WRT and United Autosports asserted themselves, locking out the highest 4 locations within the class between them.

Round a circuit like Fuji, the place groups typically by no means check and which options its personal micro-climate with quickly altering climate situations, it’s simple to make a mistake on the set-up that sends you off within the fallacious route. Having a second automobile due to this fact may very well be mentioned to be a higher benefit on the Japanese monitor than elsewhere.

With Jota wanting increasingly prone to get a second 963 subsequent 12 months, such points might quickly be a factor of the previous. As Hignett famous, while you go from one automobiles to 2, “the speed of studying doesn’t simply double, it’s exponential. We’ll upset some folks subsequent 12 months!” JK

9. Toyota protege Miyata makes his case

On his WEC debut Toyota reserve Ritomo Miyata put in an impressive showing for Kessel in GTE Am

On his WEC debut Toyota reserve Ritomo Miyata put in a powerful exhibiting for Kessel in GTE Am

Photograph by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Observers of Tremendous System and Tremendous GT will already understand how good newly-signed Toyota WEC junior Ritomo Miyata is, however there can have been loads of folks seeing Miyata in motion for the primary time at Fuji on board the Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GTE.

Miyata had obtained the decision from Toyota about changing absent Ferrari manufacturing facility driver Daniel Serra on Tuesday whereas he was at Motegi for Tremendous GT tyre testing, and spent the lunch break that day learning the handbook for the Ferrari. He did his first laps in each a GTE automobile and on Michelin tyres on Friday, sharing his data of the monitor with team-mates Takeshi Kimura and Scott Huffaker as they helped him acclimatise to an entirely unfamiliar automobile.

Come race day, Miyata was put in on the wheel of the CarGuy-liveried Kessel automobile for the ultimate two stints, and was closing in on Davide Rigon within the main AF Corse automobile for the primary of these. Engine bother reared its head within the second stint, costing Miyata time and stopping him from mounting a correct victory problem, though a 10-second penalty for rushing below full-course yellow might need seen to that anyway.

Whereas Miyata’s programme for 2024 stays up within the air, there’s an excellent likelihood he’ll be getting laps within the Toyota GR010 HYBRID below his belt sooner reasonably than later, with a race seat for the squad a definite risk in 2025. Keep in mind the identify… JK

10. Crowd attendance is up, however Japanese followers but to be completely satisfied

Local fans got to see another home victory for Toyota

Native followers obtained to see one other residence victory for Toyota

Photograph by: Andy Chan

The official attendance for the Fuji spherical was 54,700 over three days, with 33,600 approaching race day. That’s lower than both the Monza or Spa WEC races managed, however it was a major enchancment on the 2022 race. Certainly, it marked a file for the monitor, nearly surpassing the earlier benchmark set in the course of the peak of the LMP1 period in 2016.

And but, the venue didn’t all the time really feel as full because it might need carried out. Fuji’s gigantic principal grandstand is all the time a problem for any sequence exterior of System 1 to fill, however even the pit lane in the course of the autograph session didn’t really feel particularly crowded, whereas there have been far fewer tents erected than you’d anticipate to see for a Tremendous GT race.

Certainly, Tremendous GT’s big-ticket Fuji Golden Week fixture attracted 80,200 followers over two days, whereas the August race on the similar venue attracted a still-respectable crowd of fifty,400 regardless of working to the very same format three months later.

Maybe it reveals that the Japanese followers haven’t absolutely warmed as much as Hypercars, preferring the silhouette GT500 automobiles that look far more like their road-going brethren. That’s most likely not helped by Toyota domination having change into the norm in WEC – maybe if Honda or Nissan may very well be satisfied to throw their hat within the ring, issues might change… JK

Japanese fans were drawn to Fuji but their number was fewer than at Super GT meetings

Japanese followers had been drawn to Fuji however their quantity was fewer than at Tremendous GT conferences

Photograph by: JEP / Motorsport Images

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