A chaotic but entertaining 6 Hours of Fuji saw Toyota put the brakes on Porsche’s recent dominance.
Rocked by the announcement of Porsche’s departure at the end of this season, and the dominance of the outgoing German marque that took the fizz out of the 2017 season, mother nature and some spunk by Toyota ensured a little entertainment.
Toyota Gazoo Racing took a memorable 1-2 finish at their home race this afternoon after a dramatic seventh round of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship at Fuji Speedway.
In challenging wet and foggy conditions Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson took the No.8 Toyota TS 050 Hybrid to victory. They headed home the sister No.7 Toyota driven by Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose-Maria Lopez.
Toyota seemed to have a tyre performance advantage throughout the weather affected race which saw six Safety Car periods, one Full Course Yellow and two red flag periods in an eventful race.
The result means that the fate of this year’s drivers’ title is still up in the air as the leading No.2 Posrche trio of Brendon Hartley, Earl Bamber and Timo Bernhard finished in fourth place. The gap between them and the No.8 Toyota crew is now 39 points with 52 to play for in the last two races of the season.
Rounding out the podium was the No.1 Porsche 919 Hybrid driven by Andre Lotterer, Neel Jani and Nick Tandy.
Andre Lotterer started the race but suffered contact with the back of Buemi’s Toyota. A broken dive plane from his 919 Hybrid affected his pace and he soon fell back to fourth position. However, after taking a new front bodywork section Neel Jani and Nick Tandy fought back and were in contention to challenge for the win before the multiple stoppages for rain and fog came.
The weather stoppage was not just restricted to the Fuji Speedway, as even the MotoGP race in Motegi saw heavy rain and overcast skies. Not to mention the Super Formula finale that France’s Pierre Gasly had skipped the United States Grand Prix for was cancelled too due to an impending hurricane.
With just two rounds left in the season now, Porsche’s eyes are firmly fixed on pre-season testing for Formula E, where its drivers are likely to end up as the German company embraces the future.
Meanwhile, Toyota is yet to commit to the WEC’s ‘super season’ until it is sure of finding some quality competition within the privateer LMP1 field or if by some miracle, another manufacturer is found to give it competition. As far as the Japanese marque is concerned, its only motivation for wanting to stick around in top-level prototype sportscar racing is to win Le Mans. But doing so against weak privateers and LMP2 cars would take the sheen off the achievement.
Toyota has not given any indication of wanting to revisit Formula 1, where they seemed to be getting their act together in 2009 until the global financial crisis forced it out of Grand Prix racing. So if they call time on sportscar racing from next season, it is unlikely to be seen in any major form of racing except for the Japan-based Super Formula series, which holds great importance for it and Honda.
Neither Toyota or Honda have hinted at any plans for participation in Formula E, which seems to be the next big draw for manufacturers looking to use motorsport for R&D and publicity.
We could make ourselves sore in the head wondering what the future will hold, but with such little information, maybe it is better to enjoy whatever is left of the LMP1 class as it exists now. Not to mention hope that we get races as interesting as the one in Fuji. So onwards we go until everything changes again in a championship that finally looked like it had gained some stability.