Toyota GAZOO Racing’s Kamui Kobayashi was able to get past teammate Brendon Hartley on the pit straight with 98 minutes to go Sunday (Sept. 10). From there, he was able to pull away to win the FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Fuji at Fuji Speedway with teammates Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez. It is the trio’s fourth victory of the year.
The victory also clinches the Hypercar manufacturers championship for Toyota. They have been the top manufacturer in the WEC every year since 2017.
“We had a difficult time overtaking [today],” Kobayashi said after the race. “It’s not easy at all. Once we [got] clear, our pace was quite brilliant. Achieving a one-two finish is the target, but it was not easy. It’s a fantastic feeling.”
The margin of victory was 39.119 seconds over the No. 8 Toyota of Hartley, Sebastien Buemi, and Ryo Hirakawa. Porsche Penske Motorsport’s Kevin Estre, Andre Lotterer and Laurens Vanthoor were third. Ferrari AF Corse’s No. 50 for Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen were a lap down in fourth, followed by teammates James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi and Alessandro Pier Guidi.
Unlike the majority of WEC races over the past few years, Sunday’s race at Fuji Speedway was nothing short of a duel and far from easy for Toyota. Conway started from the overall pole with teammate Buemi alongside. However, it was Vanthoor who was able to get to the inside of both Toyotas.
Nearly everyone went wide at the hairpin. When the dust cleared, Vanthoor was in the overall lead. Almost immediately afterwards, the safety car came out for the Richard Mille AF Corse Ferrari of Luis Perez Companc spinning into the gravel at the first corner. It would be the race’s only safety car period.
The opening lap scramble allowed both of the Ferraris (Molina and Calado) to jump over the factory Toyotas. Once the green came back out, Vanthoor was able to pull away while the Conway and Buemi had to deal with the red and yellow Ferrari 499Ps.
By the time Conway got back to second, 50 minutes had elapsed and Vanthoor had a 14-second lead. Vanthoor was able to hold that advantage steady until he got out of the car in favor of Estre.
The entire middle stint of the race saw Estre struggle to keep up with the pace that Vanthoor set early on. That allowed Lopez to reel him in. What followed was over an hour of constant battling. The battle, combined with lapped traffic, allowed Ryo Hirakawa to run the leaders down from 13 seconds back.
With Lopez seemingly unable to get past Estre, Hirakawa started pressuring Lopez for second. Once he took second, Hirakawa drove up to the back of Estre and immediately gave him the business. With just over two hours to go, Hirakawa took the overall lead.
The round of pit stops that followed saw Hirakawa pit last, then hand over to Hartley. Once the tires were back up to temperature, Hartley ended up with a four-second lead over Kobayashi, who managed to jump over the Porsche of Lotterer.
Hartley appeared to be struggling with his tires shortly after getting into the car. That allowed Kobayashi to run him down and take the lead. From there, Kobayashi was never seriously threatened en route to the win.
With one race remaining, Buemi, Hartley and Hirakawa have a 15-point lead over Conway, Kobayashi and Lopez. These drivers are the only ones still in title contention.
United Autosports’ Filipe Albuquerque started on pole in LMP2 and led for the entire first hour and change of the race. Teammates Phil Hanson and Frederick Lubin were able to keep the No. 22 at the front of the field for the entire first half of the event.
Past halfway, Team WRT’s No. 41 with Louis Deletraz at the wheel put himself into the hunt. When Hanson stopped with a little more than two hours to go for tires and fuel, Deletraz took the lead briefly.
A quicker stop for Deletraz allowed him to assume the lead fully at the end of the pit sequence. Once Robert Kubica got in the car, he continued to expand the advantage. From there, Kubica was able to hold on take his, Deletraz and Rui Andrade‘s second win of the year.
The official margin of victory was a full lap for the No. 41 over Albuquerque, Hanson and Lubin due to the positioning of the overall leaders. In reality, the margin was closer to 18 seconds. Team WRT’s No. 31 of Robin Frijns, Sean Gelael and Ferdinand Habsburg were third, followed by United Autosports’ No. 23 for Ben Hanley, Oliver Jarvis and Josh Pierson. Signatech Alpine’s Julien Canal, Charles Milesi and Matthieu Vaxiviere were fifth.
In GTE-Am, Corvette Racing officially clinched the GTE-Am championship during the previous round at Monza, so Sunday was all about trying to score another win. Ben Keating started from pole and led early. However, D’Station Racing’s Tomonobu Fujii was able to take the lead away on the restart. Fujii was able to nail down his advantage while Keating dropped back. There was a reason for that.
Keating was saving a substantial amount of fuel. Over the two stint that amounted to 146 minutes in the car, Keating apparently saved a half-hours’ worth of fuel, something that amazed everyone. The reasoning? Keating is a right foot braker and was able to save fuel by coasting.
Keating’s fuel conservation and a strong run from Nico Varrone put Corvette Racing into the class lead late, but the race involved into a four-car duel between Corvette Racing’s Nicky Catsburg, Iron Dames’ Rahel Frey, AF Corse’s Davide Rigon and Dempsey Proton Racing’s Julien Andlauer.
The final round of pit stops saw Rigon emerge with the lead. From there, the Ferrari racer was able to hold on to take the win with Castellacci and Thomas Flohr.
The margin of victory was 19.020 seconds over Kessel Racing’s Scott Huffaker, Takeshi Kimura and newcomer Ritomo Miyata. Corvette Racing ended up third, then the Iron Dames Porsche of Bovy, Frey and Michelle Gatting. Team Project 1-AO’s Matteo Cairoli, PJ Hyett and Gunnar Jeannette were fifth in “Rexy,” their Porsche.
The FIA World Endurance Championship has just one more race remaining in 2023. That is the Bapco 8 Hours of Bahrain, which is scheduled for Nov. 4. That race is scheduled to go green at 7 a.m. ET. Coverage will be split between Motor Trend and MotorTrend+.
About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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