Four Fuji Favourites that Rocked the WEC
Check out four memorable races that wowed the crowds at Fuji Speedway....
Toyota’s First Home Win, 2012
Toyota was just four races into its now decade-old WEC programme in October 2012 when it aimed to follow up on its debut win at Interlagos a few months before.
Alexander Wurz and Nicolas Lapierre had triumphed in Sao Paulo but Kazuki Nakajima had a clashing commitment in Super GT.
This meant that Nakajima was keen to sample the victory champagne at his and the teams’ first home race.
The race went perfectly to plan for the No.7 TS030-Hybrid and it had a large lead going in to the final two hours, albeit knowing they would have to make a splash and dash pit stop.
The chasing Audi smelt blood and decided to forsake changing tyres at its final scheduled stop.
Prior to that the gap was reduced significantly and at one stage Benoit Treluyer got to within eight seconds of a startled Lapierre.
But the crucial moment came when Treluyer glanced the Aston Martin of Stefan Mucke at the chicane and damaged his car. But with a safety car called the Audi lost little time and the battle was resumed.
But a grandstand finish was denied when Lotterer had to serve a penalty for the earlier contact triggered by Treluyer, meaning that Nakajima’s dream of a home win came true.
Lap One Mayhem, 2014
Fuji is known for its high drama but even the great mountain itself did a double-take as a remarkable first lap of action played out in 2014.
Mark Webber (Porsche), Andre Lotterer (Audi) and Sebastien Buemi (Toyota) thrilled the large crowd as the three LMP1-H giants went head-to-head in a no holds barred fist fight as the lights turned green.
Pole sitter Buemi initially led but was challenged by a feisty Webber at the first turn. The two touched lightly and Webber was forced wide but kept his foot in to make an audacious around the outside move at the second corner.
This was just the start of the drama as a flying Andre Lotterer joined the party by challenging Buemi for second as the pair went side-by-side at 150mph!
As they entered the second sector the trio were three-wide with Lotterer using his local knowledge from his then Super Formula programme to great effect to grab the lead!
That made it three major manufacturers leading in the first 1.5 miles of the race but there was more drama to come towards the end of the lap as Buemi re-took the lead by diving down the inside at the Dunlop chicane!
Almost instantly Webber put a move on Lotterer’s Audi to get back into second place. Just as the crowd started to gasp for breath the cars were back on to the main straight with Buemi crossing the line first followed by Webber.
But behind them Lotterer was slowing due to the then automatic fuel cut-out system kicked in and he was forced to re-group, falling back to eighth place!
It was a sensational start to a race that would ultimately see Toyota prevail as winners as Buemi and current WEC TV commentator Anthony Davidson heading home a popular Toyota 1-2
Fassler v Webber Epic Battle, 2015
There were countless memorable battles throughout the LMP1-H era but few came close to the fire and brimstone, no-holds barred duel between Marcel Fassler’s Audi and Mark Webber’s Porsche in 2015.
The pair were fighting for second position in the third hour of the wet race when Webber got a draft on the Audi and ducked to the outside for Turn 1. He got a tighter line for the exit and the pair ran nose to tail, negotiating several GT cars as they did so.
Webber stalked Fassler until the main straight where he slipstreamed through, only for the tenacious Swiss to grab his own tow and slip by again into the braking zone.
Webber though got better traction on the exit and went ahead again, only for the Audi to hold the line for the T3 right-hand corner. That made it an incredible four overtakes in less than a mile!
That was only the beginning, however. The pair then crossed the start/finish line again but this time dead level as the crowd once again rose to their feet in appreciation.
On the exit of T1 they were side-by-side again and went either side of a startled Danny Watts in the Strakka LMP2 car.
The battle continued for several more laps and eventually Webber won out and built the foundations for victory along with team-mates Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard.
But it was one of WEC’s greatest ever wheel-to-wheel battles that everyone remembers six years on.
Toyota Pip Audi in Strategy Thriller, 2016
Toyota scored its fourth home win in 2016 and it came via one of the best ever tactical masterclasses seen in the WEC.
Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Stephane Sarrazin took the win after a tight battle that saw them cross the finishing line just 1.4s ahead of the No.8 Audi driven by Loic Duval, Lucas di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis.
Toyota were forced to get tactically creative because the petrol-powered eight-megajoule Porsches and Toyotas went longer on fuel than the turbodiesel 6MJ Audi.
That ensured Audi were always going to save precious time in the pits by taking on fewer litres of fuel during their final pit-stops.
The winning Toyota was in third when it was brought in early and was able to be short-fuelled. This overturned the four-second advantage enjoyed by the No.1 Porsche with Timo Bernhard at the wheel and gave Kobayashi second place once the pitstop cycle was completed.
It all shook out with the final stop when Toyota elected not to change tyres, meaning it went into the lead but had less pace than the chasing Audi driven by Duval.
Kamui Kobayashi initially didn’t believe he was able to hold on for the win, saying: “When they asked if I could do a double, I asked how many seconds I would gain?
“When they told me it would be about 10, I thought that’s not enough. But it was worth the risk.”
Indeed, it was, because not only did it provide a first WEC win for Kobayashi, but it also end a long winless drought for Toyota that stretched back to the end of 2014!