Toyota holds off Audi in close finish with strategy call in Fuji
Toyota Gazoo Racing has claimed its first FIA World Endurance Championship victory in nearly two years, in a thrilling, down-to-the-wire Six Hours of Fuji.
Kamui Kobayshi edged out a hard-charging Audi R18 of Loic Duval by 1.439 seconds, after a fuel-only stop for the No. 6 Toyota TS050 Hybrid that put the Japanese manufacturer out front in the final hour.
Duval, who pitted with a nine-second lead, made up more than 10 seconds in the closing minutes on fresh Michelin tires but was unable to get around the Toyota in the end.
It marked a monumental win for the Japanese manufacturer on home soil, its first since Bahrain 2014 and the first for ex-Formula One star Kobayshi, who shared driving duties with Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin.
Duval and co-drivers Lucas Di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis settled for second after dominating the first half of the race, in a flawless run for the No. 8 car.
The No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley finished less than 18 seconds behind in third, putting all three LMP1 manufacturers on the podium.
Sunday's race ran caution-free, in arguably one of the hardest-fought and competitive races in championship history.
Toyota's sister No. 5 entry came home fourth after opting to change tires on its final stop, ahead of the championship-leading No. 2 Porsche trio of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb, which completed the top-five.
It was another tough day for Audi, with the No. 7 car retiring with hybrid failure after Benoit Treluyer pitted the diesel-powered contender just 20 minutes complete.
The car returned to action one hour later, with the front driveshafts removed, but was deemed illegal by officials as it was outside of the car's homologation.
G-Drive Racing claimed its long-awaited first LMP2 class victory of the season, in another late-race thriller that saw the Jota Sport-run team overcome a penalty.
Will Stevens took the No. 26 Oreca 05 Nissan across the line 1.398 seconds ahead of the No. 43 RGR Sport Ligier JS P2 Nissan of Bruno Senna in second.
Senna lost the lead with five minutes to go to Stevens, who powered by the Brazilian on the front straight, just moments after being forced to surrender the position due to a deemed illegal overtake move.
Stevens, subbing for Rene Rast, shared top class honors with Alex Brundle and Roman Rusinov.
The No. 36 Signatech Alpine A460 Nissan of Nicolas Lapierre, Gustavo Menezes and Stephane Richelmi completed the class podium in third, despite Lapierre fading in the late stages.
The No. 13 Rebellion Racing R-One AER of Dominik Kraihamer, Matheo Tuscher and Alexandre Imperatori locked up the LMP1 Privateer title with top class honors.
It came following engine failure for the No. 4 ByKolles Racing CLM P1/01 AER early in the race.
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing dominated the GTE-Pro class, controlling the race from start to finish and claiming a 1-2 finish for the American manufacturer.
The No. 67 Ford GT of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell started the race second on the grid, the latter taking over the lead of the sister No. 66 entry in the hands of Olivier Pla at Turn 1.
From there on there was no stopping the Fords, edging away from the AF Corse Ferraris that were only able to lead the field as the Ford GTs made their pitstops.
There was a small scare for Tincknell, who made with slight contact with the No. 78 KCMG Porsche 911 RSR right before the halfway mark.
The pole-sitting No. 66 Ford of Stefan Muecke and Olivier Pla quickly settled into second and never really threatened the lead of their teammates.
Pla had a spin at Turn 3 right before his final stop but was able to continue without issues but with a bigger gap to the leaders, adding up to 15 seconds after six hours of racing.
It marks the first win for the Multimatic-run, UK-based CGR team in WEC, dominating the entire weekend by leading every session in the build up to the race.
AF Corse experienced a quiet race behind the Fords, taking third and fourth with the No. 51 Ferrari 488 GTE of Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado and No. 71 entry of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird respectively.
Championship leaders Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen started fifth and also finished fifth with the No. 95 Aston Martin Racing Vantage GTE, occasionally mixing it up with the Ferraris as the pit stops progressed.
Remarkably, all manufacturers in the GTE-Pro class finished in the same order as they qualified.
GTE-Am was dominated by Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda, their AMR V8 Vantage leading the race from start to finish.