Benoît Tréluyer narrowly missed out on the top step of the podium in Sunday's 6 Hours of Fuji (October 14) after on-track contact and a stop-go penalty left the Frenchman and his #1 Audi Sport team-mates just shy of victory.
However, their second place finish ensures that the double Le Mans 24 Hours-winning crew of Tréluyer, André Lotterer and Marcel Fässler increase their lead atop the FIA World Endurance Championship ahead of the season finale in China later this month.
"I really enjoyed driving here," said Benoit on Sunday night, still smiling despite the frustration of narrowly missing out on a tenth career win at the Fuji circuit.
"We enjoyed an incredible welcome from the Japanese fans. During the autograph session it was suggested that André, Marcel and I left earlier than planned as there was not enough security to match the size of the crowd – it was crazy!
They waved flags and chanted the Audi name." After receiving such support from the Japanese fans Benoît wanted to keep his disappointment in check, but the Alençon native could not help but wonder what might have been.
"Qualifying went well thanks to some fantastic teamwork. We hit upon a set-up that allowed us to run within a good operating window and had an aggressive race strategy.
After making my pit-stop I dropped back a little and was losing too much time passing traffic, perhaps due being a touch over-cautious. I began pushing hard but became stuck behind the #97 Aston Martin.
It was being passed by another LMP1, so I looked to follow through only for the Aston to move across on me. The door was opened and then slammed shut just as quickly."
The GTE Pro machine driven by Stefan Mücke made contact with the Audi and spun, dislodging the #1 car’s nose in the process.
"I thought something was broken, but it was just a section of bodywork caught beneath the wheel. Once that was gone everything was fine.
Leena (Gade, the #1 crew’s race engineer) came over the radio and told me to pit at the end of the lap, but I knew Marcel would not be ready and that we would lose a lot of time.
With that in mind I asked to complete one more lap. When I stopped the new nose was waiting to be fitted and Marcel was ready to take the wheel."
With debris on the circuit the safety car was soon deployed, allowing the #1 to remain in the hunt for victory, but their luck would quickly turn again as the stewards issued them with a stop-go penalty.
"We were a little surprised to be hit with a stop-go as other drivers making contact throughout the race only recieved warnings," said Benoît.
"But we just got on with it and revised our strategy a little. We decided not to switch drivers during the final stint and wanted to have the option not to change tyres.
As it was too much to ask Marcel to run three sucessive stints André took the wheel for the last stretch of the race. He didn’t change tyres and went on the attack, but it wasn’t quite enough.
Without the penalty victory was definitely within reach, but after such a delay it wasn’t possible."
Having already collected victories at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, 6 Hours of Silverstone and 6 Hours of Bahrain the #1 crew would have to settle for a runner-up finish in Japan, a result that neverthless extends their lead in the drivers’ championship to 16.5 points over the sister Audi R18 e-tron quattro pairing of Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish.
"Even a win in Fuji wouldn’t have been enough to seal the championship this weekend, so it doesn’t change a great deal from our perspective," Benoît reflected.
"Now we know that a top-three finish in China will seal the title. Of course, André, Marcel and I are a touch disappointed as we really wanted to win here for our fans and the Audi team.
They deserved victory for their hard work and for preparing our R18 e-tron quattro which was once again fast, fuel-efficient and extremely strong."
It is these vital qualities that the three team-mates will carry into the final encounter of this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship at Shanghai International Circuit on October 28.
Source: Benoit Treluyer