The No.18 Porsche 919 was leading the 6 Hours of Fuji as a spectacular race got to the halfway mark for the sixth round of the FIA World Endurance Championship this afternoon.
The race began behind the Safety Car after heavy morning rain had soaked the 2.83-mile Fuji Speedway track. The first 16 laps of the race were thus controlled before pole-sitter Mark Webber blasted away to lead the race, still in challenging wet conditions.
The early stages of the race saw thrills aplenty as Webber lost control on the first green flag lap and spun the No.17 Porsche 919, just managing to keep the car out of the wall. This handed the lead to Marcel Fassler in the No.7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro, and the Swiss driver soon started to build a useful gap to the rest of the pack.
Another significant incident in the first hour saw Alex Wurz in the Toyota TS040 and Romain Dumas’ Porsche 919 Hybrid collide. Both cars spun but were able to return to the track quickly.
Dumas was able to make a good recovery and was eventually got back into second place, overtaking Oliver Jarvis in the No.8 Audi. There was also some frenetic racing between the recovering Webber and local ace Kazuki Nakajima. The two swapped positions on several occasions before Webber suffered a second excursion at turn ten.
In the second hour, with conditions still fully wet, Dumas started to hunt down Fassler for the lead. He made his move just after the two hour mark and made a clean move at Turn one.
Fassler soon fell into the clutches of Webber in the No.17 Porsche and the pair then engaged in a superb battle which lasted for five laps, swapping places at almost every corner. It was a fight that thrilled the crowds and viewers around the world.
The complexion of the race changed after 2hrs 24mins of racing when a Full Course Yellow was thrown for Oli Webb’s stranded Team SARD Morand Morgan at turn one. Romain Dumas pitted just after team mate Webber, which ensured the gap extended to over 50-seconds. All of the front runners went on to the Michelin Hybrid tyres at the second stops.
As the clock ticked round to 2pm to signal three hours of racing, Marc Lieb led the No.7 Audi of Andre Lotterer by 52-seconds, with Brendon Hartley holding a watching brief in the No.17 Porsche, three seconds further back.
The Toyota cars had raced among the Audis and Porsches in the opening hour and, at halfway, the No.1 TS040 HYBRID was in fifth position. However, Anthony Davidson, although just a few seconds from Lucas Di Grassi in the No.8 Audi, was given a drive-through penalty for cutting the pit lane entry line.
The No.2 Toyota was sixth but got wheeled back into its pit box just before the three hour mark with an engine cooling system issue.
The LMP1 privateer class saw the No.12 Rebellion R-One-AER lead the ByKolles CLM P1/01-AER. This was despite Mathias Beche having to serve a stop/go penalty for overtaking before the line after the Safety Car procedure had ended.
KCMG ORECA leads LMP2 class
A typically close and competitive LMP2 category saw the open-cockpit cars from Signatech Alpine and Team SARD Morand Morgan both lead during the first hour.
Oliver Webb had an excellent start in the Team SARD Morand and sprinted through into the lead from third on the LMP2 grid. The British racer led from the Signatech Alpine of Paul-Loup Chatin, but the Frenchman was able to find a way through before the first round of pit stops. However, a charging Nick Tandy in the KCMG ORECA 05-Nissan was soon at the head of the field and was able to open a healthy lead.
Soon though, Chatin was back in the lead of the class after Tandy had a gravelly incident at turn one and dropped to third place. The Le Mans winner fought back though, and was soon in the lead of the class once again. A spin for Nelson Panciatici on his out lap from the pits, after taking over from Chatin, allowed the KCMG car to extend its lead. The Alpine’s spin also allowed Julien Canal’s G-Drive Ligier-Nissan through into second place. The Frenchman's British team mate, Sam Bird, had earlier struggled for pace after the team elected to run on cut-slicks.
Oliver Webb, who had driven excellently in the first two hours, lost time when he beached the Morgan Evo in the Turn One gravel trap while attempting to re-join the track after over-shooting the corner.
A very wet track meant the race started behind the safety car. Once the pitlane entry light went green many of the GTE cars opted to head into the pits to swap tyres to full wets. The no50 Larbre Corvette also swapped drivers, with Gianluca Roda jumping in to replace Paolo Ruberti, after starting the race from the back of the grid. The safety car continued to circulate for nearly 40 minutes before the green flags were waved and racing began.
Victor Shaytar in the no72 SMP Ferrari led the GTE Am grid down to the first corner but the Russian was soon facing some stiff opposition from the no83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard and Stuart Hall in the no96 Aston Martin Racing Vantage. Collard got past the SMP Ferrari but Shaytar fought back and a close battle ensued.
The two Ferraris were battling away but a small mistake opened the door for Hall to nip through and leapfrog both cars to take the class lead. The English driver then opened a small gap to his rivals.
Meanwhile back at the front Patrick Pilet in the no92 Team Manthey Porsche caught and passed the no51 Ferrari of Toni Vilander, quickly followed by Michael Christensen in the no91 Team Manthey Porsche. Christensen then got ahead of Pilet’s Porsche before mounting a challenge on Calado in the no71 Ferrari. 78 minutes into the race Christensen moved ahead of Calado to take the lead of the LMGTE Pro class and soon stretched his lead to over 13 seconds.
Patrick Dempsey in the no77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche had a spin but recovered well to hand the 911 over to Marco Seefried in a strong position. Seefried then moved up the field and took the lead of the GTE Am class just before a Full Course Yellow was declared to recover the no43 Sard Morand Morgan which was stranded at Turn 1.
The race went green again after four minutes and Seefried had a comfortable 84 second gap to the no96 Aston Martin of Francesco Castellacci and the no98 Vantage of Pedro Lamy. Lamy was challenge his Aston Martin Racing teammate and moved ahead of the Italian at the Chicane as the third hour of the race was nearly complete.
At the top of the third hour the no51 AF Corse Ferrari of Toni Vilander was at the top of the sheets after the no91 Porsche went into the pits for a regular stop. Richard Leitz rejoined in third behind the no92 Team Manthey Porsche with Patrick Pilet on board.