6 Hours of Fuji: Free PracticeHappy home start for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing overcame challenging conditions to make a strong start to its home race, the 6 Hours of Fuji, when action at the penultimate round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) kicked off in Japan.
On a day of changing weather on the foothills of Mount Fuji, the WEC season resumed following a two-month summer break. Heavy morning rain hit first practice before a dry afternoon session featured the best lap times of the day.
After receiving the traditional warm welcome from Japanese fans as well as Toyota team members and colleagues this week, the team made a positive start to its on-track preparation as it gears up for another exciting Hypercar battle with Ferrari, Cadillac, Porsche, Peugeot and Vanwall.
World Championship leaders Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa, in the #8 GR010 HYBRID, set the pace on opening day with a lap of 1min 29.523secs. Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López in the #7 GR010 HYBRID, winners last time out at Monza, were second, 0.597secs back.
As well as defending its outstanding record at Fuji Speedway, with eight victories from nine WEC races in Japan, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing aims to tighten its grip on the World Championship. The team leads Hypercar rivals Ferrari by 26 points and will secure the crown if it outscores the Italian marque by 13 points in Fuji.
Despite the morning rain, the team wasted no time in first practice. José and Sébastien were at the wheel on wet Michelin tyres to begin a programme of set-up and systems validation, and all six drivers had the chance to experience the wet track during a trouble-free 90 minutes.
The rain eased and track conditions improved in the final minutes of the session when the fastest lap times were set. The #7 car finished sixth thanks to Mike’s best lap while Brendon recorded the quickest time for the seventh-placed #8.
The circuit dried during the three-hour gap between sessions, allowing Kamui and Sébastien to start second practice on slick tyres. A busy 90 minutes saw both cars compare the performance and degradation of the medium and hard compound Michelin tyres, as well as different set-up options.
With more grip on a dry track, lap times immediately improved significantly and in the opening minutes Sébastien became the first driver this week to record a lap of the 4.563km circuit in under 90 seconds. That kept the #8 on top of the timing sheets until the end, with Kamui’s early lap taking second for the #7.
The team will analyse data from Friday’s two practice sessions to optimise car set-up and strategies before final practice. Qualifying begins at 3.30pm local time (8.30am CEST) on Saturday and TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will aim for its fourth pole position of the season. Sunday’s race begins at 11am local time (4am CEST).
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7):
“It’s great to be back here in Japan to drive in front of our home fans and so many colleagues from Toyota. We experienced quite different track conditions today. In the wet we still need to do some work but in the dry we seem pretty good. We need to make some adjustments to the balance, but we did plenty of laps which is positive. Track evolution could be a big factor here in the race because there are a lot of laps and we’ve had a lot of rain. We need to adjust our car and be ready for that. This is only the start of the event so we will keep pushing.”
Mike Conway (Driver, car #7):
“It was good to get some we did some wet running in because there is always a chance more rain could come over the weekend. It was good to experience the car here in those conditions, to see how it is reacting on a wet track. In dry conditions we are quite happy with the balance but we are still trying to finetune and extract all the performance we can. There is some work to do tonight but we have started in a decent position, it’s just about maintaining our positive progress now.”
José María López (Driver, car #7):
“It went well today. We had a good run in the wet which helped us understand the car more in case there is more rain. Then we put some good mileage on the dry tyres. We are starting to see a picture of everyone’s performance level here, but we’ve only had one-and-a-half hours of dry practice and the track will evolve so there are still some question marks. It’s a tough track on the car, the brakes and the tyres so we have to investigate how we can optimise everything.”
Sébastien Buemi (Driver, car #8):
“We were actually very lucky with the weather today compared to what I was expecting. We were able to do both sessions smoothly and it is helpful to have one fully wet and the other fully dry. I feel like it was a positive Friday. We gathered lots of data and we seem to be quite competitive. Now it’s all about improving for tomorrow. We need to work on keeping the degradation of the tyres under control because that will be a big factor for the race.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8):
“It was a drama-free day for us. Finishing the dry session in first and second looks really positive but it is very close. In the wet conditions we didn’t quite have the pace of some of our competitors so we are hoping it’s dry for the rest of the weekend. We tested different set-ups between the two cars, looked at the different tyre compounds and got a lot of information. Overall it has been a very good start; it was pretty much a perfect Friday.”
Ryo Hirakawa (Driver, car #8):
“I am quite happy with the first day of track action and it’s always nice to drive here at Fuji Speedway, even if the weather was not kind to us this morning. First practice was tricky thanks to the rain; the track was wet at the start then damp later so it was always changing. Then in the afternoon it was fully dry and we finished one-two which is positive. I hope we can achieve the same result in qualifying and the race. We’ve made a good start and we’ll push to keep that going.”
6 Hours of Fuji - Free Practice 1:
1st #50 Ferrari AF Corse (Fuoco/Molina/Nielsen) 1min 35.649secs 40 laps
2nd #51 Ferrari AF Corse (Pier Guidi/Calado/Giovinazzi) +2.609secs 41 laps
3rd #94 Peugeot TotalEnergies (Duval/Menezes/Vandoorne) +3.044secs 40 laps
4th #6 Porsche Penkse (Estre/Lotterer/Vanthoor) +3.080secs 36 laps
5th #5 Porsche Penske (Cameron/Christensen/Makowiecki) +3.227secs 40 laps
6th #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +3.602secs 47 laps
7th #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +3.642secs 45 laps
6 Hours of Fuji - Free Practice 2:
1st #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing 1min 29.523secs 51 laps
2nd #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +0.597secs 48 laps
3rd #38 Hertz Team Jota (Da Costa/Stevens/Ye) +1.061secs 53 laps
4th #51 Ferrari AF Corse (Pier Guidi/Calado/Giovinazzi) +1.095secs 51 laps
5th #5 Porsche Penske (Cameron/Christensen/Makowiecki) +1.211secs 48 laps
6th #50 Ferrari AF Corse (Fuoco/Molina/Nielsen) +1.354secs 49 laps