Image: Jeff Carter - MacLean Photographic

 

As the FIA World Endurance Championship prepares to race at Japan’s legendary Fuji Speedway this weekend we take a brief look at the LMP1 category and the battles ahead in this year’s remaining three rounds in the race to claim the crown in the world’s most technically advanced race series.

Statistically, drivers from any of the three LMP1 manufacturers could lift the winner’s trophies and be crowned World Champions. Porsche have a 53-point advantage in the Manufacturers’ Championship and despite a poor showing at the 6h CoTA the favourites still have to be the #2 Porsche Team crew of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb who currently sit on a 37.5 point advantage with a maximum of 78 points remaining. In all reality, their rivals for the 2016 silverware look likely to need one non-finish from this trio to get a chance of overtaking them before the end of the season in Bahrain.

Their teammates and current World champions Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard in the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid will be going for a fourth consecutive victory. Of course, to win in the WEC requires teamwork, not just from the engineers and pit crew, but the drivers as well. “There’s a lot of camaraderie between the drivers, and you really have to work together to get the most out of the car, which is not the case in Formula One.” said Mark Webber when asked by our friends at Mobil 1 The Grid.

Having fallen foul to a series of mistakes and fumbles has effectively cost it the Manufacturers’ Championship, Porsche’s sister company Audi will be pushing hard for win #2 of the 2016 season. The #8 crew of Lucas Di Grassi, Loïc Duval and Oliver Jarvis were left bitterly disappointed after looking on course to win at CoTA in September and need to finish well and to see the #2 Porsche somewhat further down the ranks they are to re-energise Audi’s challenge and arrive in Bahrain next month with a shot at the title.

The season so far has shown us that this year’s R18 is a very fast car but still suffering reliability issues. For Audi to stand any chance of grabbing another World Championship they must win in Fuji and to do that needs more than a fast, reliable car but we need to see the return of the well drilled, faultless Audi crew.

With a mere 137 points to date, home team Toyota have no hope of taking the championship however, where better than at Fuji in front of their home crowd for the the Japanese manufacturer to put the demons of Le Mans behind them and re-assert their passion for winning? With a 1:48.544 lap at CoTA the TS050 certainly showed it has the pace to win and with two home-grown heroes in the shape of Kamui Kobayashi and Kazuki Nakajima the committed and passionate Japanese fans will have plenty to cheer for at their home event.

In the privateer class, Rebellion Racing and ByKolles continue their battle for overall honours in Japan. After a clear win in Austin the #13 car piloted by the Austro/Swiss alliance of Dominik Kraihamer, Mathéo Tuscher and Alexandre Imperatori moved to the head of the standings. With the Anglo/Swiss team’s announcement last week that this will be their last season in LMP1 prior to a move to LMP2 in 2017 Rebellion will be looking look to go out in style and a win again weekend and a DNF for ByKolles will deliver them the silverware with two rounds to run.

And let’s not forget the fans, historically the Japanese round has shown some of the most outgoing and passionate fans, especially in the pitwalk, so we can be sure of spectacles both on and off the track. Back to Mark Webber: “In WEC, you have to say the fans get great access. They are able to get close to us and literally spend time with us, which is great. We can sign autographs and take photographs with them. You wouldn’t see that in F1.”

Free practice kicks off at 10:45am (local) on Friday with the race starting 11:00am on Sunday.