Image credit: Red Firecracker / SportsCarGlobal.

Rather than providing a traditional event preview, I can do no better on that count than refer you to the excellent work of ‘the Wizard from Woking’, Paul Truswell  and having the data from Free Practice 1 & 2 it is worth us taking a closer look at that. 

Fascinatingly, the two sessions were split between this season’s hotshoe competitors Audi & Porsche. Of course, its all meaningless when we get to race day but there is a background to matters that suggest we could be on for a classic come early Sunday morning (if you’re tuned in from Europe).

Image credit: Porsche AG
Image credit: Porsche AG

MW – Fuji has a long straight and low speed corners in the last sector. I think it was a very good test for us to do, it is quite rare that we get two cars at the same venue where you can validate things like that not just for this venue, but for future events… So it was a very good, yet quite boring data to compare, but in the end we got the information and can move on with the rest of the weekend now…Given this is a flyaway race, it was surprising that Porsche had found room in their excess luggage for two sets of bodywork, a higher (FP1 #18) and lower downforce (FP1 #17) config. Now in these days of computer simulation and mathematical wizardry it was quite surprising to hear Mark Webber (MW) in the Pre-Event Press Conference (4:00 minutes in) when questioned by John Hindhaugh (JH) about the use of two different configs in Free Practice 1 – 

JH – So what is the decision for the configuration for the weekend?

MW – I think you will see the decision in the next (Free Practice 2) session…

Much sniggering !

So Porsche have their data, and will extrapolate information from that, of relevance not necessarily to Fuji, but future events… Hmm, It may just be me but I suspect there is more to this than ‘oh we don’t know, lets take both..’

In Free Practice 1 the #17 of Bernard/Webber/Hartley proved to have a superior vmax (Low d/f) posting 314kmh against the sister car’s 300kmh.  This was almost sufficent to challenge the unrestricted Rebellions who top the speed trap at 314.9kmh.  It should be noted that comments from the circuit suggest the 919s were achieving vmax for 10 secs on the straight, once again demonstrating their ability to accelerate like a bullet from a gun!

The ever professional Webber may have been coy under questioning but his car exceeded the performance of the #18 in all but the final sector (losing out by 38-thousandths!). Although this belies the fact that the #17 struggled to build a consistent lap, the delta between its best & ideal lap being a huge 1.4 seconds… unless again they were hiding something, perhaps for future events…?

Free Practice 2 saw the speed trap cracked at speed for both 919s consistent with the low downforce configuration, and they concluded this session posting ideal lap times of 1:24.400 and 1.24.404 in numerical order.  The twisty sector 2 proves more challenging in the low d/f configuration and, as in Spa, they give up time (up to 3-tenths) to both Audis. 

And here is the surprise, we know that Audi #7 of Treluyer/Lotterer/Fassler was outright fastest in FP1 but on an ideal lap basis it was also the car to catch in Free Practice 2, breaking the line a full quarter second before the Porsche of closest title contenders Bernard/Webber/Hartley #17.

So to summarise: the Audi #7 is slightly impacted still by the ‘seal-gate’ hangover from Le Mans, Porsche has most to lose (in terms of seconds) from the announced enforcement of refuelling equipment restrictions and there is so little to choose between the two…  There are huge reasons there to get up very early in Europe to tune in and watch this spectacle played out LIVE.  Caffeine may very well prove optional!

Footnote – The variability in the Porsche #17 FP1 times whilst not huge do suggest they were exploring something… Now it is pure speculation, but with a real straight similar to Le Mans 4 ‘straights’, could they have capped their Hybrid as per the recent WMSC decision to understand / appreciate the impact? or just to collect some information for future events?? Time will tell..