Toyota breaks through at last in FIA WEC race at Fuji

Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s two-year winless drought in the FIA World Endurance Championship came to a welcome end after a thrilling Six Hours of Fuji, with the trio of Stephane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi winning on the manufacturer’s home soil in Japan. It’s been a happy hunting grounds for Toyota, who also won in Fuji in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

In a neck-and-neck dogfight all race between the No. 6 Toyota TS050 Hybrid, the No. 8 Audi R18 and No. 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid, the Toyota prevailed at the end by just 1.439 seconds over the No. 8 Audi.

“This was a very tense and exciting race between all three LMP1 manufacturers; it was a six-hour sprint race,” said Toyota team president Toshio Sato. “We could do no more; everyone in the team performed to the maximum today against such close competition. It was a clean fight, decided by speed on track and in the pits as well as strategy. All credit to Audi and Porsche for their part in this great show.”

Pit strategy helped determine the positioning with Kobayashi, who finished the race, taking fuel only on his final stop. But the driver known for his brave and daring passing attempts from his Formula 1 days played out an excellent strategic defense against Loic Duval in the Audi, who shared that car with Lucas di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis.

“Everyone in the team performed so well; they really deserve this,” Kobayashi said. “After qualifying we had a positive feeling and we did everything to get a win in our home race. So to get this result in front of our local fans and our colleagues from Toyota makes us very happy; I would like to say thanks for their big support.

“Actually, it is still difficult to believe we did it; we worked so hard for this. It was a really tough race. The double stint at the end was a risk but we were only focused on the victory and now this feels great, just perfect.”

Toyota’s most recent win prior to this came at Bahrain in 2014, with Sarrazin, Conway and Alexander Wurz. The cruel heartbreak at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year was obviously the closest they’d come since.

The No. 8 Audi fought hard, Duval turning in a particularly solid drive, en route to second place.

“Our three drivers showed a brilliant performance,” said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. “We battled up until the end. When Toyota, for the last stop, were able to benefit from the strategic advantage of pitting late, and chose not to change tires, they took the lead for the first time. Loïc Duval did everything to recover the top spot, almost making up a 12-second deficit. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite enough but, once again, we saw fascinating endurance racing.”

The No. 1 Porsche of Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley saw their three-race win streak come to an end but were still on the podium, 17 seconds and change in arrears.

The sister Toyota recorded its best finish of fourth this year, while the points-leading No. 2 trio of Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb in the second Porsche had a relative off day in fifth.

At least that day went better than for the No. 7 Audi, which was forced to retire from the race owing to a failed MGU on its hybrid system after Lap 18. Despite asking the FIA to clarify whether the car could continue with the front driveshafts removed, the FIA deemed the car to be in breach of the regulations and outside the homologation.

“Obviously, that’s a real shame,” said Dr. Ullrich. “Because the squad demonstrated a tremendous spirit and did everything to make a central idea of endurance racing reality, which is to finish even under circumstances like these.”

Rebellion Racing picked up another win in the LMP1 privateer category of the two cars entered there.

G-Drive Racing, the now Jota Sport-run outfit, recorded its first win of the season in LMP2 with its No. 26 Oreca 05 Nissan, driven by Alex Brundle, Roman Rusinov and Rene Rast’s fill-in, Will Stevens.

It capped off a see-saw battle in LMP2 throughout the race between G-Drive, the pair of Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P2 Nissans, the No. 36 Signatech Alpine A460 Nissan, the No. 42 Strakka Racing Gibson 015S Nissan the No. 43 RGR Sport Ligier and the No. 44 Manor Oreca, all of which diced in the lead pack throughout the race.

For a second consecutive year in Fuji, Manor’s Richard Bradley had a fun exchange battling a Gustavo, this time young American Menezes for Signatech rather than Yacaman with G-Drive last year, in what proved to be a dramatic moment in that year’s LMP2 title fight. Menezes ran off course and briefly caught air exiting Turn 1 while racing Bradley but otherwise drove well as he had all year.

RGR’s trio of Filipe Albuquerque, Bruno Senna and Ricardo Gonzalez came second ahead of the Signatech trio (Menezes, Stephane Richelmi and Nicolas Lapierre). Extreme Speed’s new Jagonya Ayam-supported trio of Antonio Giovinazzi and Sean Gelael on their FIA WEC debuts, with Giedo van der Garde, came fourth ahead of the full-season ESM trio of Pipo Derani, Ryan Dalziel and Chris Cumming. Strakka, running just a two-driver lineup with Nick Leventis sidelined, led the middle of the race and fell to sixth late with Jonny Kane and Lewis Williamson, and the Bradley/Matt Rao/Roberto Merhi Manor car came seventh.

The GTE races were a bit more straightforward, with the “Noah’s Ark”-style grid playing itself out in GTE-Pro as the U.K. branch of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing won its first FIA WEC race of the year. The No. 67 car of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell took the spoils over the polesitting No. 66 car of Stefan Muecke and Olivier Pla in a 1-2 for the Ford GTs. Tincknell, a past LMP2 winner at Le Mans, now has a GTE-Pro win on his resume as well.

The two Ferraris, Aston Martins and single Porsche rounded out the field, none able to throw a spanner in the works to the Fords here.

Aston Martin Racing’s trio of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda captured their fourth GTE-Am win in seven races, also from pole, in the No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage V8. The No. 83 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia and No. 78 KCMG Porsche 911 RSR completed the podium, with the AF Corse Ferrari second for the fifth time this year and the KCMG Porsche on the podium for the third race running.

The FIA WEC continues from Shanghai in three weeks time on November 6.

Texas starting lineup: Felix Rosenqvist back on pole; Scott Dixon qualifies second


FORT WORTH, Texas — For the second consecutive year, Felix Rosenqvist will lead the NTT IndyCar Series starting lineup to the green flag at Texas Motor Speedway.

The Arrow McLaren driver is hoping the third time will be the charm at the 1.5-mile oval, where he has run extremely well but has only a career-best 12th in five starts.

“We’ve always been good here, but this is a whole different confidence level compared to last year,” Rosenqvist told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Let’s try to wrap it up (Sunday).”

In 2020, Rosenqvist was competing for a podium when he crashed with 10 laps remaining at Texas.

QUALIFYING RESULTS: Click here for speeds from Saturday’s time trials

INDYCAR AT TEXASSchedule, start times, how to watch on NBC, Peacock

Last year, he started first on an oval for the first time in his career but finished 21st because of a broken halfshaft.

“It’s definitely one of my favorite tracks, and naturally, I’ve always been OK here,” Rosenqvist said. “It was the first oval that made sense to me. Every year I’m building on that. But looking at the results, they don’t represent the speed I normally have.

“I don’t want to jinx anything, but I hope tomorrow is going to go a bit better and some luck our way would be nice. It’s been feeling super good. Arrow McLaren has been mega every session, so just keep it rolling.”

Arrow McLaren qualified all three of its Chevrolets in the top five, building on a second for Pato O’Ward and fourth for Alexander Rossi in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The March 5 season opener was a disappointing start for Rosenqvist who was squeezed into the wall by Scott Dixon on the first lap.

Dixon, a five-time winner at Texas, will start second Sunday, followed by Rossi and Josef Newgarden. O’Ward will start fifth alongside Takuma Sato, who will start on the outside of the third row in his Chip Ganassi Racing debut.

During nearly four hours of practice and qualifying (including a special high-line session), Saturday’s lone incident involved Conor Daly.

The Ed Carpenter Racing driver spun three times but stayed off the wall and in the frontstretch grass. Aside from a front wing change and new tires, there was no damage to his No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet during the incident midway through the 30-minute session in which drivers were limited to the high line.

“I hadn’t really had a moment before, but it snapped really aggressively,” Daly told NBC Sports after final practice. “Not ideal, but I do know my way around correcting a spin it seems like. I drove NASCAR last weekend and that seemed to help a little bit. I drove in the dirt a lot in USAC Midgets and seemed to be able to save something but not ideal or what we wanted to have happen.”

Daly will start 25th of 28 cars alongside teammate Rinus VeeKay in Row 13. Carpenter qualified 18th.

“Our three of our cars were clearly looking for something. Mechanical grip is for sure what we need. Qualifying we actually expected to be a lot better, but we found an issue there. We’ll see what happens. This race can change a lot. I’m confident in the team to hopefully figure some things out for tomorrow.”

Here’s the IndyCar starting lineup for Sunday’s PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway (qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine and speed):


1. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Dallara-Chevy, 220.264 mph
2. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 219.972


3. (7) Alexander Rossi, Dallara-Chevy, 219.960
4. (2) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Chevy, 219.801


5. (5) Pato O’Ward, Dallara-Chevy, 219.619
6. (11) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 219.508


7. (10) Alex Palou, Dallara-Honda, 219.480
8. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 219.355


9. (18) David Malukas, Dallara-Honda, 219.256
10. (26) Colton Herta, Dallara-Honda, 219.184


11. (28) Romain Grosjean, Dallara-Honda, 219.165
12. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Dallara-Honda, 219.146

ROW 7 

13. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Dallara-Chevy, 219.100
14. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Dallara-Chevy, 218.892


15. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Dallara-Chevy, 218.765
16. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Dallara-Honda, 218.698


17. (77) Callum Ilott, Dallara-Chevy, 218.427
18. (33) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 218.375

ROW 10

19. (78) Agustin Canapino, Dallara-Chevy, 218.367
20. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Dallara-Honda, 218.227

ROW 11

21. (06) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 218.196
22. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 218.103

ROW 12

23. (51) Sting Ray Robb, Dallara-Honda, 217.676
24. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 217.611

ROW 13

25. (20) Conor Daly, Dallara-Chevy, 217.457
26. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Dallara-Chevy, 216.880

ROW 14

27. (45) Christian Lundgaard, Dallara-Honda, 216.210
28. (30) Jack Harvey, Dallara-Honda, 216.103