OYAMA, SHIZUOKA PREF. – Porsche LMP1 drivers Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard won the World Endurance Championship’s 6 Hours of Fuji race on Sunday after being handed the lead by their Porsche teammates near the end of a wet and at times chaotic race at the Fuji Speedway.
The second-placed No. 18 Porsche 919 hybrid of Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb led for the majority of the race, but in order for Porsche to achieve the best result in the drivers’ championship, Jani was ordered by team bosses to let Bernhard pass in the final stages of the race.
Audi finished third and fourth, with Marcel Faessler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer, also being promoted into third on team orders near the end of the race.
“It was (No.) 18’s day today, they deserve the win. It’s an ultimate team day, ultimate team victory,” said Webber, giving credit to the Porsche sister-car’s drivers at the post-race news conference. “Romain, Neil and Marc drove sensationally today, we owe them one in the future.”
Bernhard echoed Webber’s comments, saying the team’s decision to hand the victory over was a lucky break.
“It was the goal to finish 1-2 for the constructors’ championship… But they deserved the victory. We were very lucky, in the end.”
The decision to give up the win was obviously difficult for Jani, but he put on a brave face at the news conference.
“It’s hard for all three of us because we have all wanted that win,” he said. “We have been close several times and always something happens.
“Today, everything went perfect, we had a great race. That’s life sometimes, but it can turn around at some stage.”
With heavy rain sweeping the Fuji track and making conditions dark and difficult, the race started behind the safety car, which led the cars around the sopping track for more than 30 minutes.
On the 17th lap the cars were released and the action began immediately.
In the pole-sitting No. 17 Porsche, Webber held the field behind in the first few corners but went off the track in turn four, losing the lead to Marcel Faessler in the No. 8 Audi. Soon after, the second Porsche also lost a position and by the end of the first lap Faessler and Audi were in first and second.
The two Toyota cars that started fifth and sixth had also moved ahead of the Porsches — a disastrous start for the manufacturers’ championship leading Porsche team that was favored to win in Japan.
Webber said that conditions were very difficult in the early stages of the race, which led to his errors.
“The first stint for all of us was quite challenging, I nearly lost the car on the exit of turn three there in the first lap,” he said.
“It was a really good fight between all the guys, obviously the two Audis and two Porsches, once we’d cleared the Toyotas.”
At the two-hour mark Faessler was still ahead, leading the Porsches, which had battled back into second and third, but soon after, Dumas in the No. 18 Porsche took the lead from Faessler’s Audi, leaving the Audi to battle for second with Webber before the pitting.
A full-course yellow flag brought the field back together on a drying track and with the teams’ second drivers in the cars. Leib and Hartley for the first and second-placed Porsches, and Lotterer for Audi in third.
At the race half-way point the leading Audi had moved back into second, demoting the No. 17 Porsche back to third, while Lieb was still leading. But, Hartley got Porsche back into second early in the fourth hour.
The top-three positions were maintained until deep into the final hour when both leading teams issued their team orders, swapping their cars ahead of the finish.
The two Toyota cars finished in fifth and sixth, a poor result for the team that had never lost a race at the Fuji circuit. A stellar effort from driver Kazuki Nakajima early in the race, where he held off Webber in the much faster Porsche amid heavy rain and traffic, was one bright spot for the manufacturer that owns the Fuji circuit.
Webber, Hartley and Bernhard’s win moves them into first position in the drivers’ championship, one point ahead of Faessler, Lotterer and Treluyer. In the constructors championship the Porsche 1-2 extends the team’s lead over Audi.
“There is still a long way, a long battle left for the championship. But we are happy to have done the maximum job today,” said Bernhard.
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