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Abandoning Fuji, A Difference In Opinion

The decision to abandon the FIA World Endurance Championship race at Fuji this weekend due extreme weather conditions on the Japanese circuit was a tough call to be made by race director Eduardo Freitas, but one that was accepted by most of the people involved.

A number of drivers racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship raced in Japan before. Their reactions were near identical as all drivers supported the decision made by the race director.

“I’ve often driven in Japan. There have been a lot of races that were canceled in such weather conditions,” said Audi driver Loïc Duval. Our cars are not drivable in such heavy rain. It’s as though you were in a boat. Of course we’re racers and want to drive in front of our fans but this was the right decision today by race control.”

Audi teammate Benoît Tréluyer added: “It’s difficult to make such a decision. But it was no doubt the right choice because the track at Fuji is extremely dangerous in heavy rain. It’s better to stop the competition than to risk accidents. There have been too many serious accidents in various racing disciplines this season. That’s why the decision was right.”

“The decisions were correct and the race director did the right thing. It was raining so heavily and the conditions were just terrible, especially just before the second red flag. Even driving behind the safety car was difficult,” said local hero Kazuki Nakajima (Toyota). “Maybe it looks easy because we are driving relatively slowly but with the spray and the aquaplaning it was really hard. Considering that we have different cars with different speeds in WEC, in these conditions it was the right choice to stop the race.”

In various other race series it is quite common that when the race leader says it is too dangerous to race the race is stopped. Radio communication between F1 drivers and the race director or MotoGP riders putting their arms up in the air to stop the race come to mind.

So at the front of the grid the teams thought it was dangerous to drive in the conditions as they were. Further down the field Porsche seemed to disagree with the LMP teams. The German manufacturer’s GT squad thought abandoning the race was not necessary. My initial thought was one of disbelief. I began to wonder if Porsche had not learned anything from the accidents we’ve seen this season.

Porsche Motorsport Product Project Manager for the 911 RSR, Marco Ujhasi, disagreed with the decision to abandon the race. “We can’t understand the reason for terminating the race at this time. No rain had fallen 45 minutes prior to the announcement, at the most a brief shower, so driving would definitely have been possible. The final stop came much too early,” he said in a press release issued by Porsche. “For us, the cancellation is particularly hard to swallow, because such conditions would have given us the best chances for a double victory. The 911 RSR is very quick in wet weather and has excellent traction. So unfortunately we were prevented from making up ground to the points’ leaders in the fight for the title.”

In my opinion Mr Ujhasi misses the point here. Perhaps they had a perfect car to win at Fuji in the rain, but there were 28 cars on the grid with a total of 80 drivers – all of them would like to fly home again after the race, sitting (un)comfortably in a plane seat. As I said before given the serious accidents we have seen around the world this year in GT cars one would expect a major player in the game to see this and to respect the race director’s decision.

Unfortunately Mr Ujhasi wasn’t the only Porsche employee to think the decision to abandon the race was wrong. Experienced drivers like Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz voiced their frustration over stopping the race, emphasising how good their car would have been in the rain and basically questioning the actions by Eduardo Freitas.

“It’s a huge disappointment for us. We had a super car for the rain, we noticed this during the safety car laps. Our 911 RSR and the tyres worked extremely well,” said Marc Lieb. “The first suspension was undoubtedly justified, and perhaps the second as well, but in between we had a window of at least two hours where we could have driven. Several opponents obviously had a different strategy and this was the reason it was finally stopped. Then I ask myself, why invest so much time with our partner Michelin to develop great wet tyres if we are not allowed to compete.”

His teammate in the #91 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR Richard Lietz agreed with Lieb. “The rain we had hoped for arrived. Our car could definitely have gone well under these difficult conditions. Unfortunately the race never got underway, although it would certainly have been possible,” said the Austrian driver. “What a shame. We’ve put a great deal of work into tyre development and had some great wets. Obviously some others didn’t. Out of consideration for them, the race was then cancelled.”

In times when driver safety is a key topic in several discussions these two drivers seem to miss that point and instead question the integrity of other teams and the race director. A race director who is always trying to continue a race if possible and who keeps his teams and drivers informed on what he is doing and why. Starting with the drivers briefing up to keeping them informed during the race via RCNS (as clearly shown at Fuji and during that dreadful weekend in Le Mans)

Fact is that Fuji is not the best place to be at when there is heavy rain and low clouds and fog keep returning to the circuit. This forced Eduardo Freitas to halt the action twice, before calling it a day. So was it too early to stop? I don’t think so, the FIA and ACO did whatever they could to restart the race – it just wasn’t going to happen on Sunday. The adverse weather resulted in something dangerous and most of the people agreed it was too dangerous to continue – just Porsche didn’t seem to think so.

Did they have the right to be unhappy about the race being stopped? Sure, everyone was probably unhappy about the weather conditions…but almost everyone agreed that it was too dangerous to continue. Voicing your disappointment by saying you could have won it because your car and tires were perfect for the occasion but you had no chance of showing it because others didn’t want it to happen is – in my opinion – fully out of order. But as a senior member of the Porsche Motorsport Press team told me after the weekend, there seem to be different opinions in this matter.

I agree, there certainly seem to be different opinions in this matter. Mine is different than that of Porsche. Most drivers have a different opinion as well – not just LMP drivers. Aston Martin Racing driver Frédéric Makowiecki even praised Eduardo Freitas for his decision.

“The conditions were very difficult but the race directors were ‘on it’ and they need to be congratulated for the safety decisions made today,” Makowiecki said after the race. “With one mistake out there everyone would have been in trouble. Of course, I’m sorry for the fans – they were really out in force, despite the weather. However, we have to remember that racing is not only about emotion but about safety too.”

As Audi’s Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich said after the race “Safety always takes top priority”. In this case it was the safety of 80 drivers, the track workers, the spectators. Fortunately the race director agreed, even though that resulted in Porsche not being able to get that much needed win in a regular FIA World Endurance Championship round.