Whilst heavily signposted as a near certainty, the expected shift of the Fuji FIA WEC date from 20-21 October to the previous weekend has received strong criticism and comment from drivers and fans alike.
The race was initially listed on the WEC’s calendar on 13-14 October but was moved forward a week to avoid clashing with IMSA’s season finale, Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
The new date though clashed with the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas and the confirmed signing by Toyota Gazoo Racing of Fernando Alonso always looked set to cause an issue with the fixture.
Fuji Speedway is owned and operated by Toyota and the race weekend is one of the best attended on the WEC calendar. It was clear from the moment that Alonso was signed that pressure would be brought to bear to allow Toyota to ‘sweat’ one of their biggest PR assets for the season.
It would also allow Alonso to compete for the full season – and potentially a World Championship, and the newsworthiness and commercial advantage of that prospect, after a troubled period for the WEC over the consecutive withdrawals of Audi and Porsche’s factory LMP1 teams, appears to have tipped what was already an unbalanced debate.
The revised date was announced without any explanation as part of a run-through the ‘Super Season’ calendar by WEC boss Gerard Neveu in advance of the unveiling of the 2018/19 full season entry. It was not mentioned in the text of the emailed press release but was noted in the embedded graphic and with a final sentence in the web version of the full release.
It’s confirmation though has drawn criticism from drivers and fans alike with several Pro drivers already having dual commitments in both the WEC and IMSA Championships.
Ford WEC factory driver Olivier Pla responded angrily on Twitter:
“Many thanks @FIAWEC I can’t believe you did it… your lack of consideration and respect for the drivers who had a contract with a team in IMSA to race in NAEC the same weekend are unbelievable. I’m sure I will be not the only one to be impressed with what you did”
Indeed he wasn’t. BMW factory man Nicky Catsburg saying on Twitter simply “Unbelievable!”
Harry Tincknell, Mike Conway, Bruno Senna, Renger van der Zande and Augusto Farfus are among the other drivers directly affected.
Fans too have expressed unhappiness, some having booked travel for the previously announced Fuji date, the draw of the popular fixture one of the highlights of the WEC season.