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6H Fuji Preview: Another Home Win For Toyota?

All the storylines, from all four classes, ahead of this weekend's WEC clash in Japan

With the next round of the 2018/19 FIA WEC ‘Super Season’ at Fuji upon us, it’s time to take a look at how things stand in the four classes. With the WEC heading to Asia, the main focus for the teams has shifted from winning Le Mans, to winning titles.

What sort of race will we see in LMP1?

Despite dominating all three races so far this season, Toyota’s exclusion from the Silverstone results has seen the gap close significantly at the top of LMP1’s Driver’s title race, thanks to the consistency of Rebellion’s #3 R-13 crew of Gustavo Menezes, Mathias Beche and Thomas Laurent.

Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima still lead the way with 65 points, but the gap is just two points over the trio in the #3 with Toyota’s home race coming up. Toyota’s #7 crew of Jose Maria Lopez, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway meanwhile, are third, and 19 points back with 46 apiece.

In the teams’ race, it’s a slightly different story, Toyota Gazoo Racing leading Rebellion by three points, on 66. There’s a huge drop off behind to SMP Racing, with just 25 points due to reliability woes at all three races.

So the question has to be, will Rebellion’s #3 crew emerge from the race on Sunday within striking distance, or will normality resume? There has been a pretty significant Equivalence of Technology change, which Toyota specifically agreed to, but is it enough?

Putting ballast (26kg) in the TS050 HYBRIDs, and removing their advantage in stint lengths and the pits will surely close the gap to at least some extent between the hybrid and non-hybrid P1 cars, but the chasm is huge, and Toyota will want to secure a third win of the season in front of their home supporters.

It would be good to at least see some fighting between the privateers and Toyota on track though, as the rule makers continue to formulate the best solution to inject excitement back into the category.

In terms of the entry itself, there’s been some notable changes. The CEFC TRSM Ginetta, which was originally on the entry, is now off, and ByKolles has named its line-up, with Oliver Webb joined by Dominik Kraihamer and James Rossiter (who is yet to race the current version of the ENSO CLM).

Also, in DragonSpeed’s BR1, Henrik Hedman won’t be making the trip, instead, Ben Hanley will drive with James Allen, who will have a lot to learn in his LMP1 debut.

Despite it being Petit Le Mans weekend, there won’t be any changes to the LMP1 full-season drivers, and of course, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso will be making the trip to the Speedway where they will more than likely be greeted by thousands of adoring fans.

Advantage Porsche in GTE Pro

In the GTE Pro championship fight, Porsche leads the way.

Atop the drivers standings, it’s Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen up front with 71 points, after a Le Mans win and a strong points haul from Spa and Silverstone.

Their lead is relatively comfortable, the gap back to Ford’s Silverstone winners Olivier Pla and Stefan Mucke 14 points.

Despite not taking part in Silverstone, Billy Johnson, Pla and Mucke’s teammate for Spa and Le Mans, is third with 48 points, while Silverstone victors Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado are fourth on 43.5.

While the gap to the leaders for BMW and Astons best-placed drivers may seem cavernous, it must be remembered that there are still five races to go, one of them being the second Le Mans of the season, which hands out 1.5x the standard points.

In the GTE manufacturers race, it’s Porsche leading with 177 points, over Ford with 77. Ferrari is third with 71.

On the BoP front, there has been a change, which favours BMW the most, the MTEK-run team will be looking for a first signature result with the M8 GTE in WEC competition here, as will Aston with its Vantage AMRs.

The Astons haven’t received any sort of break, but if you remember, they were in the fight early in the 6 Hours of Silverstone. Will they be in it until the finish this time around?

Le Mans win keeps Alpine at the top in LMP2

Signatech Alpine Matmut leads the way in the LMP2 teams championship battle, but by just four points and heads to Fuji officially, the Le Mans LMP2 winner!

LMP2 will be a hard category to predict once again, especially after the curveball in form thrown at us all in the UK.

Jackie Chan DC Racing’s ORECAs finished 1-2 at Silverstone, and put themselves firmly in the hunt, but the team’s huge haul of points in the UK wasn’t quite enough to leapfrog Andre Negrao, Nicolas Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet at the top.

The Alpine trio’s surprise Le Mans win, handed to them after G-Drive was excluded meant they will head to Japan full of confidence, four points ahead of Gabriel Aubry, Ho-Pin Tung and Stephane Richelmi’s #38 JCDC ORECA, and a further seven ahead of #37 JCDC crew of Jazeman Jaafar, Nabil Jeffri and Weron Tan.

The drivers and teams standings are identical, it’s the #36 Alpine leading the #38 and #37 JCDC ORECAs.

There’s just one driver change in the class, Keiko Ihara taking the ever-rotating third seat in the Larbre Competition Ligier in her return to WEC competition for the first time since 2014. Last time out Yoshiaru Mori was Larbre’s third driver, before that it was Thomas Dagoneau and Julien Canal.

Can anyone stop Proton in Am?

A win at Le Mans, and at Silverstone has given Christian Ried, Julien Andlauer and Matt Campbell a comfortable lead in GTE Am.

The trio, who pilot the #77 Proton Porsche 911 RSR now hold a 33-point advantage over Clearwater Racing’s crew of Keita Sawa, Matt Griffin and Weng Sun Mok.

Project 1 Racing are third, a quiet but encouraging run through the opening races of the season leaves Egidio Perfetti, Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey in 35 points back, with a chance to vault themselves into the title race at the halfway point of the season.

Like LMP2, the points are the same in the Drivers and Teams standings.

GTE Am’s BoP changes aren’t as extensive as Pro, with just small weight changes made to the Porsches and Aston Martin Vantage GTEs, the two cars now due to race with an extra 10 and 5kg respectively.

It will be interesting to see how the Ferrari teams benefit, especially an outfit like Clearwater, which should shine at Fuji. Weng Sun Mok has a ton of experience racing there over the years, and Keita Sawa is an instructor at the circuit.

Let’s just hope that this year, it stays dry!