The #11 SMP Racing BR1 AER leads the way at Fuji Speedway after an hour of racing, Jenson Button inheriting the lead by staying out during a lengthy safety car period which lasted for the second half of the first hour.
The Safety Car came out when the MR Racing Ferrari had a tyre failure on the pit straight, sending Motoaki Ishikawa into the barriers, leaving debris scattered across the circuit.
It meant that almost the entire field pitted to change tyres and fuel just before the end of the hour, shaking up the order.
Behind Button is the two Toyotas with the #7 of Kamui Kobayashi leading the #8 of Kazuki Nakajima, with the #1 Rebellion R-13 of Lotterer P4.
The sister R-13 meanwhile, is out of contention, the car having an off that extended the safety car period after the marshalls had cleaned up the Ferrari debris. Gustavo Menezes lost control of the car on the exit of Turn 1, flying into the barriers and into retirement. It’s a massive blow for the title-challenging #3 crew.
“I’m fine, just disappointed in myself, I’m sorry for the team,” Menezes said. “Mistakes like that shouldn’t happen. I lost a lot of tyre tempurature, I got wheel spin at the bump at T1, I lost the car. It’s a lot of points to lose, but things happen, we have to come back stronger.
“I hit the bump, lit up the rear wheels and it was over, I did what I could but in the wet on slicks it’s not easy.”
Another LMP1 car to hit trouble in the hour was the #17 SMP BR1, which lost a wheel at 100R with Stephane Sarrazin driving. The Frenchman was able to limp back to the pits, but the team lost a lot of time checking the car in the garage. It’s been a real challenge for the Russian team so far, as before today, it had never run a BR1 in the wet.
“I lost a wheel, I don’t know what happened, I lost the car in Turn 5, it was a shame because the car was so fast in the wet. Now we try to push and see where we end up,” Sarrazin said.
“First time running the car in wet conditions for the whole team, we have a good car though. We just need to find reliability.”
In LMP2, the order changed throughout the hour. TDS Racing holds the lead after the stops, with Matthieu Vaxiviere aboard. The Larbre Ligier is up to second having started the race on full wets and struggling early in the changeable conditions. The #37 JCDC ORECA is third.
DragonSpeed’s ORECA which started from pole is now off the lead lap after the team gambled and put on full wets at the start, it proved to be teh wrong decision. Anthony Davidson was unable to hold on and was forced to pit as teh track dried.
“There was nothing I could do at the start, I tried to fend off cars behind while on wets, they were on inters,” Davidson said.
“It was all about tyres working in different conditions and operating windows. Luckily we had the SC so I could get the slicks up to temperature. We went to slicks as soon as we could in desperation. We bypassed the inters completely. I hadn’t driven on Michelins in these conditions to that point, so I didn’t know the limits, I had to trust the team with the tyres they put me on.”
The best racing so far has come in GTE Pro, with the order changing by the lap in the opening laps, with some close, fair racing up and down the field.
The #95 Aston Martin Vantage AMR still leads from Pole, with the #82 BMW of Antonio Felix Da Costa up to second after falling outside the top three before the safety car. The #97 Aston held second before the stops, Maxime Martin climbing to second but falling to ninth, pitting at the end of the safety car period. AF Corse’s #71 Ferrari is now up to third.
Team Project 1 leads Am, Egidio Perfetti having a mighty first stint, climbing from second to first during the stop cycle. The #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche is down to second after Satoshi Hoshino built a healthy lead early on. Gulf Racing’s example is third, making it a Porsche 1-2-3.
Aston Martin Racing’s #98 Vantage meanwhile is way down the order, after Paul Dalla Lana (who started second) spun at the start in the middle of the pack, dropping the car to the back of the field.