WEC 6 Hours of FujiTOYOTA Racing made a solid start to its home event, the Six Hours of Fuji, with promising performances during practice for the fifth round of the FIA World Endurance Championship.

The #8 TS040 HYBRID of Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi ended the day fourth quickest while the #7 of Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima was fifth following a productive day of set-up development.

TOYOTA Racing is in the middle of a tough fight for both World Championships, with the #8 crew leading the drivers’ standings by 11 points while the team is just 18 points behind Audi in the Manufacturers’.

So a significant haul, including the bonus point for pole position, is the target this weekend.

This morning’s first practice started in bright sunshine, a marked contrast to the last time LMP1 cars drove at Fuji 12 months ago when the race was cut short due to torrential rain.

With quite different track characteristics and temperatures at Fuji compared to the last race at Circuit of the Americas, the team faced a busy session as both cars evaluated mechanical, aerodynamic and powertrain set-ups.

Alex and Stéphane shared driving on the #7 with Kazuki, already a winner at Fuji in Super Formula this season, waiting for the second session to get his first taste of the TS040 HYBRID at this track.

Stéphane set the fastest lap for the #7     midway through his stint, earning fifth, while Anthony had that honour in the #8 as he took third.

Kazuki, who last drove the TS040 HYBRID at Le Mans, finally got on track again at the start of second practice. He and Anthony both completed a very long stint to analyse race performance and tyre behaviour.

The session finished with short stints for Alex, Stéphane and Sébastien as track conditions continued to evolve. Kazuki set the quickest lap in the #7, taking fifth, while Sébastien earned fourth for the #8.

Tomorrow sees final practice (9.30-10.30) followed by qualifying (13.55-14.20). The six-hour race starts on Sunday at 11am local time.

TS040 HYBRID #7 (Alex Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Kazuki Nakajima)

Free practice 1: 5th (1min 29.076secs), 26 laps

Free practice 2: 5th (1min 29.083secs), 48 laps

Alex Wurz: “I drove more laps this morning, which went quite well. It was the plan to give Kazuki more time in the car as he hasn’t driven since Le Mans, so he did the long run this afternoon. You are never finished here with set-up because it is such a complex circuit. The track conditions change throughout the day so that makes it difficult to analyse. We still have some homework to do overnight but I like that challenge. Now it’s about fine-tuning and looking forward to tomorrow.”

Stéphane Sarrazin: “There was very low grip on track this morning. I spent the session finding the right feeling and discovering the limits; it’s a learning process. Kazuki did the long run in the afternoon and the car improved throughout the day. I just did two laps at the end, only a short run. Today was about preparing for the race and I think we are making good progress.”

Kazuki Nakajima: “Our long run was pretty good; it looks okay compared to the competition and we seem strong in terms of tyre degradation. Still the circuit didn’t have a lot of grip so I hope we get more rubber down for qualifying and the race. We still need to find a bit more to fine-tune the balance but I think we have good potential here at Fuji. Let’s see how it goes for qualifying.”

TS040 HYBRID #8 (Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi)

Free practice 1: 3rd (1min 28.981secs), 38 laps

Free practice 2: 4th (1min 28.587secs), 52 laps

Anthony Davidson: “It felt like a very productive two sessions today. The weather was kind to us and we worked on the car set-up throughout the day and had a good balance. I got a chance to understand this circuit a lot more because last year the mileage was limited. As always here the third sector is the most challenging and I think I can still find some performance there. It was nice to get into a rhythm and understand where we need to improve tomorrow.”

Sébastien Buemi: “It went well today. Anthony did quite a few laps this afternoon to see the evolution of the tyres. I jumped in at the end and this meant I could experience older and newer tyres which is helpful. The circuit improved a lot during the day, as normal here. We are still a bit slower than last year’s times but I expect it to come to us. We seemed quite strong over a long stint but it will be close as always. The car felt good so I am looking forward to the rest of the weekend.”