TOYOTA GAZOO Racing began its home event with a busy and constructive day of practice for the 6 Hours of Fuji, the seventh round of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).

On a day when the priority was race preparation rather than one-lap pace, the #6 TS050 HYBRID of Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi set the fifth fastest time from today’s two 90-minute practice sessions.

Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima in the #5 were sixth quickest, but more importantly both cars made encouraging progress as TOYOTA challenges for a fifth podium, and first win, of the season.

Fuji Speedway combines a unique 1,475m straight with an increasingly twisty back section, requiring a delicate balance between top speed and cornering grip.

Before arriving in Japan, the team already prepared various set-up options based on past data and simulations but today’s practice sessions were the first time to put that theory into practice.

The morning session began in fine weather with air temperatures of 16°C; significantly lower than experienced at the previous race in Austin. Those different conditions change the behaviour of the Michelin tyres, so a comprehensive evaluation of performance and degradation formed a large part of today’s activities.

In addition, both cars worked hard to optimise aerodynamic and mechanical set-ups, as well as the settings of the hybrid powertrain, which is designed and built just a few kilometres away at Higashi-Fuji Technical Centre.

For the team’s Europe-based drivers, today saw their first laps at Fuji Speedway since last year’s race, while Kazuki and Kamui raced here in July in Super Formula. On that occasion, Kazuki set fastest lap on his way to second place with Kamui finishing 10th.

When the chequered flag flew in practice two, the two TS050 HYBRIDs had completed a combined total of 157 laps, 716 kilometres, gathering important data which will be used overnight to fine-tune the car prior to Saturday’s final practice session.

With the support of TOYOTA colleagues and enthusiastic Japanese fans, the team, winner of this race in three of the last four seasons, is aiming for a strong performance in Sunday’s race, which begins at 11am local time.

TS050 HYBRID #5 (Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima)

Free practice 1: 4th (1min 25.885secs), 39 laps

Free practice 2: 5th (1min 25.657secs), 43 laps

Anthony Davidson: “It’s great to be back here in Fuji as it is a track I really enjoy. We focused on mechanical set-up and made big improvements; we ended up in good shape with a nice balance. There are still improvements to make but in terms of race condition we are almost there so generally I am fairly pleased.”

Sébastien Buemi: “It was quite a good day of practice. We did a lot of laps with no issues on the car so I am happy. Now it’s time to work through all the data to find improvements and be ready for the race. We will see what we can do in qualifying but the main objective is to optimise the car as much as possible for the race.”

Kazuki Nakajima: “It’s nice to be back here at Fuji which is one of my favourite circuits. We worked a lot on the set-up today and made good progress. Mainly we focused on long runs and I was quite happy with how the car felt. Qualifying probably won’t be our strong point but I feel we can have a good race pace.”

TS050 HYBRID #6 (Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi)

Free practice 1: 2nd (1min 25.556secs), 35 laps

Free practice 2: 6th (1min 25.702secs), 40 laps

Stéphane Sarrazin: “It was not so easy at the beginning of first practice due to some understeer but we made a good step with the set-up. As usual we don’t put any focus on qualifying; the race is the priority. We had a positive day so I am content with everything so far. Now we will work on getting even more from the car.”

Mike Conway: “We looked pretty competitive right from the start which was nice and the car feels good. We have to go into the data and find areas to improve. In terms of car balance it feels quite good; now we just try to find more lap time. Fuji has been kind to us in the past so we are pushing for another good result.”

Kamui Kobayashi: “I am happy to be back at Fuji and racing in front of TOYOTA’s home fans. We did a lot of laps today and made some good progress with the car. There is still work to do to be in the best shape for the race but we will be pushing hard to be ready for Sunday.”

Free practice 1 results:

1st        #7 Audi (Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer)         1min 25.030secs       38 laps

2nd   #6 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing                              +0.526secs                     35 laps

3rd       #8 Audi (di Grassi/Duval/Jarvis)                +0.808secs                    42 laps

4th     #5 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing                            +0.855secs                     39 laps

5th        #2 Porsche (Dumas/Jani/Lieb)                  +0.932secs                  18 laps

6th        #1 Porsche (Bernhard/Webber/Hartley)  +1.067secs               44 laps
Free practice 2 results:

1st        #1 Porsche (Bernhard/Webber/Hartley)   1min 24.074secs     51 laps

2nd       #8 Audi (di Grassi/Duval/Jarvis)                 +0.894secs                    52 laps

3rd       #7 Audi (Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer)           +0.926secs                    32 laps

4th        #2 Porsche (Dumas/Jani/Lieb)                   +1.004secs                    46 laps

5th       #5 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing                        +1.583secs                        43 laps

6th       #6 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing                        +1.628secs                        40 laps