TOYOTA GAZOO Racing began its home event with a busy day of practice for the 6 Hours of Fuji, the second race in the 2019-2020 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) season.

Under the shadow of Mount Fuji, the team took on a new technical challenge during today’s three hours of practice. The #8 TS050 HYBRID of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley set the fastest times in both sessions, with the #7 TS050 HYBRID of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López, winners of the opening round at Silverstone last month, in third and fifth respectively.

At the team’s home race, its TS050 HYBRIDs have to contend with success handicap penalties for the first time, meaning hybrid boost, fuel energy per lap and fuel permitted per stint have all been reduced according to the points gap over the lowest-scoring LMP1 car.

For the World Championship-leading #7 TS050 HYBRID, these measures inflict a 1.4secs lap time penalty, while the #8 car suffers a one second handicap. With no prior experience of these specific changes, it meant a busy day for the crews as both cars analysed the implications and searched for the optimum car set-up.

The effect of the success handicap was clear in the lap times, with the #8 car’s fastest time today of 1min 25.623secs trailing 1.650secs slower than the best time last year in similar conditions, and 2.984secs behind the fastest-ever LMP1 lap at Fuji Speedway.

Despite heavy morning rain, the track was dry enough for slick tyres from the beginning of first practice and this continued into the second session, giving the team ideal conditions to gather data about the TS050 HYBRIDs around the 4.563km circuit.

Set-up at Fuji Speedway is a particular challenge due to the varied nature of the circuit, which has a 1.5km straight combined with fast corners early in the lap, before a very tight section at the end. As well as checking various aerodynamic, hybrid and mechanical set-ups to find the best compromise, both cars also evaluated tyre performance and degradation during the two practice sessions.

Car #7 lost some running in both sessions, due to a precautionary check of a hydraulic component in the first session and then due to floor damage following a kerb strike late in second practice, while car #8 ran without issue throughout.

Mike Conway (TS050 HYBRID #7): “We didn’t get as much running as we would like. The car balance feels okay but with the success handicap we are behind the sister car, as expected. There’s also tough competition from Rebellion and Ginetta as well; the race pace looks very close so it’s going to be an interesting race. We need to execute well and stay out of trouble.”

Kamui Kobayashi (TS050 HYBRID #7): “I didn’t drive so much today but I could experience the success handicap and the effect is quite severe. It will be difficult to fight with the sister car and I think it’s going to be a very tough race for us. There is simply less power due to the success handicap and it makes quite a big difference. We need to manage it and do our best to get the maximum from this weekend.”

José María López (TS050 HYBRID #7): “It wasn’t an easy day on our car so we have some work to do to get ready for the race. We expected a tough challenge here for our home race and it looks like it will be difficult. But it’s great to be here again in Japan and we are determined to give our home fans a good result to reward them for their fantastic support.”

Sébastien Buemi (TS050 HYBRID #8): “We had a pretty positive day. We experienced the success handicap for the first time and tried to optimise the car as much as we can. We cannot use all the data from last year which meant we had plenty of work to do so it was nice to have a clean day with no rain. Now we have a lot of data to go through to be ready for the rest of the weekend.”  

Kazuki Nakajima (TS050 HYBRID #8): “We have been working hard on the car in terms of set-up and systems. It’s tricky because our two cars have different energy levels due to the handicap system. We have less fuel and boost compared to Silverstone and this significantly changes the balance of the car; we need to prepare new set-ups for the energy allocation which is complicated, but I think we made a good start.”

Brendon Hartley (TS050 HYBRID #8): “It was a good day and we got through our programme efficiently. It’s nice to be back in Fuji, particularly as a TOYOTA driver in Japan for the first time. We already saw plenty of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing fans today and we really feel their support. We finished both sessions as fastest but it looks very tight now thanks to the success handicap.”

Free Practice 1
1st #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing   1min 27.373secs    49 laps
2nd #1 Rebellion (Senna/Menezes/Nato)   +0.286secs 41 laps
3rd #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +0.417secs 24 laps
4th #5 Ginetta (Ghiotto/Hanley/Orudzhev) +1.076secs 7 laps
5th #6 Ginetta (Robertson/Simpson/Smith)   +1.339secs 8 laps
6th #33 High Class (Patterson/Yamashita/Fjordbach) +2.251secs 34 laps

Free Practice 2
1st #8 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing  1min 25.623secs 49 laps
2nd #1 Rebellion (Senna/Menezes/Nato) +1.419secs 42 laps
3rd #5 Ginetta (Ghiotto/Hanley/Orudzhev)   +1.979secs 30 laps
4th #6 Ginetta (Robertson/Simpson/Smith) +2.439secs 23 laps
5th #7 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing +2.548secs 34 laps
6th #38 JOTA (Gonzalez/da Costa/Davidson) +4.010secs 50 laps