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6 Hours of Fuji: Unleashed potential

The penultimate race of the World Endurance Championship (WEC) welcomed Porsche fans to Mount Fuji in Japan. The weather was rather warm with 27° Celsius and a little humidity. However, the track was dry and the sky cloudy, but there was no bad weather to be seen during at the start of the 6 Hours of Fuji. The race was important for all teams to achieve a good point standing before the end of the season.

In the Hypercar class, the Porsche Penske Motorsport Team started from the second row – ideal conditions to get ahead during the start scrimmage. The #6 Porsche 963 with Laurens Vanthoor at the wheel started from third spot and number five with Michael Christensen from fourth spot . The Hertz Team JOTA Porsche 963 piloted by Antonio Felix da Costa started from eighth position, with the Proton Competition sister car #99 in the hands of Harry Tinknell right behind it.


In the LMGTE Am class, the Iron Dames in the Porsche 911 RSR #85 had ideal starting conditions: Sarah Bovy entered the race from the second class spot. PJ Hyett started the race for Project 1 – AO in the #56 in seventh, closely followed by Christian Ried in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing car in eighth, and Michael Wainwright in the #86 GR Racing car in ninth position. The Iron Lynx with Claudio Schiavoni in the #60 Porsche 911 RSR started from 13th position.


At four o'clock in the morning CEST, the green flag was waved and yes: the Porsche 963 #6 took the lead! Immediately after the start, Laurens Vanthoor came up behind the second-placed Toyota and pulled to the right before entering the first turn. This strategically placed him in the best position to attack on the inside of the turn. His maneuver forced his opponents off the ideal line and several of the following cars off the track onto the run-off area.

The Porsche 963 #6 during race start on the inside of the turn and beside the Toyota Hypercar.
The bold starting move of Laurens Vanthoor in the Porsche 963 #6.

Also affected by the move: The sister car #5 with Michael Christensen in the cockpit suffered tire damage and had to head into the pit early. Hertz Team JOTA with Antonio Felix da Costa in the Porsche 963 #38 and Proton Competition #99 driven by Harry Tinknell also went off course. While the following cars had to resort themselves, Laurens Vanthoor gave his all to gain an advantage for the later stages of the race.


Hertz Team JOTA and Proton Competition also fought an exciting battle throughout the first hour. Proton Competiton had only been running their Porsche 963 for a short time, putting Hertz Team JOTA at an advantage in terms of experience. However, the Porsche #38' brake timing was noticably delayed, possibly indicating technical issues. A boon for Proton Competition: the team could moved up to sixth position in the Hypercar class.


At the same time, Laurens Vanthoor entered the pit early with the Porsche #6 and therefore dropped to the rear. The following stops of the remaining class should show how this decision would turn out in the long run. For the first pit phase, it was the correct decision: When the remaining class cars had completed their pit stops, Laurens Vanthoor returned to the top in the number six. Thanks to a very quick stop, da Costa returned to the track on third position with the sister car number 38, while Proton Competition remained on eighth position and the Porsche Penske Motorsport number five fell behind on 11th position due to a stop penalty.


For multiple turns, da Costa managed to keep the following Toyota on fourth position from passing his Porsche 963 #38. Although he was unable to maintain his third spot, da Costa was able to prevent Toyota from improving its time. Proton Competition was also involved in an intense battle with a Ferrari for seventh position. Both cars swapped placed across multiple turns. But Harry Tinknell refused to be intimidated by the more experienced factory team and regularly pulled up alongside the Ferrari to successfully defend his seventh position.

The Proton Competition #99 Porsche 963 racing around a turn ahead of a LMP2 vehicle and the Ferrari Hypercar.
Harry Tinknell putting a LMP2 vehicle between his #99 Proton Competition and the following Ferrari Hypercar in a turn.

Full focus

The next battle was indicated for Hertz Team JOTA, this time against the second Ferrari. Again, da Costa was able to defend his position in the Porsche 963 through multiple turns. His performance proved that the Porsche Hypercar could keep up, especially in curvy sections. But the Ferrari finally passed on the long start-finish straight. Antonio Felix da Costa's streak of bad luck continued: As he had inadvertently spun his LMP2 team mate while attempting to pass, he was given a drive-through penalty and therefore dropped back to 10th position.


After an hour and a half, there was movement in the LMGTE Am class: The Iron Dames came under pressure from the following Ferrari and dropped a position just after the start-finish straight. The following Corvette in fourth position also increased the pressure on Sarah Bovy and passed her on the same stretch. Shortly afterwards, the #56 of Project 1 – AO passed the Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR sister car in the same section. This left the Iron Dames in fourth position, Porject 1 – AO in seventh and Dempsey-Proton Racing in eighth.

It was a clean race with one exception, unfortunately, we were handed a drive-through penalty. If that hadn’t happened, we could have grabbed fourth place.

Will StevensDriver Porsche 963 #39

The first teams began switching out drivers two hours after race start: For the Iron Dames, Michelle Gatting switched with her colleague Sarah Bovy, Riccardo Pera entered the cockpit for GR Racing. In the Project 1 – AO car, Gunnar Jeanette took over and Mikkel Pedersen for Dempsey-Proton Racing. In the Iron Lynx team, Matteo Cressoni switched in.


The Hypercar class followed shortly after: Laurens Vanthoor entered the pit first and switched his seat with Kévin Estre, who also received new tires. Hertz Team JOTA followed shortly after and William Stevens took over from Antonio Felix da Costa. For Proton Competition, Gianmaria Bruni came in behind the wheel of the #99, but he could not return to the race just yet. His seat belt would not close anymore and the Porsche 963 was rolled into the garage by the pit team. Luckily, he managed to return with a one lap deficit. Shortly after, Dane Cameron switched into the Porsche Penske Motorsport number five and closed the main pit phase for the Hypercar class.

Unfortunately, there was a small mishap during a driver change and the seatbelt buckle broke – what a shame. We had to fix it, of course, but it meant the end of our race.

Neel JaniDriver Porsche 963 #99

Penalties and unexpected pit stops saw Michelle Gatting return to the top of the the LMGTE Am class with the Porsche 911 RSR #85. Dempsey-Proton Competition also managed to improve their position: Mikkel Pedersen took third in the #77 on the long straight. Meanwhile, in the Hypercar class, a potential threat to the lead of the #6 Porsche 963 began to manifest itself: Kévin Estre radioed to the pits with gearbox problems. The ever-shrinking gap to the following Toyota in second place confirmed the disadvantage.


After the unwanted extended pit stop for Proton Competition, Gianmaria Bruni was once more forced to return to the pit with the Porsche 963 #99. His vehicle was rolled back into the garage. But the race continued mercilessly: In the LMGTE Am class, GR Racing lost one position and dropped to 10th.


Just before the halfway point, the gap beween the Kévin Estre's Porsche 963 #6 and the following Toyota had shrunk down to two seconds. It was also time for Estre to enter the pit. After a quick service and tire change on the left side, he returned to the track.

Coherent strategy

After the pit stops, the battle resumed between the Porsche 963 #6 and the Toyota. Kévin Estre at least managed to utilize the slower vehicles as a strategic brake against his opponent. The Porsche Hypercar only lost ground on the straight, which Estre then regained in the corners to keep the Toyota at bay. In addition, the Toyota radio messages revealed that the Frenchman was indeed too fast for the Toyota #7, even on the straight.


The battle at the front of the Hypercar class went on for several minutes. The Toyota in third position had actually caught up with the leaders and was performing better than the sister car. Kévin Estre remained unimpressed and successfully stuck to his strategy. It mattered little to him if he would be battling for the lead against the #7 or #8.


While the leading cars of the Hypercar class were engaged in a fierce battle, the Customer Racing Team Porsche 911 RSR were working their way into the top five in their class. In the Iron Dames car, Rahel Frey had replaced Michelle Gatting before the end of the fourth hour of the race and before the pit phase began, and the team remained in the lead. Project 1 – AO's "Rexy" was also running well in fourth place with Dempsey-Proton Racing right behind.


Not much had changed in the top three of the Hypercar class: Kévin Estre remained in first place towards the end of his stint, while both Toyota vehicles briefly interfered with each other as they attempted to switch in the #8 as pursuer for the Frenchman. The strategy proved to be to Porsche's detriment. Shortly before Estre entered the pits, he lost his position to the Japanese team.

The #6 Porsche 963 between vehicles while lapping other classes.
The Porsche Penske Motorsport 963 #6.

The Porsche 963 #6 entered the pits and Kévin Estre could catch a well-earned break. He swapped placed in the cockpit with André Lotterer. For the last two hours of the race, the German driver was also fitted with new tires, making it difficult for him to re-enter the fierce duel. Due to that, Lotterer refrained from reapplying pressure on the Toyota after his leaving pit lane – even though he returned to the track directly behind the Toyota.


But the #7 Toyota also came into the pits and managed to return to the track ahead of Lotterer. This put the Porsche 963 #6 in third place, while the #5 was boxed for repairs once more. There was also plenty of action in the top three of the LMGTE Am class. Dempsey-Proton Racing had fought their way up to third place, while the Iron Dames maintained their top spot. Between them was a Corvette and it passed Rahel Frey at one point on the straight. Julien Andlauer in the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing was so close to the battle that he almost managed to pass the sister car with the number 85. An fierce battle for second place ensued between the two teams, which Andlauer eventually won in a crowded field.


The action in the LMGTE Am class remained thrilling. Although the Iron Dames in their Porsche 911 RSR dropped a rank to fourth, Dempsey-Proton Racing on fifth and Project 1 – AO on sixth remained on track and gave their all. In the final hour of the race, all cars in the class and the Hypercar class pitted. The reorganization of the grid was to the detriment of the Porsche RSR vehicles: The Iron Dames, Dempsey-Proton Racing and Project 1 – AO returned in positions five through seven. However, GR Racing emerged as the near winner of the stage: Benjamin Barker advanced onto second but was immediately challenged by the Ferrari in third position.


In the final hour, André Lotterer, third in the Hypercar class, had a chance to catch up with the second-placed Toyota: their #8 suffered technical difficulties and lost contact with the leading sister car – but he had to lap several cars and also close a gap of over ten seconds. The Iron Dames, with Michelle Gatting at the wheel, also had a chance to catch the car in front in third place in the final 30 minutes. The GR Racing Porsche dropped back to eighth, while the Porsche RSRs of Project 1 – AO and Dempsey-Proton Racing moved up to fifth and sixth.


There was a brief Full-Course-Yellow in the final twenty minutes. However, it was so short that it did not give the Porsche teams any strategic advantage. In fact, it proved to be more of a disadvantage, as it slowed down the chase to reduce the gaps. Still: the Porsche Penske Motorsport 963 #6 crossed the finish line on third place.


Despite losing the dominant lead of the first hours of the 6 Hours of Fuji, the Porsche Penske Motorsport team proved one thing: they were just a few adjustments away from conquering the top-most spot on the podium.


The final results of the 6 Hours of Fuji:

3. Porsche Penske Motorsport #6 (Estre / Lotterer / Vanthoor)

6. Hertz Team JOTA #38 (da Costa / Stevens / Ye)

9. Proton Competition #99 (Jani / Bruni / Tinknell)

26. (4th LMGTE Am) Iron Dames #85 (Bovy / Gatting / Frey)

27. (5th LMGTE Am) Project 1 – AO #56 (Hyett / Jeannette / Cairoli)

28. (6th LMGTE Am) Dempsey-Proton Competition #77 (Ried / Pedersen / Andlauer)

30. (8th LMGTE Am) GR Racing #86 (Wainwright / Pera / Barker)

33. (11th LMGTE Am) Iron Lynx #60 (Schiavoni / Cressoni / Picariello)

36. (12th Hypercar) Porsche Penske Motorsport #5 (Cameron / Christensen / Makowiecki)

The Porsche Penske Motorsport 963 #5, GR Racing Porsche 911 RSR #86 and Iron Lynx #60 racing around a curve.
The Hertz Team JOTA Porsche 963 #38 driving across the finish line.
The two Porsche 911 RSR of Dempsey-Proton Competition #77 and Project 1 – AO #56.
The Porsche 911 RSR of the Iron Dames during a tire change in the pit.
The Iron Dames Porsche 911 RSR locked in a duel with another vehicle.

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