Timo Bernhard: Fuji the best possible advert for WEC

Porsche WEC star Timo Bernhard looks back on a close-fought encounter at Fuji last weekend in his latest Motorsport.com column.

Timo Bernhard: Fuji the best possible advert for WEC
#6 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, #1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
#6 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, #1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley, Porsche Team, Fritz Enzinger, Vice President LMP1, Porsche Team
#5 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima, Anthony Davidson
Timo Bernhard, Porsche Team
#1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
Podium: third place #1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
#1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
#1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
Podium LMP1: race winners #6 Toyota Racing Toyota TS050 Hybrid: Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, second place #8 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18: Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval, Oliver Jarvis, third place #1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley, private winners #13 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R-One AER: Matheo Tuscher, Dominik Kraihamer, Alexandre Imperatori
#1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley

The race at Mount Fuji was as tight as never before: six hours of flat out racing paired with great battles, especially in the last third of the race.

It was great advertising for endurance racing not only on track but also away from it. To see the excitement of the Japanese fans is amazing, the whole weekend was well attended and like last year the grandstands were packed.

To set the car up for the track has been a real challenge, which the team managed very well. We had to get the balance right between the long straight, the speedy first sector and the winding final part of the lap.

On top of that, the surface is rather slippery which puts another interesting factor into the mix. The track at the foot of the picturesque stratovolcano is beautiful, technically very demanding and a lot of fun to drive.

The practice sessions went well for us and we did several long runs and quali simulations and were able to test different aero configurations. We could see in the first session, that all six LMP1 cars were very close together and knew the race would be tight. 

For qualifying on Saturday we had very good conditions. Mark and I shared driving duties and it was a really good fight with the Audis. In the end it wasn’t quite enough for us and we missed pole by 0.025 seconds – it’s never been as tight before this season.

Fierce on-track battles

Mark started the race on Sunday, and was able to keep up with the #8 Audi. However, on lap 21, he had to let the quicker #6 Toyota behind him pass. I took over from him after the first pitstops and had a smooth run.

During my second stint I had a heated but fair fight with Stephane Sarrazin in the Toyota. By that time the temperatures had fallen slightly, which helped us, and I overtook him twice.

The first time he managed a counter-attack, but the second time I got past him and even closed the gap to the leading Audi.

I handed the car over to Brendon, who came out in second behind Kamui Kobayashi in the #6 Toyota. They had a great fight over a few laps and changed positions several times. 

We changed tyres at the last stop and Mark jumped in again. Kobayashi didn’t put on new tyres at his last stop, and therefore the gap increased a bit.

But Mark struggled with car balance on the last set of tyres and wasn’t able to fight for victory anymore and in the end we finished third with a 17 second gap to first place.

There were only 1.4 seconds between the winning Toyota and the second placed Audi, which is incredible after 244 laps and six hours of racing!

It was an incredibly exciting race with great battles and was fun to drive. We definitely had the potential to win the race, but we’ve also seen how closely together all three manufacturers are.

It’s a well-deserved win for Toyota and with our fourth consecutive podium we were able to further extend our lead in the manufacturers standings and we want to seal the title at the next race in Shanghai.

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