The two Toyotas made no mistakes and simply ran away into the distance, giving their opposition no chance. Maybe it was just the type of race that Nicolas Lapierre needed to take part in, to restore his self-confidence (if that was what was at the root of the “personal reasons” for not racing). As a previous winner at Fuji, he surely will not have had any difficulty in keeping the car at the front; it will likely cost him a world championship title.
It was a race that was enthralling rather than exciting. With its long straight, Fuji encourages a relatively low downforce configuration. This had the double consequence of increasing tyre wear and reducing fuel consumption. This, I think, goes part of the way to explaining why Michelin’s LMP1 tyres would not last for a double stint. The improved fuel consumption also enabled all six LMP1-H entries to complete the race on just six stops each.
The shortest stint of those six-stoppers was Mark Webber in the no. 20 Porsche, whose first stint was just 10 laps, having suffered a slow puncture. André Lotterer in the no. 2 Audi tried to make his tyres go for two stints, but had to capitulate after a stint of just 16 laps; which was the shortest stint that the Audi was capable of without having to make an extra stop for fuel.
Of course all this played into the hands of Toyota. It is no secret that the Japanese manufacturer holds the horsepower advantage, and provided the team found the correct balance, the rest was a formality. Toyota also seems to have learned Audi’s trick of getting the car to improve as the race went on. Both Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson set their cars’ fastest laps in the final hour of the race. Both the Audis set theirs in the first two hours.
The one moment of controversy was the Full Course Yellow (FCY) period, just before half-distance. The debris that had to be cleared from the track was quickly dealt with, and racing was underway again in less than three minutes, but inevitably the neutralisation affected some more than others. First though, to be clear: this was a Full Course Yellow, not a Safety Car Period. The regulations allow for both, and they are different. It was a procedure first introduced during the Silverstone 6 hours in 2013, and was felt then by race control to have worked well.
Just as with all procedures, though, it is important to understand what is and is not allowed. Under Full Course Yellow, the pit lane entry and exit remain open throughout. Cars must immediately slow down to 80km/h and must not overtake. At the end of the FCY period, messages will be displayed on the timing screens and green flags will be waved at all marshal posts. This is the signal for racing (and overtaking) to resume, “regardless of the positions of the cars relative to one another and to the line”.
Two cars took the opportunity to make pit stops: the no. 1 Audi, which was called in for Lucas di Grassi to hand over to Tom Kristensen; and the no. 27 SMP Oreca of Maurizio Mediani, which made a fuel-only stop. Everyone else stayed out, so in theory at least, should have pretty much maintained position. Here are the positions (and gaps) just before the Full Course Yellow was called.
|8||Toyota||Davidson||102||2h 34m 29.337s|
|7||Toyota||Sarrazin||102||2h 34m 36.939s||7.602s|
|14||Porsche||Jani||102||2h 35m 51.452s||1m 14.513s|
|1||Audi||di Grassi||101||2h 34m 47.473s||26.040s|
|20||Porsche||Bernhard||101||2h 35m 01.146s||13.673s|
|2||Audi||Tréluyer||101||2h 35m 43.435s||42.289s|
|13||Rebellion||Leimer||97||2h 35m 43.393s||6m 22.510s|
|26||Ligier||Canal||95||2h 35m 17.285s||2m 46.400s|
|47||KCMG Oreca||Howson||95||2h 35m 49.725s||32.440s|
|27||SMP Oreca||Mediani||94||2h 34m 40.357s||27.421s|
|35||Oak Morgan||Brundle||94||2h 34m 43.261s||2.904s|
|9||Lotus CLM||Rossiter||94||2h 34m 56.672s||13.411s|
|51||Ferrari||Bruni||90||2h 35m 37.877s||7m 27.057s|
|71||Ferrari||Rigon||90||2h 35m 40.165s||2.288s|
|99||Aston Martin||Rees||90||2h 35m 43.364s||3.199s|
|91||Porsche||Bergmeister||90||2h 36m 09.631s||26.267s|
|95||Aston Martin||Hansson||90||2h 36m 11.289s||1.658s|
|98||Aston Martin||Nygaard||89||2h 35m 00.118s||30.837s|
|81||Ferrari||Rugolo||88||2h 34m 59.194s||1m 41.394s|
|88||Porsche||Al Qubaisi||88||2h 35m 22.905s||23.711s|
|75||Porsche||Collard||88||2h 36m 10.725s||47.820s|
|61||Ferrari||Skeen||87||2h 34m 35.957s||7.725s|
The waving of the green flag is supposed to be simultaneous around the track, allowing driving to start racing again immediately: there is no need to wait until you get to the start-finish line or any other such restriction. And after a full racing lap, the positions (and gaps) were:
|8||Toyota||Davidson||106||2h 42m 06.609s|
|7||Toyota||Sarrazin||106||2h 42m 09.015s||2.406s|
|14||Porsche||Jani||106||2h 43m 34.110s||1m 25.095s|
|20||Porsche||Bernhard||105||2h 42m 27.373s||24.498s|
|1||Audi||Kristensen*||105||2h 42m 55.741s||28.368s|
|2||Audi||Tréluyer||105||2h 43m 22.616s||55.243s|
|13||Rebellion||Leimer||100||2h 42m 01.320s||6m 30.829s|
|26||Ligier||Canal||99||2h 43m 01.247s||2m 37.553s|
|47||KCMG Oreca||Howson||98||2h 42m 16.287s||52.957s|
|35||Oak Morgan||Brundle||98||2h 42m 35.598s||19.311s|
|27||SMP Oreca||Mediani*||98||2h 42m 59.693s||24.095s|
|9||Lotus CLM||Rossiter||97||2h 43m 06.381s||1m 43.648s|
|51||Ferrari||Bruni||93||2h 42m 11.679s||5m 53.962s|
|71||Ferrari||Rigon||93||2h 42m 13.272s||1.593s|
|99||Aston Martin||Rees||93||2h 42m 21.600s||8.328s|
|91||Porsche||Bergmeister||93||2h 42m 32.678s||11.078s|
|95||Aston Martin||Hansson||93||2h 42m 35.248s||2.570s|
|98||Aston Martin||Nygaard||93||2h 42m 58.297s||23.049s|
|81||Ferrari||Rugolo||92||2h 43m 01.859s||1m 46.760s|
|88||Porsche||Al Qubaisi||92||2h 43m 27.994s||26.135s|
|75||Porsche||Collard||91||2h 42m 38.140s||53.351s|
|61||Ferrari||Skeen||91||2h 42m 41.261s||3.121s|
Unless you’ve got a very big screen, or you’ve printed this out, it might be a bit difficult to compare these two, so here are the net gains / losses for each car, relative to the one ahead of it.
|1||Audi||di Grassi||Pit loss||26.660s|
|27||SMP Oreca||Mediani||Pit Loss||15.985s|
You will notice that I’ve excluded some cars from the comparison, as in some cases the car ahead had emerged from the pits. In other cases, the gaps are just misleading. In effect, it is not possible to disentangle the effect of the pit stop from the effect of the FCY. In these cases, I have measured the gain on the car that finished up in front, after the relevant pit stop. In the cases of the cars that stopped, I have indicated that the time they lost as a ‘pit loss’. And of course it is also impossible to disentangle the speed differentials during the racing time that is inevitably included in the four laps between the two positions taken for my reference laps.
However, it does look a little as if Matt Howson’s claim that he was delayed by the Full Course Yellow has some merit. At the end of the race, the KCMG Oreca was just 5.434 seconds behind the G-Drive Ligier. Whether the 20 seconds lost in the FCY would have made the difference between winning and losing the LMP2 class of course is another matter. And quite why Howson should have lost so much time is not clear either. Certainly, if one looks at the laps spent while the FCY was in operation, average speeds of the laps completed were between 90 and 100km/h. So most likely the difference came either at the start or at the end of the procedure.
In any event, speeds under FCY were investigated by the race director, and no action was deemed necessary. Just be sure that more controversy would have arisen if a Safety Car (or, heaven forbid, the red flag) had been used. And surely, any procedure that takes just two and a half minutes has to be good?