Toyota and Ferrari continue 2023 title fight as FIA WEC travels to Japan

The FIA World Endurance Championship is in Japan this week for the penultimate round of the 2023 FIA WEC season – the 6 Hours of Fuji – which takes place at the Fuji International Speedway next to the iconic Mount Fuji (8-10 September).

Toyota currently lead the overall standings with 152 points, 26 points ahead of closest rival Ferrari. However, with a total of 65 points still available (25 for Fuji and 38 for Bahrain plus an extra point for pole position at each race), there’s still ample opportunity for Ferrari to catch the reigning champions.

Thirty-six cars will tackle the 4.563-kilometre Fuji International Speedway which is the shortest on the WEC calendar and is located 100km west of Tokyo. Fuji is famed for its super-fast 1.5km start/finish straight where Hypercars reach speeds in the region of 320kph and nearly 41% of the lap is travelled with a fully-open throttle. During each tour of the circuit, Hypercar drivers will shift gears 36 times.

Toyota has an excellent track record at their home circuit with the squad winning the previous five editions. Indeed, Toyota has only been defeated at Fuji once in the current WEC era since 2012 when Porsche were triumphant in 2015. However, Ferrari has shown incredible pace this season including a win at Le Mans and there is stiff competition from Cadillac, Porsche and Peugeot meaning another home victory for Toyota will be no easy feat.

A total of 12 Hypercars will go head-to-head in the WEC’s headline category in Fuji – one less than the previous round in Monza with Glickenhaus Racing electing to skip the Japanese round.

Naturally the home fans will be there to support Toyota Gazoo Racing which has two local drivers in its ranks – Kamui Kobayashi in the No. 7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid, and Ryo Hirakawa in the sister No. 8 car. In fact, Fuji Speedway is more than a home race for the team – the hybrid powertrain in the GR010 HYBRID was designed, developed and built just a few kilometres from the track.

Among drivers, it is the crew of the No. 8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid (Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, Ryo Hirakawa) that lead the drivers’ championship with a 23 point advantage. However, all eyes will be on the hotly-contested battle for second place which sees the No. 7 Toyota crew (Jose Maria Lopez, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi) tied on equal points alongside the No. 51 Ferrari and Le Mans winning trio of James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Antonio Giovinazzi.

After a successful Hypercar debut at Monza in July, the No. 99 Proton Competition entry will bring the total tally of Porsche 963s competing in Japan to four as it joins the two factory-run Porsche Penske Motorsport cars (No. 5 and No. 6), as well as the Hertz Team JOTA run Porsche.

Behind Toyota and Ferrari, Cadillac has confirmed its position as the third force in the Hypercar field. A major asset of the V-Series.R, its reliability has seen the brand take two podiums in the WEC already this season. The team will make its Hypercar debut on Asian soil with the naturally aspirated Cadillac V-Series.R which is always a crowd-pleaser.

Following a maiden WEC podium at Monza in July, Peugeot TotalEnergies will return to Fuji for the second time with its pair of Peugeot 9X8 Hypercars. Vandoorne, who is the official reserve driver for Peugeot TotalEnergies, will replace Nico Mueller who is unable to race at the Japanese WEC round due to an injury. Vandoorne will take to the wheel of the Peugeot 9X8 alongside Loic Duval and Gustavo Menezes. The team are fifth in the standings, 16 points behind Porsche who occupy fourth place.

Completing the entry list in Hypercar will be Floyd Vanwall Racing with Esteban Guerrieri, Tristan Vautier and Joao Paulo de Oliveira at the wheel.

Just ten points split the two front-runners in LMP2 going into Fuji with Team WRT leading Inter Europol Competition in second place. United Autosports sit third, 28 points behind category leaders WRT.

In LMP2, Felipe Albuquerque will return to the United Autosports team after skipping the previous round due to other race commitments. Another notable drive change is in the No. 63 Prema Racing entry with Andrea Caldarelli returning to the Oreca 07 Gibson alongside Doriane Pin and Daniil Kvyat.

Meanwhile, Corvette Racing wrapped up the LMGTE Am title last time out in Monza after amassing a staggering 145 points with two rounds remaining. The battle for second and third place, however, is much closer with only seven points separating second-placed Iron Dames, third-placed ORT by TF and Dempsey-Proton Racing in fourth place,

After sitting the previous round out, the No. 98 Northwest AMR crew of Ian James, Daniel Mancinelli and Alex Riberas will make a welcome return for Fuji.

Japanese-flagged squad D’Station Racing will be a firm favourite with the home fans in Fuji with Satoshi Hoshino and Tomonobu Fujii driving the Aston Martin Vantage AMR alongside Casper Stevenson.

Notable driver changes in LMGTE Am include two Japanese additions to the No. 21 AF Corse entry with Horoschi Koizumi and Kei Cozzolini driving alongside Simon Mann. Cozzolino was driving with Kessel Racing earlier this season but Daniel Serra return to the team for this race – alongside Japan’s Takeshi Kimura and Scott Huffaker.

The on-track action is set to kick off on Friday 8 September with Qualifying taking place on Saturday afternoon. The flag for the 6 hour race will be waved at 11am on Sunday 10 September.