Porsche travels to round five of the FIA World Endurance Championship WEC in Fuji as the series leader. The factory squad aims to clinch its third GTE-Pro class win of the season in Japan and is eager to take another step towards claiming the world title. After recovering from an illness, Richard Lietz returns to the cockpit of the No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR.
The six-hour race at the foot of Mount Fuji will be contested on the second weekend of September for the first time in two years. In 2020 and 2021, the event was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The last time the endurance race was held in Japan, Kévin Estre (France) and Michael Christensen (Denmark) took the flag in second place in the GTE-Pro category at the wheel of their Porsche 911 RSR. The year before, the duo won the race on the storied circuit in the Shizuoka Prefecture.
“We’re on the finish straight of the final season with the Porsche 911 RSR in the GTE-Pro class. The competition is tighter than it’s ever been. We’ll do our very best to take home the big trophies at the end of the season,” states Alexander Stehlig. The Director of Factory Motorsport FIA WEC adds: “We used the time since the last race in Monza for detailed analyses so that we can continue to improve. After an intense start to the year with four races and several tests within seven months, the team also got the chance to take a break. We’re heading to Japan fully energised and highly motivated.”
The 4.563-kilometre Fuji Speedway lies at the foot of Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain at 3,776 metres. The snow-capped peak of the volcano is often the spectacular backdrop in photos taken at the racetrack. The track layout features a broad range of corner radii as well as the longest straight on the World Endurance Championship calendar at 1.475 kilometres in length.
“For the very long straight, air resistance should be as low as possible to achieve a high top speed. At the same time, we need a lot of downforce for the many semi-fast corners – this means we have to find a good compromise when setting up the vehicle,” says Alexander Stehlig, explaining the challenge the engineers grapple with when working out an ideal setup. “We face an additional task this season: The race in Fuji is about a month earlier than in previous years, which means it’ll be late summer in Japan with higher temperatures expected. This will affect tyre use. Plus, the asphalt on the Fuji Speedway is demanding. That will be a major issue at the upcoming race.”
A special highlight of the WEC round in Japan is the “Circuit Safari”. Shortly before the start of the third free practice on Saturday, all teams will send at least one of their vehicles out to lap the racetrack at almost race pace. At the same time, buses will gain access to transport many fans around the circuit. The event has proved popular among spectators and gives the passengers lasting impressions of the sheer speed of the sports car and prototypes as well as the race action in the FIA World Endurance Championship WEC.
The Porsche GT Team drivers
The two Le Mans class winners Richard Lietz from Austria and Italy’s Gianmaria Bruni join forces in the ca. 378 kW (515 PS) Porsche 911 RSR with the starting number 91. The Italian currently lies second in the drivers’ championship, with his Austrian teammate in fourth. While illness forced the regular driver Lietz to miss the race at Monza (Italy), he now returns to the squad. Position three in the overall rankings is occupied by their brand colleagues Kévin Estre from France and Michael Christensen from Denmark. The two drivers in the No. 92 cockpit won the season-opening round in Sebring (USA). Porsche leads the manufacturers’ classification after four of six races.
The customer teams
Dempsey-Proton Racing fields two Porsche 911 RSR racers at the WEC race in Fuji. Team owner Christian Ried from Germany shares driving duties in the No. 77 car with the two English racing drivers Harry Tincknell and Sebastian Priaulx. The No. 88 sister car is shared by Americans Fred Poordad and Patrick Lindsey as well as Belgium’s Jan Heylen.
Project 1’s No. 46 entry will be driven by Switzerland’s Nicolas Leutwiler, Mikkel Pedersen from Denmark and Italy’s Matteo Cairoli. Ben Barnicoat and Oliver Millroy from the UK join forces in the No. 56 car fielded by the German customer team with the American Brendan Iribe. GR Racing’s No. 86 car is helmed by the UK duo Michael Wainwright and Ben Barker as well as Riccardo Pera from Italy.
The schedule (all times CEST)
Friday, 9 September
4:00 am to 5:30 am: Free practice 1
8:30 am to 10:00 am: Free practice 2
Saturday, 10 September
3:00 am to 3:12 am: Circuit Safari
3:20 pm – 4:20 pm: Free practice 3
7:40 pm – 7:50 pm: Qualifying GTE
Sunday, 11 September
4:00 am to 10:00 am: Race
Drivers’ comments before the race
Richard Lietz (Porsche 911 RSR #91): “It’s finally time for a long-haul journey again. Even though we’re racing in September in Fuji this year, we’re hoping for some unpredictable weather. We recently saw in Monza that we struggle under certain circumstances. I reckon some rain or changeable conditions could improve our chances. We want to win in Japan to give us the best possible chance in the fight for the world championship title at the season finale in Bahrain.”
Gianmaria Bruni (Porsche 911 RSR #91): “The last time we were in Japan was 2019 – so it’s high time that we finally race in front of the amazing fans in Fuji. With the championship entering a very heated phase, the race will be enormously important. When we competed there three years ago, our car was very fast, but luck wasn’t on our side. I hope that everything will run smoothly this year. We want to win the titles on the farewell tour of our factory nine-elevens – both for Porsche in the manufacturer’s championship and in the driver’s championship.”
Kévin Estre (Porsche 911 RSR #92): “After a two-year hiatus, I’m delighted to be back racing in Japan. I enjoy the country and the culture, the respectful people and the passionate fans. The track at Fuji has always suited our Porsche 911 RSR – that makes me optimistic. The fight for the championship is extremely tight this year, it’s vital that we’re right at the front in the upcoming race and that we bring home maximum points.”
Michael Christensen (Porsche 911 RSR #92): “The anticipation for the upcoming race is particularly high. We’ve all been suffering from a kind of ‘Japan withdrawal’ because we weren’t able to travel there for two years. For the first time, the Fuji event will take place earlier in mid-September. We have to expect much higher temperatures than in previous years. This year’s title fight is so close that the championship will be decided by two factors: the best preparation and the lowest margin of error. Clearly, these are the things we’ll focus on.”