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Here we are again after another WEC race, this time in Japan, at the beautiful circuit of Fuji.
Before starting the analysis itself, though, I would like to share again a video of a simulation session we did in preparation for the race, using the 2017 LMP2 vehicle model that was also employed for the ELMS – Spa race preparation video.
Unfortunately, we didn’t really have any chance of any comparison between simulation and reality, because the whole weekend has been affected by a very unpleasant weather, with rain and fog being always a constant theme in every session, in particular during the race.
The race itself has been wet conditions for its whole duration, with a lot of interruptions (in the form of red flags or safety cars) due mainly to scarce visibility. This has made the race more exciting, on one side, with strategy, vision and luck playing an important role on the final result and because it lead to many track fights, but also left (at least for me) some disappointment, since it was not possible to analyze how quick 2017 cars would really be on this very interesting track.
Also the distance covered was much shorter than it could be, with the final red flag signing the end of contentions after only 113 laps, with only 83 laps done under green flag. These are the main reasons why also my analysis will be shorter than the previous ones. Nonetheless, there are a few interesting points that came out crunching the numbers publicly available.
The race was won by Toyota n.8 car, with the sister n.7 coming into second, in a very important 1-2 for the Japanese manufacturer, that has always obtained very good results on its home track. Car n.8 victory is even more important, considering that car n.2, which is leading the championship standing, finished in fourth place, plagued by a dramatic lack of pace.
Something similar happened also in LMP2, with Rebellion car n.31 taking the victory in front of an extremely quick Alpine n.36. DC Racing / Jota sport Oreca n.38 finished third and lost some of the advantage they had in the championship, with Rebellion car n.31 now closer.
Let’s take a look at how the performance of each of the main actors of this race was.
As we said, the very difficult conditions seemed to fit the Toyotas much better than the Porsches. This is a very interesting point, above all if we consider that Porsche’s car n.2, the one who struggled the most in terms of performance during the race, actually signed the best lap time, with a gap of about 0.25 seconds on car n.8 best lap and was very fast at the beginning of the race.
If we also consider the average of the best 20 lap times anyway, Porsche n.2 seems still pretty competitive, being about three tenths quicker than car n.8 and with an even clearer gap to car n.1 and car n.7.
The situation changes completely, anyway, if we look at the best 50 lap times average: Toyota n.8 car is clearly the fastest, with about 0.3 seconds gap on car n.7 and car n.1, which are very close to each other. Porsche n.2 falls heavily behind and is nearly eight tenths slower than car n.8.
The table shows a summary where, for each average, the quickest time is shown in red. We will not consider the “all clean laps” average this time, since the race was run for so long under safety car or yellow flag conditions, that it would not add much to our analysis.
The picture we got from the best and average best lap times is confirmed if we look at the plots of the best 20 and 50 lap times of each car.
The first plot in particular (best 20 lap times of each car), shows how car n.2 is indeed the fastest if we only look at the best 13 lap times. Car n.8 follows closely, even in the very left part part of the plot.
The situation changes completely if we look at the second plot, anyway, where we can clearly see how dramatically the performance of car n.2 falls compared to all the other competitors (in particular compared to car n.8), above all if we focus on the right side of the 25 mark.
It is fair to say that, from a strategy perspective, Toyota did an excellent job in Fuji.
At the same time, this plot clearly shows how, for nearly the whole race length, car n.8 was consistently quicker the the other three crews, including the sister car n.7. It is also interesting to notice how close the performance of car n.7 and car n.1 was, with the line of each crew’s best 50 lap times intersecting the one of the other several times in this second plot. Car n.7, anyway, still has an edge on the very right side of the plot, confirming how also the second Porsche struggled in the last part of the race compared to the two Toyota.
According to the info I have and to what we learnt watching the race, Porsche (car n.2 in particular) had issues with the tyres, being affected by poor grip and by issues in bringing them up to temperature, above all in the second part of the race.
The reason behind this seems to lie in the tyres specifications that each team planned/used for the race. As far as I know, there are two main types of rain tyres available for the teams, one fitting better heavier rain and lower temperature conditions (with Michelin being able to also modify them a bit on the track, if needed in the search for quicker heating up) and one adapting better for less extreme rain / less water / higher temperature conditions.
Apparently, Porsche could use the first tyre type at the beginning of the race but was unable to use them after the first pit stops; probably because of a different planning / pre race strategy, they didn’t have enough of these tyres for the race. As far as I know, these were also the tyres they used during free practice and qualifying, where both Porsche were still extremely competitive.
If this is true, it means they found themselves running with tyres suiting the very special conditions that WEC encountered in Fuji much less than the ones that Toyota had at its disposal.
I think it is fair to say that, from a strategy perspective, Toyota did an excellent job in Fuji or, at least, any mistake.
According also to post-race interviews, Toyota n.8 was also helped a bit by a gamble with the fuel strategy, avoiding a third pit stop that actually both Toyota n.7 and Porsche n.1 did. As a consequence, car n.8 was also the one that spent less time in the pit.
It is now clear that car n.8 seemed to have a more consistent performance than the other cars. Let’s try to identify if this pace advantage was built on a specific part of the track more than in others.
As usual, the track was divided in three sectors. The first sector is composed of about half of the main straight (which is very long) and the first corner, a very slow hairpin.
The second one includes the two fastest corners of the track, namely turn 3 and turn 4-5 and is (at least in dry condition) a very good section to evaluate of how much downforce a car has and, in general, how good the car’s balance and handling is in high speed corners. There is then a mid-low speed corner (turn 6) that lead to a quick, full throttle section of the circuit (again, referring to dry conditions).
Finally, the third sector is composed mainly by slow corners, driven in first or second gear and, in some cases, with adverse camber producing very slippery car behavior.
The two Toyota are clearly in front here, no matter if we consider the best sector 1 time or the average of the best 20 and 50 sector 1 times.
This is particularly interesting, considering that, although the overall top speed was achieved by car n.7, the two Japanese cars seemed to have less straight line speed than the two Porsches, at least according to the trap speed measurements.
Car n.7 and car n.8 are clearly quicker than the two Porsches, with car n.8 being faster than car n.7 up to the 46 mark and then dropping down a bit.
As we mentioned, this is particularly interesting because the two Porsche had often higher top speeds than the two Toyota, if we exclude for a moment the drop that car n.2 shows after the 25 mark and a big part of sector 1 is actually the final section of the main straight, where top speeds is surely important.
This drives some considerations.
- We have to be careful, since I don’t know exactly where the TS was located: it was at the end of the main straight, but there is no indication about its exact distance from the start or the finish line. Maybe in certain phases of the race the Porsche n.2 had to brake so early (because of lack of grip) that the top speed measurement was affected (because the TS is in a zone where the car was already decelerating)?
- For many laps there was a slow zone on the main straight, but I am not sure about how many laps exactly and if and how it affected cars speed
- with LMP1 cars, there is always the unknown of how and where each car starts its coasting phase (energy recuperation strategy) before the driver hits the brakes
- In general, it looks like Toyota simply had a better car than Porsche in this very special conditions and both crews were probably able to brake later and/or drive through turn 1 quicker and/or accelerate earlier at the exit of turn 1.
- With such a bad visibility and the typical rain low grip conditions, i imagine that managing traffic situations was much more difficult than with a dry track, above all approaching such a hard braking zone as the one before turn 1. The car seating in front of the field (above all at the beginning of the race, when the lapping of slower classes has not begun yet), has sure an advantage.
As we are going to see analyzing sector 2, we could even think that the Toyotas had more downforce than the Porsche (and hence more drag too, which would explain the lower top speeds). But with a wet track one has always to be careful in coming to similar conclusions, as the pace of each car is dramatically affected by many factors, like the ability to have the tyres working in the right window (both in terms of temperature and pressure), mechanical settings (in order for the driver to have confidence but also to avoid typical rain issues like aquaplaning), the ability of each driver to deal with such a difficult scenario.
In any case, both Toyota cars seemed to have an edge on the two Porsche also in sector 2, where, in normal conditions, downforce would play a very important role.
Looking at the best sector times and average of the best 20 and 50 sector times, we see how car n.8 is always on top. Interestingly again, Porsche n.2 was extremely quick too if we look at the best sector time overall and also at the average of the best 20 sector 2 times (although in this later case the gap to car n.8 increases sensibly). On the other hand, we see again a dramatic drop when considering the average of the best 50 sector 2 times.
It is also interesting to notice how car n.7 and car n.1 have very similar performances no matter which value in the following table we look at.
Car n. 8 is pretty much in a league of its own, above all if we look at the best 50 sector 2 times average.
This is confirmed also by the plots relative to the best 20 and 50 sector 2 times.
Again, we see how car n.8 is constantly the fastest and how car n.2 had some good pace at the beginning of the race, producing very good times before the 16 mark, but falling down after.
It is also interesting to see how close the performance of car n.7 and car n.1 were, as the two cars indeed fight repeatedly with each other during the race.
On the contrary to what we have seen till now, sector 3 seems definitely Porsche’s territory, with both cars signing the best times here and with car n.2 being clearly the fastest if we look at the best 15-20 sector times.
This table is relative to the best sector 3 times and the average of the best 20 and 50 sector 3 times underlines how Porsche had really an edge on the Toyotas in the final part of the track.
The picture appears even clearer if we look at the best 20 and 50 sector 3 times plot. Interestingly, car n.8 was not particularly brilliant in this sector, being often also slower as car n.7.
Before closing with LMP1 and switching to LMP2, i would like to underline again how, beside a pure performance analysis, it is difficult to drive safe conclusions about each car performance in such difficult weather and track conditions, because a lot of different factors could play into the equation.
For sure, Toyota seemed to have an edge on Porsche and put in place a better strategy (with car n.8 also being helped a bit by the latest red flag) and, probably a better tyre choice/management.
Coming tomorrow, LMP2 analysis.