FUJI, Japan – Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Stefan Mücke and Olivier Pla finished the interrupted ‘6 Hours of Fuji’ in fourth place on Sunday after battling through the rain and fog that settled over Fuji Speedway in Japan. Championship protagonists, Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell saw their lead slip away, dropping to fifth place in the standings after finishing the race in eighth position.
“It has been a very challenging day and we’re disappointed with the outcome,” said WEC Team Principal George Howard-Chappell. “I think we could have done better with both cars without the issues we had. Missing a red light on the pit exit started the problems for the No. 67 car and the guys in the No. 66 drove incredibly well, despite very poor visibility due to the broken wiper. It’s a shame to lose the championship lead and we need to improve for Shanghai. It would have been interesting to see if we could have gained a place or two for No. 66 if the race had run its course but that’s a difficult call as it can go either way.”
The signs that the 2017 6 Hours of Fuji would be interrupted were all there earlier in the week when Mt. Fuji, which normal dominates the pit lane vista, stayed hidden behind cloud cover throughout the race meeting. After a few rainy days it was fog that ultimately put a stop to the race at the 4.5-hour mark, when it was deemed too treacherous to continue.
It was Mücke behind the wheel of the No. 66 Ford GT for the start of the race, which got underway behind the Safety Car. He got away well in second place but later dropped two positions when he thought a Slow Zone was still operational. He was soon back in the fight but then his windscreen wiper failed! After a heroic 3.5 hour stint, with almost zero frontward visibility, Mücke explained how he did it.
“The conditions were difficult today,” Mücke said. “We had a bit of everything from rain, fog, safety cars, slow zones and red flags so our strategy would have us at the front of the field one moment and then right at the back the next. It was impossible to tell what the real positions were. All you can do at times like that is stay on track, drive safe and push as hard as you can. It was hard to manage without the wiper, the main issue being the main straight. You have to look out the side window for the orange markers where the fire extinguishers are. You count these markers to work out where your braking point will be. A slight miscalculation and you are off! The car is still in one piece though and we’re happy to come through and take fourth place and the points that come with that.”
Harry Tincknell took the start in the No. 67 car and had a good run until the first red flag came out after one hour and 18 minutes (the second red flag at the 4.5 hour mark ultimately signalled the end of the race). This was to allow the fog to clear and once it was safe to continue the race restarted. Andy Priaulx took the wheel next and was unlucky to miss a red light at the end of the pit lane and earn himself a one-minute stop-go penalty.
The British driver settled back into the race but with two hours to go he had contact with the No. 92 Porsche, which gave him a puncture so when he braked at the end of the start/finish straight the tyre let go and he went off into the gravel. He pitted for repairs and rejoined the race, albeit in last place.
"It has been a tough day and a terrible race for us and the team did a great job getting the car back out on track,” Priaulx said. “I was following the No. 92 Porsche and he kept stopping the car in mid corner and we touched, he hit the right rear of the car so when I braked for turn one I had a rear tyre failure that sent me off into the barriers. I can't understand why we had that contact as it was really unusual and I have to look at the footage."
There are just two races remaining in the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship: Shanghai in three weeks’ time and Bahrain on November 18th.