Sometimes it just doesn’t ‘click’ and a race gets away from you, That was the case for Inter Europol Competition at Fuji, the scene of the penultimate round of the FIA World Endurance Championship where the #34 trio of Kuba Śmiechowski, Alex Brundle and Esteban Gutierrez had to be content with 11th position after a difficult six hour race.
Being a proper “fly-away” race, planning for the event dated back months, with the Oreca 07 being boxed up and sent directly after securing a great fourth position result at Monza. Unfortunately, there would be no repeat performance this time out, with the team enduring a tough week in Japan.
As ever, the three practice sessions – the first of which was compromised by a technical problem – were followed by qualifying where Alex was on duty for the team, but the British racer found the #34 lacking the front end he desired and as a result, qualified for Sunday’s race in 11th position.
The loss of 40-minutes in the first practice however, had a significant impact on the rest of the weekend at Fuji, both in qualification and the race with the team just missing that little bit of pace. In a long race, the impact of this is magnified.
With no sign of the usual wet weather, Esteban lined up for the start, making a great getaway from the rolling grid to gain positions and run in sixth position. By lap 12 however, the pace was waning as the tyres lost their edge, and he dropped down to seventh ahead of the first pitstop.
Ultimately Esteban completed three stints early on before handing over to Kuba, but by that point, the #34 had lost significant ground and the Pole exited the pits in 12th place. A long battle with the #10 Vector Sport car ensued, with Kuba’s new tyre pace impressive, frequently lapping in the low 1:35s. However, once the tyres lost their edge, it was again more of a struggle.
At just over half distance, and still no sign of a safety car which would have been most beneficial at this point, Alex took over driving duties, again proving rapid early stint as he chased down the margin to Renger van der Zande. Pitting 11th, Esteban took over for the final two stints, but at this point – despite his best efforts – it had become a lonely race and he duly took the chequered flag in 11th position.
The team now prepare for the next round of the European Le Mans Series which takes place in two weeks’ time at Spa Francorchamps, and hopefully, a return to winning ways.
Sascha Fassbender, Team Manager
“The target here in Japan was to repeat the result of Monza but it was a difficult weekend for us. Even in FP1, we lost 40 minutes of track time with a technical issue and in a series at this high level, you cannot catch up, especially at a venue where we cannot test. This compromised the whole weekend, and we lacked around half a second off the ultimate pace and the result is P11. Now we will push hard as a team to make sure we are strong in Bahrain.”
“Realistically we didn’t have the chance to fight today. Esteban suffered with unexpectedly high tyre degradation in his first stint which prevented strong progress. We were then out of position for the rest of the race, without the speed to improve. On to Bahrain.”
“We tried our best, we tried many setup directions to try and improve the balance, but today unfortunately it didn’t work out and we were just not quick enough. We also took a risk on the strategy, which was an interesting one, but again, that didn’t work out. On the positive, we are working in the right direction, and we have more control in what we are trying to achieve, and we can take that to Bahrain to conclude my first WEC season.”