This weekend (October 14) the FIA World Endurance Championship visits Fuji Speedway in Japan for its seventh and penultimate round of the season. It will be a seminal moment for French squad OAK Racing who, as well as entering its #24 Morgan 2012 LM P2, welcomes back the OAK-HPD LM P1 prototype that has missed the last three events.
As well as now being powered by the proven Honda Performance Development engine, #15 returns with a new driver in the form of Japan’s favourite son, Takuma Sato.
Sato turned his first laps aboard the LM P1 during a shakedown at Magny-Cours circuit in France on September 27 before fully evaluating the package throughout the following day. He has a further opportunity to test and prepare the car on October 10 at Fuji where he will work with team-mates Bertrand Baguette and Dominik Kraihamer for the first time.
The team is hopeful that its new package of OAK chassis, HPD engine and Dunlop tyres – for whom it is the exclusive LM P1 development partner – can run amongst the other privateers in the premier prototype class.
Meanwhile the team’s sole #24 Morgan 2012 LM P2 retains its usual WEC crew of ‘silver’ grade driver and team owner Jacques Nicolet, Matthieu Lahaye and Olivier Pla. With a pair of Championship podiums to its name since the start of the year, the crew is eager to again demonstrate the potential of its Onroak Automotive designed and built LM P2.
Sébastien Philippe, Team Principal: “The 6 Hours of Fuji sees the return of our OAK-HPD LM P1 to the World Endurance Championship and also marks the sports-prototype debut for Taku who we are extremely proud to be welcoming.
“The team will also discover a circuit I know very well and have much experience of from my own racing career. I have no doubt that its characteristics, especially the long 1.5-kilometre straight, will favour our Morgan-Nissan 2012 LM P2, which has good top-end speed.
“Naturally we are all anxious to see how the OAK-HPD LM P1 stacks up against Strakka, JRM and Rebellion who are tackling their final two races of the year while we essentially enter our first two. However, testing at Magny-Cours went well and allowed us to address some issues. While that hasn’t fully put my mind at ease, it does at least ensure there shouldn’t be too much stress!”
Takuma Sato, #15 OAK-HPD LM P1: “After the successful shakedown and test day at Magny-Cours, I am now even more excited to be competing in Japan with OAK Racing. I believe the team has made the best possible preparations in the limited time available and feel very positive and comfortable about the whole team's operation. The car demonstrated good performance at the test according to the engineers and they were satisfied with that, so I am confident we will be competitive at Fuji Speedway.
“It will be a very exciting and interesting weekend for both fans and the WEC series. The track has unique characteristics with one of the longest straights at a permanent circuit in the world, but also has quite a complex technical section so the set-up needs to be a good compromise. Hopefully the aero package we tested at Magny-Cours will give us good speed. I am ready to take on a new challenge and really looking forward to be working with the team, as well as to see all the enthusiastic fans in Japan.”
Matthieu Lahaye, #24 Morgan-Nissan 2012 LM P2: “I have fond memories of my Japanese experience with OAK Racing from Okayama in 2009 where we won! In addition, it is difficult for Europeans to imagine just how passionate the Japanese public is about motorsport, the Le Mans 24 Hours and endurance racing in general. I take a lot of enjoyment from the special atmosphere and enthusiasm of so many fans.
“Also, it is always interesting to discover a new circuit. I have practiced a little bit on a computer game and simulator and the track seems more suited to the qualities of our car than either Bahrain or Sao Paulo. We will have a day of running to familiarise ourselves with the layout before first free practice. Several times this year we have missed out on the sort of results that the car’s performance has warranted, so we will be doing our best to challenge for victory.”
6 Hours of Fuji schedule (local time):
Friday 12 October:
11:00 – 12:30: Free Practice 1
15:30 – 17:00: Free Practice 2
Saturday 13 October:
09:25 – 10:25: Free Practice 3
14:00 – 14:20: LMP Qualifying
Sunday 14 October:
07:55 – 08:15: Warm-up
11:00 – 17:00: Race