– Fuji – a circuit where traction matters
– Renowned for unpredictable weather – Goodyear explain their wet testing programme
– From Hunt v Lauda to a modern era comeback – Goodyear reflect on Fuji successes
After a historic comeback race in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), the Goodyear Racing team heads east for the Japanese round of the 2019/2020 season, the 6 Hours of Fuji.
Goodyear tyres have been chosen by three teams (Jota Sport, Jackie Chan DC Racing and High Class Racing) in the LMP2 class. This category, for 600hp 4.2 litre V8 ‘Le Mans Prototypes’ is one of the most competitive in WEC and is the only class to feature a battle between tyre manufacturers. In Goodyear’s comeback race at Silverstone on 1st September, the Jackie Chan DC Racing car driven by Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Will Stevens finished in fourth place after showing strong pace in changeable conditions.
The Fuji International Speedway track is located at Oyama, north of Tokyo, in the shadow of Mount Fuji volcano. In its original configuration, it hosted Formula One and World Sportscar Championship races in the 1970s and 1980s before being rebuilt to FIA standards in the 2000s. This reworking of the historic circuit brought significant changes, including replacing the long final corner with a very tight and twisty final sector. This poses car set-up challenges for the tyre and chassis engineers in the pitlane and will be key to a race-winning strategy.
Mike McGregor, Manager Race Sales, Testing & Track Support, explained the goals for Fuji: “Our all-new tyres showed promise at Silverstone, but we now move up a gear. Fuji is a very different type of circuit to the newly resurfaced Silverstone for two main reasons. Firstly, it has an abrasive track surface. Secondly, the final sector is very different from any other track. It has a lot of tight corners that require heavy braking but demand strong traction on the exit. However, the rest of the circuit is high speed, including a 1.5km straight. Teams then have to compromise between the low-downforce needed for straight-line speed and a set-up that maintain traction out of the second gear corners. Goodyear’s work in helping the teams with this set-up work will be critical to maintaining a strong pace throughout the longer stints we expect in this race.”
At Fuji, Goodyear is predicting that double stints are likely throughout the race, meaning that tyres won’t need to be changed at half of the fuel stops. This focus on durable but consistent performance will be a focus for the tyre engineers.
Ready for the Fuji rain
Goodyear will take the same two dry weather specifications as raced at Silverstone. WEC regulations allow a third dry specification to be used and Goodyear is likely to introduce this mid-season. Fuji is renowned for its monsoon conditions and Goodyear believes they are well-prepared for wet conditions. The new Goodyear intermediate was used in the Silverstone race which gave drivers experience of the tyre on a full wet and drying track. The Goodyear wet has been tested at Sebring in Florida and Bishopscourt in Northern Ireland, with both tracks being flooded to simulate the large amounts of standing water expected in typical Fuji storm.
Ahead of Fuji, Goodyear will continue their intensive development programme, including tests at Sebring and Monza. The Monza testing will include running without the first chicane. This allows the cars to replicate the top speeds that will be seen at the WEC Season finale at Le Mans in June providing Goodyear with valuable data for their 24h comeback.
Yamashita brings local knowledge
Goodyear will also be taking advantage of the signing of Kenta Yamashita to the High Class Racing team. He won the Japanese Formula 3 championship in 2016 and graduated to Super Formula in 2017. He has extensive experience at Fuji which will support the Goodyear team in their development.
Yamashita is a protege of Toyota, and his inclusion in the team makes a strong historical link to Goodyear’s last major World Sportscar Championship result in Japan. At Suzuka in 1992 the Goodyear-equipped Toyota TS010, driven by former F1 drivers Jan Lammers, Geoff Lees and David Brabham took the runner-up position. Continuing the theme of ‘history repeating itself’, Brabham has just announced a partnership with Goodyear to be the technical partner for the Brabham Automotive road and race cars, with the BT62 making its race debut at Brands Hatch in November (Full story: here ) .
Goodyear also holds vivid memories of Fuji. The circuit hosted the 1976 and 1977 Japanese Grand Prix and both were won by Goodyear-shod cars. In 1977, James Hunt (McLaren M26) won and in 1976 it was Mario Andretti (Lotus 77) who took the chequered flag. However this race is more famous for being the climax to the epic Hunt v Niki Lauda championship battle, recently featured in the ‘Rush’ movie. The late, great Austrian, battling back from his terrible Nurburgring crash, retired with honour and dignity after bravely racing in the typically torrential conditions.
That layout of the Fuji circuit was last used for World Sportscar Racing in 1988. In that event, German pairing Frank Jelinski and John Winter took a podium finish in their venerable Porsche 962C.
The FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Fuji starts at 11h (local time) on Sunday, October 6th after practice and qualifying on the preceding two days.