WEC turning points: Super-sub Stevens overcomes RGR in 6H Fuji
There was no shortage of headlines at the 6 Hours of Fuji, as Toyota secured its first FIA World Endurance Championship victory since 2014 following a classic duel with Audi and Porsche, while the Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK earned an inaugural WEC win in LMGTE Pro. But it was G-Drive stand-in Will Stevens who provided the moment of the race, as his late pass on RGR Sport’s Bruno Senna gave the team a long awaited first win of the year in LMP2.
2016 was an odd year for Formula 1 convert Stevens, who was learning the ropes of LMP2 while simultaneously getting to grips with an Audi GT car in another series.
The British driver started the year with newcomers Manor, with whom he had raced in F1, but moved across to fill the berth left by Nathanaël Berthon at G-Drive Racing for round three at Le Mans. Stevens adapted quickly to his new surroundings and mounted a strong challenge for victory, but a puncture and a penalty for a slow zone violation meant the team was unable to match Signatech Alpine in the final reckoning.
Alex Brundle took over the seat for the remainder of the year, but in Fuji super-sub Stevens re-joined the team in place of René Rast, absent on DTM duty, and it was almost as though he had never been away. Combining with Roman Rusinov, Stevens recorded the team's fifth pole in seven races and opened out a gap over the squabbling Filipe Albuquerque (RGR Sport) and Nicolas Lapierre (Signatech Alpine) in his opening stint.
Rusinov then Brundle continued to lead, but their pursuers were never far away and a shorter final stop helped Bruno Senna to come out in the lead with less than half an hour remaining.
Eager to avoid a repeat of Mexico, where G-Drive ceded victory to RGR Sport in the final hour, Stevens wasted no time in latching onto the back of the Ligier and made a bold move to the inside. He found Senna in an uncompromising mood. The Brazilian edged him over to the pit wall and, although Stevens emerged ahead, he was promptly ordered to give up the position as all four wheels had crossed the white line marking the edge of the circuit.
Stevens didn’t lose his head, and tried again with five minutes to go. On this occasion he was successful, passing Senna on the run to turn one and covering off the inside line. After six hours of hard racing, the winning margin was just 1.3 seconds.
Having finally unlocked G-Drive’s winning potential, Stevens showed Fuji was no fluke with another victory in round 8 in China, before Rusinov and Brundle (along with the returning Rast) completed a hat trick in Bahrain following another duel with RGR in the closing stages.
If Stevens does choose to return to the WEC next year, his services will surely be in high demand.