The #7 Toyota GR010 HYBRID of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Jose Maria Lopez took the chequered flag 39 seconds clear of the sister #8 car shared by Brendon Hartley, Ryo Hirakawa and Sebastien Buemi, as the Japanese manufacturer celebrated its ninth WEC win at Fuji in 10 attempts.
Porsche’s lead car, the #6 machine of Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Estre and Andre Lotterer, led for just under four hours and eventually took the final spot on the podium, 47s behind the winning #7 Toyota.
Vanthoor seized the lead at the start of the race as he dived up the inside of the two Toyotas that locked out the front row into Turn 1 with Miguel Molina’s #50 Ferrari making an equally impressive jump from seventh to grab second.
The polesitting #7 Toyota then driven by Conway dropped to third, while the #8 Toyota of Buemi slipped even further back to sixth behind the second Ferrari of James Calado and the sole Cadillac of Alex Lynn.
The safety car was deployed almost immediately afterwards, prompted by Luis Perez Companc stopping on track in the #83 Richard Mille Ferrari 488 GTE following a spin at Turn 1.
When the race resumed at the start of lap 4, Vanthoor led the way for Porsche, while Conway tried to grab second from Molina, only to run wide and allow the other Ferrari of Calado to get through.
However, Toyota duo Conway and Buemi were able to come back and repass the Ferrari duo before the end of the opening stint, assuming second and third positions behind the leading Porsche.
Vanthoor was able to gradually extend his lead to 16 seconds in the second hour and the gap had only come down to 11s by the time Estre took over the #6 car in the third hour.
Lopez was able to gradually chip away at Estre’s lead and reached the tail of the Porsche at the beginning of the fourth hour, but the Porsche driver appeared to have things under control.
That was until the two Toyotas of Lopez and Hirakawa swapped positions shortly after a lock-up for the Argentine driver.
Now Estre’s primary challenger for the lead, Hirakawa wasted little time after grabbing second and made a brilliant pass on Estre for the lead going into the Dunlop chicane just shy of the four-hour mark.
The #7 Toyota would also get ahead of the Porsche during the next pitstop cycle, with Hartley now leading from Kobayashi.
But what was a five-second gap between the pair quickly disappeared and Kobayashi made what turned out to be the race-winning move in the fifth hour, breezing past the Kiwi at Turn 1 to take the lead of the race.
Kobayashi then went on to build a massive lead out front, eventually taking the win comfortably to close the gap between the two Toyota crews in the drivers’ standings to 15 points heading into the Bahrain season finale.
#7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 – Hybrid: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Jose Maria Lopez
Photo by: Motorsport.com / Japan
Taking over from Estre for the final part of the race, Lotterer had no answer to the Toyotas up front, but brought home the #6 car to secure Porsche’s second podium of the season after Portimao.
Ferrari had a lacklustre outing at Fuji, with its two cars finishing more than a lap down in fourth and fifth respectively.
Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina and Nicklas Nielsen led the team’s charge in the #50 Ferrari 499P, finishing 21s clear of the #51 entry shared by Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Antonio Giovinazzi.
The #38 JOTA Porsche crew of Antonio Felix da Costa, Will Stevens and Yifei Ye managed to finish sixth despite an early collision for da Costa with the team’s LMP2 car for which it was hit with a drive-through penalty.
Peugeot never featured near the front of the pack after a difficult qualifying session on Saturday, with Gustavo Menezes, Loic Duval and substitute driver Stoffel Vandoorne only managing seventh in the best of the two Peugeot 9X8s.
The second Peugeot of Jean-Eric Vergne, Mikkel Jensen and Paul di Resta was classified eighth after a lengthy stop in the closing stages, while Proton team finished ninth with a brand new Porsche 963 chassis after losing time in multiple pitstops due to a seatbelt issue.
Cadillac endured a torrid race at Fuji, requiring extensive repair work after the front-left wheel came loose during the fourth hour. It had already dropped out of contention before Richard Westbrook picked up a drive-through penalty for exceeding track limits.
Westbrook, Alex Lynn and Earl Bamber eventually finished 10th among 12 Hypercar entrants, only beating the Vanwall of Esteban Guerrieri, Joao Paulo de Oliveira and Tristan Vautier and the #5 Porsche of Frederic Makowiecki, Dane Cameron and Michael Christensen.
The #5 Porsche was involved in a first-lap tangle as Christensen was hit by Calado’s Ferrari at the first corner, giving the Danish driver a right-rear puncture that forced him to pit at the end of the opening lap.
Further time was lost with a drive-through penalty for completing a full pitstop under the safety car and not pitting when the race went back to green, and two later trips to the garage for technical problems.
LMP2: WRT overcomes United for 1-2 finish
WRT trio Robert Kubica, Louis Deletraz and Rui Andrade inched closer to winning the 2023 LMP2 title with their second class win of the season at Fuji in the team’s #41 car.
Although United Autosports held a 1-2 for much of the race, it was WRT that ended up filling out the top two positions, with Robin Frijns, Ferdinand Habsburg and Sean Gelael finishing second in the sister #31 ORECA.
The #41 WRT entry ran sixth at the beginning after Andrade was hit by the #23 United ORECA of Josh Pierson, an incident for which Pierson was hit with a 10s time penalty.
But the points-leading WRT crew was able to make up for the time loss, with Deletraz taking the lead in the fourth hour after passing the #22 United machine of Phil Hanson.
Frijns made it a 1-2 for WRT when he cleared Hanson’s team-mate Albuquerque late in the race.
Hanson, Albuquerque and Frederick Lubin eventually took the final spot on the podium ahead of the sister car of Pierson, Ben Hanley and Oliver Jarvis.
GTE Am: Ferrari 1-2 as #54 crew breaks duck
In GTE Am, Davide Rigon, Francesco Castellacci and Thomas Flohr took the class win in the #54 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE, Flohr and Castellacci ending a six-year win drought in the process.
That was despite Flohr going off-track in the second hour after being hit by the Corvette of Ben Keating, who was hit with a 30-second stop/go penalty by the stewards for causing the contact.
Second place went to the #57 Kessel Racing Ferrari following a charging late stint by Toyota junior and WEC debutant Ritomo Miyata, who was called in at the last-minute to replace an absent Daniel Serra.
Miyata, Takeshi Kimura and Scott Huffaker finished three seconds clear of the Corvette of Keating, Nicky Catsburg and Nicolas Varrone.