"We have one race left and we will give everything we have to do a good job in Bahrain." - Doriane Pin's first trip to Fuji Speedway was a challenging one, as she maximized what she had with a P10 finish due to the #63 Prema's general lack of pace throughout the weekend.
Doriane Pin made her first trip to Japan for the penultimate round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship, as the 19-year-old French driver is about to round out her rookie season at the top of endurance racing.
Just a few years into her sports car debut, Pin has in fact been among the protagonists of a remarkable first season in LMP2 machinery, at the helm of the #63 Prema Racing Oreca 07.
After a superb start of the season - which included a second place at Sebring and a pole position at Portimao, the drivers of the #63 Prema also showed race winning pace at Spa, but were denied a podium finish for misfortunes. An accident at Le Mans and a seventh place in Monza followed, as the Prema crew generally struggled for pace towards the end of the season.
These challenges materialized again at Fuji, sixth and penultimate round of the championship, where Doriane Pin, Daniil Kvyat and Andrea Caldarelli - who replaced again Mirko Bortolotti, whose clashes with DTM meant that he missed the last two races - had a tricky weekend and struggled to find enough speed to battle for the positions where they would belong.
Throughout the two wet practice sessions on Friday, the #63 Oreca ran just within the top ten, then confirmed again this performance in both Saturday's practice as well as Qualifying, contested in drying conditions by Italian racer Andrea Caldarelli. His 1:33.086 effort was good enough for P10 among the LMP2 field, nine tenths adrift pole position, set by the #22 United Autosport Oreca driven by Phil Hanson.
Former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat took the start of the race for the Prema trio, and could take advantage of a hectic start among the prototypes that gained him a position. The #5 Porsche hypercar dropped all the way down the order after a contact and a tyre puncture, while several cars also ran wide at turn 1. In LMP2, Filipe Albuquerque retained the lead in the #22 United Autosport and Kvyat slotted right behind the sister car driven by Juan Manuel Correa.
An early very brief neutralization saw the safety car being deployed when the #83 Richard Mille Ferrari 488 GTE went deep and spun in the gravel at turn 1. As soon as the race was back underway, Daniil Kvyat showed some good speed and recovered several positions, eventually running as high as fifth over the course of the first 30 minutes of racing - until the first round of LMP2 pit stops.
Kvyat pitted on lap 24 for the first time and handed over to Doriane Pin: the French racer took charge of the #63 Prema Oreca from P11 in class, after a slow stop had dropped them all the way down the LMP2 order. Almost a second per lap faster than the Alpine ahead, Pin closed in on Memo Rojas and overtook him on lap 34 for P10.
Pin gained more positions on the #34 InterEuropol Oreca as well as the #28 Jota and continued her charge that resulted in the young star getting past Julien Canal's #36 Alpine on lap 47, as both navigated traffic. Doriane completed her first positive stint and pitted on lap 52 - with the LMP2 field following into pit lane soon after. Pin remained at the wheel for a second stint, seventh in class after her good recovery from the back.
On lap 66, it would be Andrea Caldarelli's turn to take over the #63 Prema Oreca and he rejoined P10 in class. Caldarelli had in fact fallen behind the sister Prema and the #28 Jota Oreca, and he retained tenth place until the third stop of the day on lap 92. Caldarelli then battled with the sister Prema car of Filip Ugran for eighth in class and eventually handed over to Daniil Kvyat.
Kvyat recovered positions on Albert Costa's InterEuropol as well as Prema teammate Bent Viscaal, but was unable to move further up as the performance of the car seemingly deteriorated. "We have to investigate today's race as we had some issues with the car. We have been losing straight-line speed compared to other cars and generally had no pace", Kvyat explained.
He brought the #63 Prema in just before the final hour of the race and Doriane Pin was back in the driving seat for the final stint. Tenth in class, Doriane set her personal best in 1:35.172, 72 hundredths away from the team's best, but had a 20 second gap to the cars ahead. She stopped one final time for fuel with 40 minutes to go and remained at the wheel; she would then pass the #35 Alpine of Olli Caldwell to reclaim tenth.
The race had its first and only Full Course Yellow with 17 minutes to go caused by debris;
After a tightly-contested 6H of Fuji, Toyota took a 1-2 in the overall classification, having passed the #6 Porsche 4 hours into the race. In LMP2, Team WRT's Rui Andrade, Robert Kubica and Louis Deletraz took a dominant class victory, having gapped the pole sitting #22 United Autosport by a full lap. The second WRT car driven by Sean Gelael, Ferdinand Habsburg and Robin Frijns rounded out the podium.
Doriane Pin - who had the most driving time at 2 hours and 21 minutes - brought the #63 Prema Oreca to the chequered flag in tenth place, after a challenging day for the Italian team.
"Unfortunately there's not much to say about today, as we didn't have the pace since the beginning of the weekend" - Pin commented. "We need to look into it when we come back to Europe and work even harder, discussing together and trying to find solutions."
"We have one race left and we will give everything we have to do a good job in Bahrain."
The general lack of pace will be carefully analyzed as the team gets ready for the WEC season finale in Bahrain, on November 4th. Doriane Pin sits ninth in the LMP2 championship standings, with 48 points collected.