Sam cements endurance reputation with championship lead and Toyota test announcement
A rain-soaked Fuji Speedway saw Sam Bird and his G-Drive Racing team-mates Roman Rusinov and Julien Canal earn pole position and victory in their class.
The win was the second in a row for the trio, who have now finished first or second in class at all bar one of the season's races, and it moved the #26 car into the FIA World Endurance Championship LMP2 lead with only the China and Bahrain rounds remaining.
The team's pole-setting average of 1:31.529 had been achieved in the dry, but race day was wet and the first 40 minutes of Sam's stint was spent behind the safety car waiting for conditions to improve enough for racing. When they finally did the G-Drive car's performance got better in tandem with the conditions and a robust performance by all three drivers saw the car take the flag in first place.
Team principal Philippe Dumas said: "What I'm going to take away from this weekend is that we were incredibly powerful in the dry. I think that we've done the best qualifying in the history of the G-Drive Racing team. It's very positive for the rest of the championship and the future of the Ligier JS P2. The rain didn't help us today; we thought it would stop sooner than it did, but that's part of the game. The drivers all did a good job and we found a great setup for the end of the season."
Sam said: "We're obviously delighted to win. The whole team put in an amazing effort all weekend, from first practice to the last corner. Everybody did their job correctly and we've come out with a win. We now lead the championship and it's now all to play for. It's going to be a case of who wins the last two races and we'll see how it goes."
But the season will not end for Sam at the chequered flag in Bahrain - his consistently strong performances have earned him a slot in the LMP1 rookie test that takes place at the circuit the following day.
He is one of three drivers selected for the test by the FIA World Endurance Championship promoter based on performance, determination and race skills during 2015. Sam and New Zealanders Richie Stanaway and Mitch Evans will each be paired with a prototype manufacturer for a guaranteed minimum of 30 laps testing.
Sam, who will work with Toyota on the day, said: "It's good that what I have done this year has been noticed. I'm looking forward to it, and it is definitely a step in the right direction for my career."
Announcing the names of the drivers chosen for the test, ACO president Pierre Fillon said: "Of the many potential candidates we considered for selection, these three have shown outstanding performances which we considered merited the test drives in Bahrain. All three have come from GP2, and we respect that Sam has made the full commitment this year to endurance racing."
Gérard Neveu, CEO of the World Endurance Championship, said: "This first Rookie Test is a fantastic opportunity for these three up-and-coming endurance drivers to test an LMP1 prototype, the most technologically advanced race cars in the world.
"We looked in depth at drivers from within the world of endurance racing before making the selection, and believe that Sam Bird, Mitch Evans and Richie Stanaway fully deserved the opportunity to demonstrate their talent and potential.
"This Rookie Test will give drivers an added bonus to their season, and forms an important element in the progressive career path available within the endurance family."