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Le Mans 24 Hours of Le Mans

Jota Porsche squad “kings of the world” for an hour at Le Mans

Jota boss Sam Hignett has no regrets about how the Le Mans 24 Hours ended for his team, having been “kings of the world” for an hour with its customer Porsche 963.

#38 Hertz Team Jota Porsche 963 of Antonio Felix Da Costa, Will Stevens, Yifei Ye

The British team, which has three LMP2 wins at La Sarthe under its belt, led the centenary running of Le Mans at one stage with its new 963, which had only made its World Endurance Championship debut in the previous race at Spa.

That was until Yifei Ye, who shared the Hertz-sponsored #38 car with Antonio Felix da Costa and Will Stevens, suffered a crash at the Porsche Curves while he was pulling away from the #5 works Penske-run 963 of Dane Cameron.

Jota was able to turn around the car in just 20 minutes, losing four laps to the leaders in the process, before further issues and another crash while da Costa was at the wheel left the #38 crew as the 40th and final classified finisher.

“We were kings of the world for an hour or so, because we led overall and [were also] leading LMP2,” Hignett told Autosport. “I’m not sure anyone else has ever done that as a team. We’ll take that.”

Stevens offered a similar sentiment, highlighting that the team had only taken delivery of the car shortly before the Spa round of the WEC.

“I think we should be proud of what we showed: our pace, and the fact we came from last to get to the front after four hours,” he said, referring to the fact that the Jota car didn’t set a lap in first qualifying due to a hybrid issue.

“It’s easy to forget we’ve only had the car for eight weeks, so I think everyone should be super-proud to have done what we did and what we’ve achieved. It makes me optimistic for the rest of the season and also for next year.”

Chinese youngster Ye took the lead after pitting for slick tyres behind the safety car after the first of two rain showers hit the Circuit de la Sarthe, and was more than 10 seconds clear of Cameron at the time of his crash.

He told Autosport that he was struggling with visibility issues as he suffered his off on what was his in-lap.

“After the safety car ended, I took the lead on the track and opened up a good gap,” he recalled. “But the conditions on track were still tricky, and the windscreen was very dirty.

“Although the rain had stopped, there was still mud on the windscreen and I couldn't get it off, which made it difficult.”

Considerable repair work was needed following Yifei Ye's accident

Considerable repair work was needed following Yifei Ye's accident

Photo by: Rainier Ehrhardt

Hignett added: “There is a real visibility issue, something that needs work, on the screen. It gets very dirty very easily, more so than the P2 car. At the end of his stint, he just had minimum visibility, which caused him to turn in a bit early.”

The Jota boss went on to explain that the “real killer” for its hopes was a malfunctioning accident data reporter, which required a 40-minute stop to replace in the night: "We noticed it when Will was in the car, we could see the medical light flickering.”

With six hours left to run, the Jota Porsche was running 14 laps down and 12th in the Hypercar class, before da Costa suffered a crash of his own at Indianapolis.

The Portuguese driver told Autosport: “I’m super-disappointed in myself. I’ve been doing endurance racing now for eight years and I’ve never, ever scratched the car before. So I have to apologise to the whole team for that.

“Obviously our race was already compromised before that, but the pace was mega there at the end before we crashed.”

Hignett explained that the second crash left the Jota Porsche with a damaged steering rack, with the focus at this stage turning to completing enough laps - 70% of the winning car - to be a classified finisher.

“At that stage we had achieved nearly 70%, so we pottered around for four laps to guarantee the 70%, and did the last lap to be classified,” he said, adding that scoring the points all but guarantees the team success in the World Cup for Hypercar privateers.

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Eventful race for sole Jota P2 car

Jota also led in the early stages of the race with its sole remaining LMP2 entry, the #28 ORECA 07 shared by Pietro Fittipaldi, Oliver Rasmussen and David Heinemeier Hansson.

However, a crash for Rasmussen at Tertre Rouge in the seventh hour was the first of a series of setbacks that ultimately left the car 13th in class and 12 laps down on the winning Inter Europol entry.

Hignett explained that Rasmussen’s crash “also blocked the radiator which put the engine into ‘limp home’ mode”, adding: “He had a tragically slow in lap, which cost us a lap.

“We got the lap back, but when Pietro was making his way back up the order he ended up in the kitty litter at the first chicane. We lost two laps there, and he bounced quite hard through the gravel, and we lost performance.

“We had to [pit] in the middle of the morning because we had a water leak. Then we had a starter motor fail, which was what killed that car’s chances.”

Additional reporting: James Newbold, Frankie Mao

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