Sunday, May 19, 2024

Callum Ilott: “Unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable!”

Callum Ilott has described the historic victory for Hertz Team JOTA at the 2024 6 Hours of Spa as “absolutely unbelievable!” The third round of the 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) produced one of the most dramatic sportscar races in recent history, culminating in Ilott securing the first victory for a privateer team in the Hypercar era of WEC around the iconic Spa-Francorchamps.

#5 Porsche leads the pack out of the formation lap and into a chaotic 6 Hours of Spa. Credit: Porsche AG

The Race

Porsche’s continued success in the 2024 WEC season held off various challenges at Spa. Antonio Fuoco put in another stellar performance in qualifying to to give Ferrari AF Corse their second pole in succession, only to be relegated to last in class due to their car being 1kg underweight, handing pole position to the #5 factory Porsche Penske Motorsport crew. However, the fastest Porsche for the bulk of the race was the #99 Proton Competition Porsche which, at the hands of Julien Andlauer and Neel Jani, led for a large portion of the race.

At the halfway stage, the #5 Porsche was forced to retire after Michael Christensen ran wide at Blanchimont, the floor of the car hitting the curb and spearing the car into the barrier with enough force to switch off the high voltage hybrid system and cause the car to retire. Meanwhile the #50 and #51 Ferraris had fought their way to 1st and 2nd from 19th and 10th on the grid respectively.

Ferrari, however, fell victim to the red flag caused by the crash between Cadillac Racing and Team WRT BMW, being forced to make pit stops to refuel. For the #12 Hertz Team JOTA Porsche and the championship leading #6 Porsche Penske Motorsport cars, however, the red flag suited them perfectly. Having only recently pitted for fuel, they were free to stretch a commanding lead ahead of the chasing pack, leading to the second Porsche 1-2 of the year after Qatar 1812km, and the second 2nd position for the #6 car in succession.

The #12 Porsche 963 after the red flag and on the way to victory. Credit: Porsche AG

Driver Reactions

I knew that we’d be strong this weekend” Ilott reported. “Our pace was good and we were able to use the red flag perfectly. At the end of the day, we benefited from that. Sometimes things just pay out the way they should.”

#6 Porsche driver Laurens Vanthoor also acknowledged the fortuitous element that contributed to their success. “This time, we had luck on our side in the midst of difficult conditions” the Belgian driver admitted, adding “but we also did everything we could to put ourselves in the right place. In terms of the championship, we’re happy to take another second place – being championship leaders feels good. Nevertheless, we still have some work to do for the next race in Le Mans.

The #6 Porsche crew maintain their position at the top of the championship. Credit: Porsche AG

Christensen explained what went wrong at Blanchimont to cause the retirement of the #5 car. “The wind created changeable conditions in this high-speed corner – sometimes it worked flat-out, sometimes it didn’t. I veered a bit too far to the outside, but was still within the track limits when the underbody hit the kerb. As a result, I lost control of the car. That’s a shame for the whole team. Until then, we were doing very well in the race. Sometimes small mistakes have big consequences.

Julien Andlauer, driver of the #99 Porsche and a real contender for driver of the day, was enthusiastic about their performance. “That was the best weekend so far for Proton Competition’s Porsche 963. Our preparations went really well in the practice sessions for the first time this season. The setup was right, so were the tyres, strategy and energy management – the rest was pure racing.” Having had the opposite fortune of his colleagues regarding the red flag, he said “in the last two hours, I tried to make up as much ground as possible and gave it my all. But I couldn’t do any better than fifth place. Now we’re hugely motivated for the upcoming highlight of the year.”

Julien Andlauer shone in the #99 Proton Competition Porsche. Credit: Porsche AG

That highlight is the fourth round of the championship, the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans. Porsche are the manufacturer with the most overall wins at Le Mans with 19 victories to their name, the most recent coming in 2017. With their phenomenally consistent success at Qatar, the 6 Hours of Imola, and now Spa, the German team are in a strong position to add to that incredible tally.

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