Sunday, May 19, 2024

Ilott Secures Debut WEC Victory For Hertz Team JOTA

Hertz Team JOTA have secured an extraordinary victory at the TotalEnergies 6 Hours Of Spa. The privateer Porsche team, with two-man team Callum Ilott and Will Stevens at the helm, won the first privateer Hypercar race win in the third round of the 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship on the anniversary of the car’s debut in 2023. They were followed home by the championship leading #6 Porsche Penske Motorsport car. The #50 Ferrari AF Corse car, having been disqualified from qualifying, fought back magnificently through the field to secure a podium position.

The race was delayed by almost two hours after an extended red flag period following an enormous crash on the Kemmel straight for the #2 Cadillac Racing car and the #31 Team WRT BMW M4 LMGT3. At the restart, the final 90 minute charge to the flag generated some excellent racing and some intriguing strategic choices, massively benefiting the two Porsches who ended up on top who had pitted just before the race was stopped.

In LMGT3, it was a case of expect the unexpected. Manthey EMA, who had not finished higher than 15th in 2024, won a turbulent race that was only decided on the last lap of the race. Manthey PureRxing, whose car was destroyed in a crash in qualifying, somehow secured a fantastic 2nd, followed by Iron Lynx in the Lamborghini, who qualified dead last on the grid.

Driver Reaction

Will Stevens, #12 Hertz Team JOTA: “It’s a year since we got the car, so that’s very special, and the team just do such a fantastic job all the time. We got a little bit lucky today with the red flag, obviously, but you create your own luck in this game. Callum did a fantastic job at the end keeping the gap. So happy for us. I couldn’t be happier.”

Callum Ilott, #12 Hertz Team JOTA: “There’s not much to say, we just executed from the end there. Big thanks to the team, everyone did an amazing job. What a day. What a day!”

The Race

The start of a dramatic 6 Hours of Spa. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

Drama started before the race even kicked off. After securing a fantastic pole position, Ferrari AF Corse had their #50 car disqualified for being 1kg underweight. This promoted Matt Campbell in the #5 Porsche to pole, alongside the Cadillac Racing car, leaving both Ferraris languishing down the field in 10th and 19th.

For the first time in 2024, the entire field made it through the first corner without incident. The #51 Ferrari with Antonio Giovinazzi at the wheel was flying, making a superb move around the #83 Ferrari at Eau Rouge, and made it up to 6th by the end of the Kemmel straight on lap 2. Meanwhile the Iron Dames strode away from the rest of the LMGT3 field, creating a gap between themselves and the #46 BMW in 2nd.

The #6 Porsche came into Spa with the advantage, but it was the #99 Proton Competition Porsche that impressed the most in the first stage of the race. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

The #2 Cadillac was defending hard from the #99 Proton Competition Porsche but, despite excellent straight line speed, had to give way to the Proton after 10 minutes of racing. Julien Andlauer was immediately right on the back of the #5 Porsche and challenging for the lead. The Cadillac was going backwards through the field, dropping down to 7th by lap 8, with the team over the radio reassuring Lynn that they were playing the long game. The #51 Ferrari was heading in the opposite direction, weaving through the LMGT3 traffic up to 4th.

The lead changed on lap 15. Andlauer anticipated the #5 having to lift to overtake the #87 LMGT3 Lexus on the run up to the Bus Stop chicane, and when #5 went left, #99 went right around the Lexus, securing the top spot by the chicane and immediately setting about creating a gap. After a full course yellow, the #5 and #6 Porsches were in a tight group with the #51 Ferrari. The Scuderia got up to the top 3 at the next run through Eau Rouge and along the length of the Kemmel straight.

Michelle Gatting of the Iron Dames on the track after the red flag. The team enjoyed a superb race. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

At the first pit stop, the Iron Dames had an extraordinary lead of 31 seconds over the rest of the LMGT3 class. In the Hypercar class, the #51 Ferrari’s charge continued, repeating the previous move on the the #6 Porsche on the #5 sister car after the first round of pit stops. On a fresher set of boots, the Cadillac fightback began, beginning to gradually make their way back up the field.

At almost exactly 90 minutes of racing, the first crash of the day came between the #38 Hertz Team JOTA Porsche with Phillip Hanson and the #46 LMGT3 BMW with Ahmed Al Harthy. The crash started on the run down to Bruxelles, with one of the BMW Hypercars punting into the back of the Porsche, triggering the collision which collected the #46 BMW. The Porsche and BMW sustained heavy damage, and the BMW and Porsche were out of the race.

The full course yellow flag and board were out several times in the race. Credit: Joao Filipe / DPPI

Horrible news for the leading #99 Porsche. As everybody pitted during the virtual safety car caused by that crash, Neel Jani, who had taken the helm, found himself unable to close the driver door. He tried his best throughout the entire lap to get it shut before picking up the safety car. With the pit lane shut, there was nothing he could do. After a couple of laps, a miracle occurred as he managed to finally get it shut.

The other safety car drama came when Bovy pitted her Iron Dames Lamborghini along with most of the other LMGT3 cars and spent 6 seconds longer in the pits than their rivals at United Autosports. The McLaren came out in the lead of the class, completely negating the near 40 second advantage Bovy had created.

The #99 Proton Competition Porsche enjoyed their best race of the year so far. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

With 3 hours 35 minutes to go, the green flag finally waved and the racing resumed. The top six consisted of three Porsches and three Ferraris, with the #50 car that started in 19th miraculously in 5th, and then pulling off a move on the championship leading #6 Porsche up to 4th. Rahel Frey had a battle with the United Autosport McLaren in LMGT3, pulling off a lovely move at the end of the Kemmel straight to regain the lead.

At the halfway point, Michael Christensen lost his #5 Porsche pushing flat out around Blanchimont and clattered into the barrier, doing significant damage to the left hand side of his Porsche 963. He was unable to get the car back to the pit lane under his own steam and had to be collected and retire from the race.

The #51 Ferrari that led a remarkable race into the red flag period. Credit: Ferrari Media Centre

After the race restarted after the full course yellow, James Calado in the #51 Ferrari and Miguel Molina in the #50 Ferrari had closed up to the back of the leading #99 Porsche creating a mouth-watering Porsche vs Ferrari battle. Meanwhile, the resurgent Cadillac got up to 5th and battled hard with the #6 Porsche for 4th. The straight line speed of the American car coupled with a great tyre strategy created a devastatingly fast competitor.

As has become the norm in this race, the move for the race lead happened at the end of the Kemmel straight, with Calado making the most of the #99 Porsche getting stuck with traffic issues and getting past. Bamber in the Cadillac pulled off the same move on the #6 Porsche getting the car back up to 4th. After intense battles through traffic, Fuoco in the #50 Ferrari finally made it past the #99 Porsche, meaning that Ferrari, having started in 10th and 19th, were 1-2 at 2 thirds of the way through the race. In LMGT3, the Manthey EMA Porsche was pulling out a lead from the extraordinary battle for second between the Iron Dames and United Autosports.

The Cadillac was looking mighty until disaster struck on lap 95. Credit: Javier Jiminez / DPPI

On lap 95, heartbreak for Cadillac and the red flag came out. Bamber attempted to overtake #99 Porsche while weaving through traffic at very high speed on the Kemmel straight. Moving right slightly too early, the back of Bamber’s Cadillac clipped the #31 BMW LMGT3 car and both went spearing into the barrier, with the Cadillac flying through the air, bringing out the red flag. Fortunately, both drivers quickly made it known that they were OK. Cadillac were on for a sensational result, and both Team WRT cars were forced to retire from their home race due to incidents entirely not of their making.

The #51 Ferrari on the track parked after the red flag. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

Race officials reset the clock so, once racing restarted, there would be 1 hour 44 minutes left to race. Callum Ilott in the #12 Hertz Team JOTA Porsche and Kévin Estre in the #6 Porsche were in a great position having just refuelled before the red flag. Several cars, including the leading Ferrari, had to pit for emergency fuel and then stop again as soon as the green flag was waved due to the regulations. Sure enough, the two Porsches led the field once the pit stops were completed, with the previously winning Ferraris in 3rd and 5th.

Julien Andlauer, back in the #99 Porsche, was a man on a mission, pushing his car past the #8 Toyota in an astonishing move at Eau Rouge on lap 111. They pulled the car in early in an attempted enormous undercut to snatch a greater result in the race where they performed so well. Meanwhile, Ilott was establishing a comfortable lead over the #6 Porsche. The #51 Ferrari came out of their final stop ahead of the #99 Porsche, but only just. Quickly getting up to speed, the Ferrari made it up to 4th after getting ahead of the #7 Toyota, the Japanese team ending their winning streak in Belgium which started in 2017.

Iron Lynx making the pit stop that cost them the race. Credit: Julien Delfosse / DPPI

With 15 minutes to go, the #60 Iron Lynx Lamborghini took the lead in LMGT3, an extraordinary move considering they qualified dead last. They had to stop for a splash and dash fuel stop on the final lap, handing the victory to Porsche. The two Manthey cars swapped places on the final lap due to fuel saving. Meanwhile, Callum Ilott was comfortably 12 seconds ahead of the #6 Porsche, leading to a fantastic victory.

Championship Update

The #6 driver crew maintain their place at the top of the drivers’ championship on 74 points, having finished on the podium in every race in 2024. Thanks to their remarkable victory, Ilott and Stevens find themselves in 2nd on 52, 6 points ahead of the #7 Toyota driver crew that won in Imola.

In LMGT3, it is hardly surprising that Manthey PureRxing are still at the top on 72. Tied in second, a long way back on 37 points, are the #31 BMW crew and the Heart of Racing Aston Martin team, both just one point ahead of the #46 BMW.

Up Next

It’s the big one. The next round of the 2024 FIA WEC will be the 2024 24 Hours of Le Mans. After the spectacular opening of the season, it’s hard to see how the race will be anything other than sensational.