“Jota-Porsche’s Spa Sensation: The Journey to Achievement”

In a world full of factory teams from Ferrari, Toyota, Peugeot, Porsche and BMW, it is quite a sensation when a customer team prevails against the big boys. This is what happened in Spa-Francorchamps, where Team Jota prevailed with a customer Porsche 963 and achieved the first victory by a privateer in the WEC hypercar era.

The Jota drivers Will Stevens and Callum Ilott also achieved the rare feat of becoming the first two-man crew to win a World Endurance Championship race since Toyota’s Shanghai victory in 2014 (Buemi/Davidson). “That was a bit unexpected,” summed up Jota team boss Dieter Gass in an interview late on Saturday evening Motorsport-Magazin.com.

WEC Spa: Highlights and summary of the race (14:27 mins)

A fair amount of luck in the Jota victory in Spa

The joy was written all over the former head of Audi Motorsport’s face, but he wanted to avoid too many outbursts of emotion. Knowing full well that, in addition to strong race execution, it also took a lot of luck for Jota-Porsche to achieve a sensational victory in the third race of the season. Under normal circumstances – i.e. without the two-hour break in the race – “Ferrari would probably have won the race relatively easily,” noted Gass.

Until the red flag stoppage as a result of the Cadillac-BMW accident after 4:15 hours (lap 96), the two factory Ferraris looked like the sure winners. Then the race management decided – much to the delight of the record crowd of 88,160 spectators at the weekend – to blow the whistle for injury time of 1:44 hours. This regulatory-permissible but rather unusual step practically brought about the preliminary decision.

Red abort saves the Porsche duo a minute of time

The #12 Jota-Porsche and the later second-placed #6 Penske-Porsche (Lotterer, Estre, Vanthoor) had each made their fourth pit stops shortly before the red phase (Jota on lap 95, Penske on lap 94). The #6 crew had actually planned for a later pit stop before the race, but adjusted their strategy due to a flat brake on the front right and switched to Andre Lotterer only stopped for this one tire and came in earlier than planned after the following double stint.

After the restart behind the safety car, the two Porsches had effectively gained a minute of time by stopping at the right time, because many competitors, including the Ferrari, had to go to the pits to refuel after the restart. During the red phase, only the tires were allowed to be changed.

What the Jota crew had initially planned as an overcut pit stop against the #6 Porsche – Gass: “That gave us the chance to overtake them” – turned out to be a winning decision a little later. “If there hadn’t been a restart, it would have been bad for us because we were in P10,” explained Gass. “The decision to drive again was fantastic for us. Then the pace was there because the temperatures were a little lower. That also played into our hands.”

WEC, Spa-Francorchamps, #12, JOTA-Porsche, Stevens, Ilott
Happy spa winners: Callum Ilott and Will Stevens, photo: WEC

Jota-Porsche saves 11 seconds of time during pit stops

The Briton Ilott took the lead for the first time on the 101st lap, after the second Ferrari had also turned into the pits, and did not relinquish it until the end of the race after the 141st lap. The brilliant Kevin Estre in the #6 factory Porsche stayed close on Ilott’s heels, but was unable to make a safe overtaking maneuver in the identical LMDh car. The #6 crew tried a trick during the final pit stop on lap 121 by changing all four tires on the Porsche 963.

Due to the complete wheel change in 1:19 minutes, Estre lost 11 seconds to rival Ilott, whose pit stop on lap 122 only lasted 1:08 minutes. Gass: “They changed four tires, we only changed two. We had already changed beforehand and exhausted the tire quota. We wouldn’t have had four tires left in a condition in which you would want to drive with them.”

To explain: Tire supplier Michelin provided the teams in Spa-Francorchamps with 12 slick tires for the free practice sessions and 18 for the qualifying and race. When he crossed the finish line at 8:55 p.m. that evening, Ilott was around 12 seconds ahead of the #6 Porsche, which made it onto the podium for the third time this season and was the world championship leader at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (June 15th-16th 2024) travels.

Jota team boss Dieter Gass: “On par with the factory”

“We were pretty comparable in terms of pace,” Gass said. “The 12 second gap came from the pit stop and the fact that the #6 could no longer compensate with the four fresh tires. It’s good to be on a par with the factory.”

“Jota has proven many times that they are a good team and they have the same car as us,” said Andre Lotterer from the second-placed #6 Porsche Motorsport-Magazin.com. “The cars are not as complex as they were in LMP1 days and the teams are starting to understand them well. Jota did a good job and it would be interesting to see what they did differently than us.”

In fact, during the race weekends there is no exchange between Porsche’s Penske factory team and the customer teams Jota and Proton Competition when it comes to pure performance and data transfer. The factory only intervenes in the event of technical problems.

WEC, Spa-Francorchamps, #12, JOTA-Porsche, Stevens, Ilott
Jota-Porsche celebrates its first overall victory in the WEC, photo: WEC

Callum Ilott in the top four fastest drivers

Gass received special praise for the flawless performance of the two drivers, who did absolutely no harm in a race with several incidents and delicate moments. While the former Formula 1 driver Stevens was slowed down somewhat at the beginning by a more conservative energy strategy and lost a few places, his teammate Ilott later came out on top with a free ride.

On average, the 25-year-old was one of the four fastest drivers in the race. “Once we got out of traffic, the pace was in the car,” said Gass. “We suffered a bit in the first half and couldn’t play to our strengths in the second sector.”

Ilott and Stevens scored in their absence because of the Formula E teammate Norman Nato prevented his second podium success and traveled to the highlight of Le Mans as second in the World Championship behind the #6 Porsche trio Lotterer/Estre/Vanthoor. Gass, who knows the classic well from his successful Audi days: “In Le Mans everything starts from scratch. We can’t rest on our laurels, but it does give us a little extra motivation.”

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