The boss of LMP2 team Jota Sport, which runs Jackie Chan DC Racing, has told Motorsport.com how the outfit came close to making Le Mans history last weekend.
Sam Hignett, one of the founding fathers of the Jota squad, said that although the Oliver Jarvis, Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent-crewed Oreca-Gibson led for two-and a half-hours, it was always going to take more than a three-lap advantage to hold on for an improbable overall win.
“We came close to truly writing some history here and that would have been so special,” Hignett told Motorsport.com.
“Did we dare to dream? Really, no, because we knew we had to do this awkward tail change because a light wasn’t working, and it is quite fiddly. So we knew we would lose 30-40 seconds at least.
"We knew they would get us and even though the TV guys thought it would be close, really it was never going to be because they were 12 odd seconds quicker, and you can’t compete actively with that.”
But Hignett added that he and his team always believed an LMP2 car appearing on the overall podium could happen, given the thin field of LMP1 hybrid cars in the 2017 La Sarthe race.
“There was always the thought that maybe there could be an LMP2 car on the overall podium but I don’t think anyone dreamt one could lead for so long," he said.
“It would have been something [to have won overall], but this place has a habit of biting back and we weren’t going to get greedy.
“You can come up with a long list of 'what-ifs' and ‘maybes’ but ultimately you just do your best, and if you have no big issues and consistency anything is possible.”
Focus was always on LMP2 victory
Despite the unlikely cameo performance in the overall lead, it was the LMP2 class which remained the Jackie Chan DC Racing team’s focus throughout the 24 Hours.
“The focus all the way was winning LMP2," Hignett said. "We didn’t want to get distracted.
"To be honest when Thomas [Laurent] got in the car and then went into the lead I don’t think he really knew the magnitude of what was happening there and he probably won’t be until he gets home and re-watches on TV."
It was essentially a clean race for the #38 DC Racing car, although the team did have to manage a few issues - including a worn clutch.
“We had a couple of little mechanical niggles,” added Hignett. “Oreca have been busting a gut to get new parts sorted and our deal happened quite late really.
"We were receiving parts this week and we had some teething problems but generally the car was so good.”
Unlike some of its direct competitors, DC Racing were not required to undertake a brake change, something which was the result of a pre-planned strategy for the race.
“We had a policy of quick, fuel efficient and reduced braking load, and that was beneficial," said Hignett Brake wear was fantastic.”
Cheng on "cloud nine"
Jota continued its impressive run of results at Le Mans, which included a famous comeback win in 2014 with Simon Dolan, Harry Tincknell and Oliver Turvey and then two podium finishes in 2015 and 2016.
Hignett also praised DC Racing co-founder David Cheng, whose #37 car took third position overall and second in LMP2 following the disqualification of the #13 Rebellion Oreca post-race.
“David is on cloud nine. It is a lovely thing for him to achieve,” said Hignett. “Firstly it was a first win for a Chinese team at Le Mans, and then we get a double podium here. It feels fantastic.
“David was so good, he drove his best ever laps for sure. Alex [Brundle] and Tristan [Gommendy] were also magnificent. They had to really use their heads as they were managing an issue in the car which came early in the race.
"Without this and David getting punted off into the gravel It would have been right up with the #38.”