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JOTA's da Costa reveals Le Mans seat belt scare

JOTA Sport LMP2 driver Antonio Felix da Costa has revealed he suffered a scare with his seat belts coming unfastened during the Le Mans 24 Hours, which he feels may have cost the team victory.

JOTA's da Costa reveals Le Mans seat belt scare

Formula E champion da Costa, Anthony Davidson and Roberto Gonzalez finished second in class in JOTA's Goodyear-shod #38 Oreca 07, just over 30 seconds down on the winning United Autosports crew of Filipe Albuquerque, Phil Hanson and Paul di Resta.

During the night, the JOTA car appeared to be closing in on the class lead before losing around a minute due to an unscheduled stop during the 14th hour for da Costa, understood at the time to be related to a problem with the seat belts.

However, it has now emerged that the Portuguese driver completed more than a half a lap of the Circuit de la Sarthe without his seat belts done up at all, albeit at reduced speed.

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Speaking exclusively to Motorsport.com, da Costa recalled how he accidentally undid his belts going through Tertre Rouge while trying to adjust them in a slow zone.

"I did the pitstop, and it was a short pitstop because we reacted to a slow zone and therefore we had a [partly] full tank," he explained. "We rushed a little bit and my seatbelts were all done, but one of them was slightly under my hands.

"Then I left the pits, and after three corners there was a slow zone, and in that slow zone I was just putting [the belt] right and I managed to, and when I went to the lap belt just to give it one last tightening, I did the left [side] and when my hands were going across to my right one, I touched my buckle and unclipped everything. All my seat belts were gone.

"You cannot imagine, [it felt like] the world fell in. I was like, ‘f***, no way’. We’d come back from a minute-and-a-half down on the leader, and at this point we were only 20 seconds behind, so it was an amazing recovery. It took us six hours to get the gap this close.

"It was my fault, it was my mistake, a lot of hard work down the drain. I had to stop, I was on the radio saying, ‘I’m so sorry, but I have to box’. 

#38 JOTA Oreca 07 - Gibson: Roberto Gonzalez, Antonio Felix da Costa, Anthony Davidson

#38 JOTA Oreca 07 - Gibson: Roberto Gonzalez, Antonio Felix da Costa, Anthony Davidson

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

"I did a bit more than half a lap with no seatbelts. I was driving slowly. One Toyota came past and I gave him a lot of space – imagine if I had contact with another car. In that situation, I’m dead. I came back slowly, did up the seatbelts and got on with it. 

"We went from 15s behind to a minute-and-a-half. That made it hard to sleep, to be honest.

"I think as a package we were the most consistent, no mistakes, we were never greedy. In the end, we weren’t the quickest, but I think we should have won."

Davidson: Another lap under SC 'would've made things interesting'

Davidson was at the wheel of the #38 JOTA car for the final stages of the race, and appeared to be heading for second place until a final hour safety car, caused by a crash for the Graff Oreca at the Porsche Curves, mixed things up.

Although Davidson was not in the same safety car train as the leading #22 United car of Hanson, it brought the #38 car to within less than a minute of the lead, and when Hanson dived in for a late splash, he emerged just a few seconds ahead of Davidson.

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However, the ex-Formula 1 star had to dive into the pits himself at the end of the following lap, effectively ending any chances of JOTA stealing the win from United.

Speaking afterwards, Davidson said the #38 crew gave up on its aggressive fuel-saving plan when it became clear that Hanson and United wouldn't be able to go the distance, but said an extra lap under caution could have potentially made a big difference.

"Until [the safety car] we were consigned to the fact we were going to finish second, and actually our attention was on [Jean-Eric] Vergne [in the G-Drive car], who was steadily closing in until they ran into problems," Davidson told Motorsport.com.

"That safety car gave us the chance to fight [United] at the end. I was on for a quadruple stint with the tyres, so I was taking it easy just in case I had to fend off Vergne at the end. But with the safety car, I had a lot of good rubber left and I could go on the attack.

"Unfortunately it was in vain, because once the safety car came in, we knew we didn’t have enough fuel. If there was one more lap of safety car, things could have got interesting.

#38 JOTA Oreca 07 - Gibson: Roberto Gonzalez, Antonio Felix da Costa, Anthony Davidson

#38 JOTA Oreca 07 - Gibson: Roberto Gonzalez, Antonio Felix da Costa, Anthony Davidson

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

"When we got split by the safety car, we gave up on the idea that I could hunt him down, because they had the speed to hold me off easily. So at first we had a massive fuel-save plan and cruise home to the end, because we didn't know if Phil had to stop.

"I was the one massively saving fuel, doing 3m36s, 3m38s [laps], trying my best to save fuel, really driving it as if I was paying for fuel myself! But once we saw Phil had to save fuel, we switched it up, we decided to go for it, just to see if we could push them into a mistake.

"It was fun trying, but we were in a surprisingly good position anyway. If we’d been told after qualifying that we’d finish second, we’d have taken it quite gladly."

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