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“Jenson – There’s no ego and he’s a great guy to be with Phil and Oliver” – Hertz Team JOTA’s Sam Hignett reflects on the opening round of the 2024 FIA WEC

(Photo: Ian Chicken / Sportscar Worldwide)

Hertz Team JOTA, who were first out of the pit-lane at the Prologue and went on to record their first podium finish of the 2024 FIA World Endurance Championship, showed how effective their pre-season preparation had been when Callum Ilott, in the #12 Porsche 963 he shared with Will Stevens and Norman Nato, fought off a hard-charging Matt Campbell in the #5 Porsche Penske Motorsport over the closing minutes to finish second at the Qatar Airways Qatar 1812 KM.

The weekend for Hertz Team JOTA also displayed the frustrations of top-level endurance racing when the #38 car, piloted by Jenson Button, Oliver Rasmussen and Phil Hanson failed to finish the ten-hour contest because of an electrical warning. The trio had been consistently running in the top six up to that point.

Having taken delivery of their first Porsche 963 shortly before the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in 2023, JOTA, one of the most successful sportscar teams in recent history, were on course to record their first podium finish of the Hypercar era in the final round of the season at Bahrain before a penalty dropped the #38 car down to fourth.

Hertz Team JOTA took delivery of their second Porsche 963 late last year, ahead of the announcement by the manufacturer that no further customer cars would be available for the foreseeable future.

Speaking to EnduranceandGT, co-owner Sam Hignett was delighted with the result in Qatar.

“We were very happy to leave Qatar with a podium,” said Sam Hignett. “We should have been on the podium in Bahrain but factors beyond our control meant we weren’t unfortunately, so it was nice to prove that the Bahrain result wasn’t a one-off. We showed that we have got the pace, when the BoP (Balance of Performance) is with us to do that.”

Race start for the Qatar Airways Qatar 1812 KM (Photo: Ian Chicken / Sportscar Worldwide)

The team received their second car from Porsche in November and it was shipped out to the Middle East just before Christmas to join the team who had remained in the region with the original car following the final round in Bahrain. This allowed Hertz Team JOTA to remain unphased by the shipping delays resulting from the recent geopolitical instability. The team had also carried out considerable testing at Losail International Circuit ahead of the start of the new season.

“We would have been able to do the Prologue on the weekend (the original dates) which would have been more luck than judgement,” said Sam Hignett. “Unfortunately, we have fallen foul of having to air freight everything back. It’s not the end of the world because we were air freighting half of the team back anyway as we’re testing at Imola on Sunday and Monday (March 10th and 11th).”

Round 2 of the 2024 WEC season takes the grid to Imola, a circuit that JOTA has experience of, having raced there in the European Le Mans Series. Simon Dolan, Harry Tincknell and Filipe Albuquerque drove the team’s #38 Zytek Z11SN to LMP2 victory at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in the 2014 ELMS championship. Sam Hignett expects the team to be on the pace at the Italian circuit.

“Yes, as long as the BoP doesn’t get messed around and they shouldn’t mess around with the BoP,” he said. “I think there were lots of games going on (in Qatar) and I hope the honesty that the likes of Porsche and Cadillac have shown in just getting on and going for it will be respected rather than any games that might be played. So long as the BoP remains the same, we should be in good shape.”

Jenson Button and Phil Hanson – Qatar Pit Lane (Photo: Ian Chicken)

Qatar was the first race for Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button in the 2024 WEC, although it was not Button’s first racing experience of the LMH/LMDh era. The 44-year-old vastly experienced pilot drove the #40 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Acura ARX-06 to third place in January’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, alongside teammates Jordan Taylor, Louis Delétraz and Colton Herta.

“Jensen was super-human to work with,” said Sam Hignett. “You wouldn’t know he is a World Champion when you’re working with him. Obviously he’s quick in the car and his knowledge and depth of understanding is vast but there’s no ego or airs and graces. He’s a great guy to be with our two young drivers Phil (Hanson) and Ollie (Rasmussen).”

Round Two of the FIA World Endurance Championship, the 6 Hours of Imola, takes place on April 19th and 20th.