Inside the Jackie Chan DC Racing pit garage, however, a different side of the story was brewing. Sam Hignett, team principal and director of JOTA Sport, the Kent-based preparation team that runs the Chinese Jackie Chan DC Racing entry, was keeping everyone focused on the main objective: victory in the LMP2 category.
Early in the Oreca’s history-making spell in the lead, Hignett and the JOTA Sport squad knew what the world, and Porsche, did not: the leading car would need a time-consuming rear bodywork change during its next visit to the pits for fuel and tyres. The rear lights had failed and if an eagle-eyed Le Mans official spied the problem, the team could be penalised, something that would jeopardise the precious lead over LMP2 rivals.
It was deemed wise to remedy the issue at a routine stop, even if the extra 30-40sec effectively sacrificed any hope of outright victory.
“We were aware that Porsche was going to get ahead during that next hour, but it was quite fun listening to everybody trying to work out when they were going to pass us,” says Hignett. “The big boss of Toyota came up to me after the race and said one of the greatest moments was seeing the Porsche having to really hustle to try to catch us, because Porsche didn’t know about our longer scheduled pitstop, so they really had to get on with it. We were the only people who knew about the longer stop at that stage. It was a great fantasy for a moment, but the reality was otherwise.”
Earlier that morning, Hignett had experienced a “feeling of disbelief” when Porsche’s number one car – which had a 13-lap lead – ground to a halt with less than four hours remaining. With the number two 919 Hybrid still recovering from serious delays suffered earlier in the race and Toyota’s three LMP1 cars already out of contention, the Jackie Chan DC Racing car was best placed to take over the lead.
“I was sitting with our engineers watching the screens at the time and when we saw the Porsche slowing, it didn’t really dawn on us what that meant,” he says. “But when André Lotterer got out of the 919 Hybrid, I remember just looking at the engineers. We didn’t need to say anything. It was very funny – nobody talked about it, but we all knew. It was a good moment.
“We had a chat over the radio involving all the team and said to the guys ‘Where we are in the race is amazing, but our focus has to remain on winning LMP2’. With leading the race, we became the most popular team in the pitlane, which is something that we have never experienced before.”
As a long-time LMP2 entrant, JOTA Sport is used to operating away from the fierce glare of publicity that’s endured by the big factory LMP1 teams. Suddenly, though, Jackie Chan DC Racing was the toast of the pitlane, and that brought with it unfamiliar pressure.