Hypercar era’s first privateer win a long time coming, but oh so sweet

Yes, there was luck involved. Yes, it took a red flag and an extended race. Yes, it took an off day for Toyota and a very significant misfortune for Ferrari. But for Hertz Team JOTA, which became the first British team to win a WEC race overall and the first privateer to win in the Hypercar era Saturday in Spa, it felt like this result had been coming for a while.

The signs were there for all to see in Qatar back in March, when the No. 12 crew finished second to the same Penske Porsche that finished runner-up at Spa. Prior to that, it finished fourth in Bahrain last November and it turned heads at Le Mans on the biggest stage, leading the centenary running despite having only taken delivery of its first 963 for a handful of weeks before the race.

Sam Hignett and David Clarke’s longstanding team may look like a factory and operate like one, but this is a fully private operation, powered by commercial nous and a band of highly skilled engineers and drivers.


One year on from its debut with the car at the 2023 6 Hours of Spa, in which it spent the weekend “with stacks of boxes of parts from Porsche in the back of the garage” and fought its way through the race having had zero prior testing time, Hignett feels the long nights and early starts were worth it en route to Saturday’s milestone result.

A fairytale day for JOTA brought with it only a single blip — the loss of the sister No. 38. Jakob Ebrey/Motorsport Images

“It’s been great,” he told RACER amid the post-race celebrations for the team on pit lane. “We were here last year having only had the car for seven days. We had no spares and making bits up during that race. So to come here a year later with two cars is special, and it could have been even more unbelievable if the No. 38 hadn’t been wiped out. They had pace today.”

For Will Stevens and Callum Ilott, who shared the No. 12 as a pair while Norman Nato was on Formula E duty, the second half of the race was a nerve-wracking experience.

At first, the team felt it had played a perfect hand, pitting the No. 12 just as the red flag came out for the heavy incident for the Cadillac and No. 31 BMW on the Kemmel Straight. But as the clock continued to wind down with the race under red flag conditions, diving in began to look like a colossal error. The car was down to 10th on the timing screens at that point and looked set to secure half a point as the race hadn’t quite reached 75 percent distance (enough for full points to be awarded).

That was until race control decided to extend the race by the length of the red flag just minutes before the race clock hit 0:00. It was a move that has since been heavily criticized by Ferrari, which sat 1-2 at the time of Earl Bamber’s shunt, having battled through the field from 10th and 19th on the grid with its factory 499Ps.

The record crowd of fans trackside didn’t complain, though — there was in fact an audible cheer from the stands when it became clear the race would restart after the lengthy barrier repairs that lasted almost two hours.

Timed to perfection. JOTA’s decision to pit when they did, just before the race stoppage, set them up for Stuttgart’s epic duel in the Ardennes. Jakob Ebrey/Motorsport Images

It set up a sprint finish, in which the No. 12 JOTA Porsche and No. 6 championship-leading Porsche Penske Motorsport 963 prospered purely because they had pitted just before the race was neutralized. Almost the entire Hypercar field was forced to pit when the cars got moving again, vaulting the two Porsches up the order, creating a two-way duel for the win.

“Yeah, there was an element of luck in this one,” Stevens admitted after the race. “But I’m a firm believer that you create your own luck in this game, and we executed perfectly all day long.”

While he was watching it unfold, Ilott was installed and tasked with holding back Kevin Estre in the factory car behind for the final 90 minutes. He did so in fine style, crossing the line almost unchallenged after a metronomic run to the checkered flag.

“To get the win is incredible. The pit stops were amazing and we managed to jump the No. 6 in that pit stop before the red flag. Once we were in clear air the pace was amazing lap after lap,” Ilott, who dedicated the race win to Anthoine Hubert, said after the race. “Trying to manage the gap wasn’t easy but I knew where I had the advantage with tires and traffic and managed to pull away.”

The 2024 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps will live long in the memory. It joins a collection of spectacular WEC races at the fabled Belgian circuit dating back to the championship’s inaugural season in 2012. It wasn’t without its dramas, it wasn’t without its heartbreak and scary moments, but it was a thriller that produced one of the most unlikely results.

Will Stevens summed it up perfectly: “This proves what we’ve always said — we’re not just here to take part. It shows how much we’ve grown up and learned. No team deserves it more than ours and I am proud to deliver this result. It’s a special weekend.”

With a result this significant, it’s always tempting to write entirely in superlatives. It feels justified today. With each passing race, the 2024 WEC season feels like it will live up to pre-season expectations and be looked back on as one for the ages.

As for JOTA’s performance today, perhaps the most exciting aspect is that it feels like the best is yet to come for this team in Hypercar competition… Watch this space.

Story originally appeared on Racer