Jota targets 24-hour glory with Porsche Hypercar: Le Mans golden boys?

This is the Porsche 963 Hypercar in which a crack British privateer team and a former F1 world champion hope to achieve Le Mans immortality. And it’s not even a long shot, as Damien Smith discovers

Jayson Fong

David and Goliath? It’s an old sporting cliché. But in biblical terms the parallel to plucky British privateer Jota taking on and attempting to beat the mighty manufacturers at the Le Mans 24 Hours is not only apt but more pertinent than we might at first think.

How a young shepherd boy defeated a giant warrior with a humble slingshot in 1012bc has become modern shorthand for the champion underdog. But scholars argue the original point of the story was not David’s bravery in the face of unequal odds, but the awesome power of God. That’s why David was able to defeat Goliath. Likewise, you could say Jota too has God on its side – in the shape of the greatest and most successful sports car maker of them all. In other words, the Kent-based team should absolutely be considered in the mix to score what would be Porsche’s epochal 20th victory at the world’s most famous endurance motor race come June 15-16.

That’s especially true when you consider the timing of Jota doubling its attack on the Hypercar class from one customer Porsche 963 LMDh racer to two. Already in 2024, the model in its second season has conquered the Daytona 24 Hours and the opening round of the World Endurance Championship in Qatar, in the hands of factory ally Penske. Jota was the meat in a Porsche 1-2-3 sandwich at Losail, benefitting from late woe for Peugeot but showing meritorious pace on a par with Porsche Penske Motorsport.


Luck always comes into play on who wins Le Mans too, and in a year where (writing ahead of the Imola and Spa WEC rounds) Porsche looks bang on form, there’s no reason to doubt that Jota, with its striking pair of Hertz-backed 963s, has the capability to spring a famous coup. Shades of Joest’s New Man 956 defeating the Porsche factory back in 1985, perhaps? That would be another apt parallel, were it to come to pass.

“It’s a bit different to the Group C days, but an outright Le Mans win is our dream”

“We are confident,” states co-director David Clark. “If you look at our trophy cabinet we have every right to be. It won’t be easy, we had a good result in the first race, but Le Mans is Le Mans. Let’s see how it goes. We’ll get a lot of support because privateers always do, back to the David vs Goliath thing. It’s a bit different to the Group C days, but an outright Le Mans win is our dream.”

Jota played its part in a Porsche 1-2-3 in the Qatar 1812Kms in March – second for Callum Ilott, Norman Nato and Will Stevens

Jota played its part in a Porsche 1-2-3 in the Qatar 1812Kms in March – second for Callum Ilott, Norman Nato and Will Stevens


The Jota trophy cabinet is indeed at bursting point, in the wake of 10 Le Mans podiums scored in the past 10 years, including a trio of LMP2 class victories in 2014, ’17 and ’22, plus plenty more beyond La Sarthe. Yes, the pots are ‘only’ for the secondary prototype division, although back in 2017 a class 1-2 was also a famous 2-3 overall for the team in its Jackie Chan DC Racing guise. But then factor in that LMP2 evolved from a genuine ‘lo-fi’ privateers’ category to arguably the most competitive class in endurance sports car racing, before the current Hypercar explosion at least, and Jota has the chops.

“United Autosports completely annihilated us. It was one of our most valuable lessons”

“LMP2 was brilliant and served as a great educational platform, not only for us but for United Autosports, WRT and latterly Prema,” says Jota founder Sam Hignett from the team’s base in Tunbridge Wells. “We had it easy in LMP2 in those first few years. We had the money, were one of the stronger teams when it was us vs Alpine vs TDS Racing, and one of us would win. Even in the second generation, when the ORECA 07 came in, the first couple of years it was easy. I would say this to Richard Dean’s face: United Autosports completely annihilated us when they got their first ORECA, and it was one of our most valuable lessons. When they were running the Ligier they maximised everything else around the car, so when they plugged in the best car into that equation they were the best team. You can’t just rely on having the best car and best drivers, you have got to optimise everything else.

Qatar podium top step for Hypercar teams World Cup win

Qatar podium top step for Hypercar teams World Cup win


“Then when it evolved into an arms race with WRT and Prema in recent years it became ridiculous, but also fascinating. When David and I were looking at LMDh opportunities, sitting down with manufacturers and explaining the level we’re at in LMP2, I think they were quite surprised at our depth of engineering and knowledge. Those last few years of LMP2 were seriously competitive.”

WRT had a planned progression to the premier league with BMW, while Prema runs Lamborghini’s LMDh entry. In contrast, Jota’s step up was more organic, created by the advent of the IMSA-led LMDh ruleset and the global convergence with the WEC – plus plain old necessity. “It occurred to us it was possible when we had the approach from Porsche,” says Hignett, “which was pretty much simultaneous with the realisation they were going to drop LMP2 from the WEC.” The class is reduced at world level to cameo status for Le Mans only from this year. “We’re not a massively diverse motor sport business. If we had stuck with LMP2 and got kicked out of WEC we would have been pretty screwed. There wasn’t the knowledge or appeal to go back and do the European Le Mans Series again. So David picked up the conversations with Porsche.”

preparing the Porsche 963 at Jota HQ, Tunbridge Wells

Preparing the Porsche 963 at Jota HQ, Tunbridge Wells

Jayson Fong

“We did it together,” says Clark, who came on board as partner to Hignett a dozen years ago and was best known before Jota for his role in marketing and selling the McLaren F1 as a race and road GT back in the mid-1990s. “For any team in sports car racing you have to look at Porsche first of all, which is what we did. Actually we looked at Porsche and Audi.” The latter initially also committed to LMDh before an about-turn in favour of F1 left the floor to its VW sister brand. “Fortunately we found a sponsor and partner, went ahead with one car last year, which has turned into two cars now.”

The deal with the world’s best-known rental car giant is the “big thing”, as Clark puts it, but not simply for Jota. A privateer attracting support from a ‘household’ global brand such as Hertz highlights just how high Le Mans and endurance racing is flying right now. An attractive Hypercar in what is subjectively the grid’s best livery… again, shades of the much-loved Group C days, and the 1980s comparison stands up further when Jota insists Porsche is giving the team every chance to steal the glory from the factory team.

applying the trademark gold livery

Applying the trademark gold livery

Jayson Fong

“Both Porsche and the ruleset deliver a quality in the way it works,” says Hignett. “I cannot remember a single incident where there has been a performance criticism of Porsche. We always feel we are equally treated with the same equipment. None of that could exist without the ruleset and tight homologation, and the philosophy at Porsche that customer racing comes first. Where we only miss out is on budget and the amount the works team can go testing, the amount of extra resource they’ve got. But again they are very good at sharing that knowledge with us and if they find something in reliability it immediately trickles down to the customer teams.”

“The 50kW hybrid system is the element that makes the car ‘challenging’ to run”

The 4.6-litre V8-powered 963 built on a Multimatic chassis is, in some respects, familiar territory for Jota because the LMDh division is based on LMP2. Where it gets more complicated is the spec 50kW hybrid system produced in collaboration by WAE Technologies (formerly Williams Advanced Engineering), Bosch and Xtrac. That’s the element which makes the car “challenging” to run, as Hignett puts it. “When we first got the car, whenever it decided to control-alt-delete itself it would take 24 hours for the thing to come back to life. It really is a living organism in that sense. Porsche is much better now at understanding it and getting the car up and running.”

Jota has experience of Le Mans victory – here taking an LMP2 1-2 in 2017.

Jota has experience of Le Mans victory – here taking an LMP2 1-2 in 2017.


Hignett reckons “good equality” exists between LMDh and the parallel LMH rulebook the likes of Ferrari, Toyota and Peugeot have built their contenders to, but shares a view that performance balancing against LMDh rivals such as Alpine, BMW, Cadillac and Lamborghini should not be required. “The ruleset is tight enough, we should be allowed to just go and race,” he says. “The counter argument to that, which as a privateer we completely understand and appreciate, is that the Balance of Performance stops an arms race in car development. But BoP is no easy task and as David always says, there’s only one person who is going to be happy with it. At the moment we – as in Porsche – are that one person!”

Typically of such an organisation, Jota is a tight-knit team characterised by a long-serving and loyal staff. “Every year we’ve won Le Mans we’ve set a precedent of buying everyone who works here a watch,” says Hignett, who founded the team in 2000, see previous page. “And there are nine people still in the building with three watches for each of our LMP2 wins. Some people have been with us for 20 years. It’s all about the people.”


Jayson Fong


Jayson Fong

One key arrival last year was team principal Dieter Gass, former head of Audi Motorsport no less, who balances Jota with a technical and sporting advisory role at Formula E. “David would agree, we wouldn’t be where we are with Porsche if it wasn’t for Dieter,” says Hignett. “A Brit shouting and screaming at a German is not very productive! Whereas a wise German gentleman who most of them have worked for putting his hand on their shoulder, generally gets the job done. Dieter said our first race with the 963 at Spa last year when the car rolled out for FP1 as the first at the end of the pitlane was the most emotional thing that had happened to him in motor sport.”

As for the drivers, the two crews stand up against the best in the 23-car Hypercar field at Le Mans. In No12, team perennial and ex-F1 racer Will Stevens anchors a line-up completed by IndyCar convert Callum Ilott – who made such a great start to his new Hypercar life by clinching that second place in Qatar – and Formula E racer Norman Nato. In No38, ex-United Autosports rival Phil Hanson lands his big chance in the top division beside Dane Oliver Rasmussen – and a certain Jenson Button. The team has lost António Félix da Costa, forced by Porsche this year to focus solely on Formula E, while Yifei Yi – who sensationally led Le Mans briefly on Jota’s maiden Hypercar attack on the 24 Hours last year – has defected to Ferrari to drive a third AF Corse-run 499P. But the addition of an F1 world champion is making a significant difference.

As well as Jota, the 963 is being raced in WEC’s Hypercar category by works team Porsche Penske and German-based Proton

As well as Jota, the 963 is being raced in WEC’s Hypercar category by works team Porsche Penske and German-based Proton

Jayson Fong

“It elevates everyone in the team having a happy and confident Jenson Button on board”

“Jenson has brought a side to the commercial business we didn’t have,” says Hignett. “He’s taught David and myself how to interact commercially with the partners, which has been very useful. To the team itself he brings a confidence. I’m not sure how, I couldn’t say exactly what it is, but he has an air about him. And he’s still quick too. It elevates everyone in the team having a happy and confident Jenson on board.”

“Something that impressed me is that he really wants it,” says Clark. “When he was first mentioned my only thing was, how much does he want to drive for Jota? The answer is, he wants to drive a lot and his commitment to the team rubs off on everybody else.”

Ex-Caterham and Marussia F1 racer Stevens has grown into one of the world’s best emerging sports car racers. Hignett isn’t about to disagree. “Will is part of the furniture he’s been here so long and is just a great guy. The success we had in 2022, winning Le Mans and the WEC title at the height of the arms race, came down to the longevity of the driver group: da Costa, Stevens and [Roberto] González. With respect to Roberto, we won LMP2 with a genuine gentleman driver in the car, a 48-year-old Mexican dude while the others all had superstar kids. That came down to the drivers having been together a long time and Will’s ability in bonding and making a group work. He will be on our driver roster for LMDh as long as we have an LMDh team.”



What has Hignett made of Ilott? The 25-year-old was snapped up in place of Ye when his IndyCar ride at Juncos Hollinger Racing hit the buffers last autumn. As Ilott admits, he’s landed on his feet at Jota. “Callum has been great,” says Hignett. “Easy to get on with and super-professional. One of those drivers who has massive natural talent and just can get on and do it. He has a level of intelligence that means he can shine in these cars. A great find.”

“Jota isn’t ruling out Sebastian Vettel, especially after the German tested recently for the factory”

Mid-winter, there was talk of another F1 champion joining the roster. Jota isn’t about to rule out Sebastian Vettel, especially after the German tested recently for the factory. That it is even a question is something Jota’s co-directors can take enormous pride in. “I did have a pinch-myself moment about six months ago,” says Hignett. “I was putting my daughter to bed and it took about half an hour. When I got back downstairs I had two missed calls, one from Jenson Button, one from Sebastian Vettel. I thought that was quite cool.”

Jenson Button has brought a smile and experience  to Jota

Jenson Button has brought a smile and experience to Jota

Getty Images

no oily rags in this workshop

No oily rags in this workshop

Jayson Fong

Jota is a feel-good story, and one that, well into its third decade, still has a long way to run. “The ambition is to win Le Mans outright, whether we do it in the current capacity or in a different form,” confirms Hignett, who adds another personal ambition. “Once that is done, the Spa 24 Hours is the one I want because I think that is the difficult one.” Really? “Well, maybe not now that Le Mans has 20 cars that can win outright. But at Spa, it’s probably a similar number. I hold that race in as high a regard. But we’d need a good GT programme.”

That isn’t in the offing, he quickly assures us. “We’re fully focused on LMDh at the moment, so let’s see where that goes.” Goliath should be worried.