Le Mans miracle: Jota back in race after ‘3-week rebuild’ completed in 24 hours

Le Mans News

Jota's No12 Porsche 963 Hypercar will take the start of the 2024 Le Mans 24 Hours race after a whirlwind effort to rebuild the entire car. Here's the remarkable story of determination and sleeplessness

No12 Jota Porsche drives past aeroplane at Le Mans shakedown

Julien Delfosse / DPPI

“I think it is the 24 Hours of Le Mans but for those guys in the garage, this is going to be the 72 Hours of Le Mans,” said Will Stevens, driver of the No12 Jota car in this year’s race.

It’s a race that regularly witnesses the extraordinary and this year, Le Mans has spawned another remarkable tale of human endurance, determination and sportsmanship before the flag has even dropped on this weekend’s race.

On Wednesday night, Callum Ilott was stood at the side of the track, examining the devastating damage to the no12 car, caused by his crash in the night-time practice session.

His worst fears were confirmed when the car was brought back to the garage: the chassis was damaged, the car was unraceable and there was no spare monocoque.

The team had arrived at Le Mans as one of the favourites, on the back of victory at the last World Endurance Championship round at Spa. Team director and co-founder David Clark had told Motor Sport that his target was to win at Le Mans. From standing at the top of the podium in Belgium, drivers Ilott, Stevens and Norman Nato now faced the prospect of failing to make the start of the 24-hour classic.

Jota team begin work rebuilding No12 car from bare chassis at Le Mans 24 Hours

Work begins to rebuild new chassis

Frédéric Le Floc’h / DPPI

But this is Le Mans, where no team gives up without a fight, and so began a superhuman effort involving the help of rivals, a chassis never designed to race, and a round-the-clock effort to build a new car in 24 hours — a process that typically takes three weeks.

Less than 48 hours after that crash, Ilott was sitting in a new No12 Jota, parked between two private jets at Le Mans airfield and preparing for an impromptu shakedown, 20 hours before the race was due to start.

Watched by yawning, bleary-eyed mechanics who had barely managed two hours’ sleep in the previous two days, and amid a sudden downpour, the electric motor whirred into life, the V8 kicked in and, soon afterwards, the hybrid Porsche Hypercar was tearing down the runway, back in contention for victory.

“We’ll push for the win,” said Ilott. “It feels great to be back in the car, although it was a little wet out there and we had to build up to things slowly.

“It’s incredible that the car is running and I’m beyond grateful and proud of the team for their heroic work getting us this far. Everything feels good, looks good, I think we’re ready to roll.”

Ilott said that he felt “extremely bad” after the crash in Wednesday night practice: a nightmare for the Tunbridge Wells-based Porsche customer team, which faced losing one of the two cars entered into this year’s race.

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With no spare monocoque, Jota had no immediate solution to its predicament. Although the Penske-run Porsche factory team, which has three cars in the race, did have a spare chassis, it wasn’t willing to give it up ahead of Thursday’s hyperpole session where cars are pushed to the limit.

“What if another accident happens and there might be a Penske car that was not racing?” said Thomas Laudenbach, vice-president of Porsche Motorsport. “Obviously we as Porsche, [with] our customer support, we really did everything and in the end we found the solution.

“We had a car for parade laps. This car was not supposed to race — I don’t think you could have raced it as it was, so it was stripped down, [Jota] took the parts needed and built up a new car: a huge effort but that was the only way to go.”

The car was located some distance from Le Mans, so Jota sent a team to strip it down and bring the monocoque back to the circuit. And that was just the start. Every other element that was due to be on the crashed car for the race had to be assembled on the new chassis.

“I was thinking beforehand that the team was in such a great place,” said David Clark, a director and founder of the team. “Maybe it was in too great a place.”

Jota No12 car with engine cover off at Le Mans airport for shakedown

Hybrid system made rebuild complicated: but the car was ready for airport shakedown

Clark said that it never crossed his mind that the No12 car wouldn’t make the start, despite the scale of the challenge.

“The effort is so enormous and what these guys are doing is astonishing. Penske have been over and beyond in helping us.

“We could only replace the chassis. Our guys went and stripped the car, brought the chassis here on Thursday night, and then started putting it back together.

“It is a complicated car — mainly because of the hybrid system and one of the risks when you’re tired is that’s the easiest time to make mistakes.”

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So while all attention was on the Thursday night hyperpole shootout, something equally remarkable was happening behind the doors of the No 12 garage.

Key to accelerating the typical; three-week build process was co-ordination, says team tachnical director Tomoki ‘Taka’ Takahashi.

“Normally when we’re putting the car together, we have one cockpit person, one front-end person, but this time, we had people piling in on top of each other around this carbon box that needs everything thrown on it — there are more people assigned to it.”

However, it wasn’t simply a case of throwing every team member possible at the car. In contrast to the No12 car, thew week has been going relatively smoothly for No38 car of Jenson Button, Phil Hanson and Oliver Rasmussen. Jota didn’t want to jeopardise that car’s chances in the scramble to prepare the No12.

“We’ve kept the car crews separate,” says Taka. “You have your car crews and we have some in the middle. There’s that balancing act of whether the people in the middle stay up all night or don’t. Realistically our focus should have been on the No38 — it’s still running, so the balancing act is how much should I look after the 38 and how much the 12?”

The round-the-clock build effort was complete on Friday afternoon, but the question still remained of whether the car would run properly; had the car been pieced together flawlessly through hazy, tired eyes?

At 8.22pm the answer came: the laptops were unplugged from the car; it was lowered onto the airport asphalt; the rear lights flickered on and Ilott was on the move. A rooster tail of spray erupted from the rear as he sped down the runway and a line of mechanics, phones held high, captured the proud moment.

Jota team surround Le Mans car at airport shakedown

There was a lot of laptop action ahead of the run

Jota No12 car at Le Mans airport shakedown in 2024

Jota had a 40min slot in a gap between air traffic


“In ten years time when you tell this story, people will say, ‘Yeah right, whatever’,” said Taka. “As much as it’s painful , it will be a good memory.”

Ilott reported some minor issues with power delivery and brakes, but the team looked happy by 9pm  when, with more air traffic imminent, the mechanics packed up to head back to the circuit — and a full night’s sleep.

It’s kind of a first for me that I’ve put at risk [starting] an event,” said Ilott, who has raced in IndyCar and served as Alfa Romeo’s reserve F1 driver. “I felt extremely bad. Once once we knew that it was going to be repaired, and we had time, I was able to calm down — I still feel bad, obviously, but not in the negative way that I was. I said sorry to everyone. I was going in and out of the garage. You can’t you can’t hide your face at that point. I made a mistake — we all do.

“The team is incredible — they work so hard. I think a couple of the guys are doing everything by memory. It’s a lot of work for them. The way the team they are together is something I haven’t seen before: we’ve got some incredible characters in this team.

“Most people would be super-negative about what had happened and they were very quickly very positive. They thrive on it, which surprises a lot of people.

“A lot of them were like when we win, this will only be sweeter.”

No12 Jota at 2024 Le Mans shakedown with aeroplane in foreground