Jota Sport were left frustrated by Saturday’s European Le Mans Series event at Imola (18 May) after an on-track incident cost their pace-setting Zytek-Nissan a shot at victory.
However, the team’s all-British driver pairing of Simon Dolan and Oliver Turvey will take a number of positives from the weekend as they prepare for next month’s Le Mans 24 Hours, with the tight nature of the Imola circuit providing particularly useful experience of traffic management.
Jota arrived at the former San Marino Grand Prix venue confident of a competitive showing following their season-opening ELMS victory at Silverstone and a podium finish in the FIA World Endurance Championship event at Spa-Francorchamps.
And Turvey quickly underlined the car’s pace in qualifying when he secured the squad’s second successive ELMS pole, producing a blistering lap of 1m34.343s to put Jota over half a second clear of their closest rivals.
The Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes Formula 1 Test Driver remained aboard for the start of the three-hour race, maintaining the advantage as a fierce battle developed at the front of the field. Completing a double stint, Turvey pitted having also bagged the fastest lap.
Dolan assumed the controls and kept the Jota machine at the front, enjoying a close scrap between his Zytek-Nissan and the rival Thiriet by TDS entry.
With 40 minutes remaining and in second spot the Briton was still a contender for the win when a slowing backmarker forced him to take avoiding action at the exit of a fast chicane. The subsequent recovery cost the British squad all hope of victory and, as the race entered its closing stages, Dolan was forced to retire the car due to an alternator problem caused by the off-track excursion.
However, the team will not dwell upon their Imola misfortunes, with the blue riband Le Mans 24 Hours just five weeks away. And, having gathered valuable experience in Italy, they will travel to the endurance classic well equipped to compete for the most prestigious prize in sportscar racing.
Simon Dolan, Jota Sport Driver: “We had excellent pace this weekend and, were it not for the contact, were looking at a spot on the podium and perhaps the victory. Naturally we’re frustrated by the lost points but our rivals will have their own misfortunes at some stage, so I’m sure we can fight back.
“It’s always good to get more experience aboard the car as ultimately there’s no substitute for seat time. That was one of the busiest races I’ve contested and I really enjoyed fighting for the lead. It’s an awesome circuit and now we’ve got Le Mans to focus on, so I’m upbeat in spite of the DNF.”
Oliver Turvey, Jota Sport Driver: “Though we didn’t get the right result this weekend there are still a lot of positives to take to Le Mans. It was fantastic to secure a second successive pole position, again by a good margin, and we managed the fastest race lap on very old tyres.
“I’m learning a little more every time I’m in the LMP2 car. This weekend was particularly good for traffic management as the circuit is very tight. It’s a great track though: there’s such a variety of corners and the undulations make it really exciting. Overall it’s been a strong weekend performance-wise and we’ll hope to carry that on to Le Mans.”
Sam Hignett, Jota Sport Team Principal: “It’s a shame to come away from a race in which we were the pace setters with only the point for pole position, but ultimately you can’t be entirely disappointed with a weekend where you top qualifying by over half a second! The team were exemplary as ever and both Simon and Oliver showed everyone that they’ll be a force to be reckoned with at Le Mans. We’re now fully focussed on that and can’t wait to get to La Sarthe.”
With several of its regular teams competing at Le Mans the ELMS takes a two-month break following the Imola event, returning at Austria’s Red Bull Ring on July 20.