British racing driver, Sam Hancock, was voted Radio Le Mans' 'Driver of the Day' on Sunday for his performance in the Donington 6 Hours, round two of the European Le Mans Series. The nomination was a welcome consolation after his Jota Sport team mate, Simon Dolan, suffered an unfortunate crash, bringing a premature end to their race-long battle for the lead.
32-year old Hancock started the race for the Kent-based equipe and promptly improved from his third place qualifying position with a decisive move on Matthias Beche into Redgate corner on the first lap. Having missed out on pole position by just two tenths of a second, the signs were good that his Zytek Nissan LMP2 machine would have the necessary pace to run at the front, and so it was as he settled into a battle with the lead car of Matthieu Laheye that would rage for the entire duration of his opening double stint.
After Laheye extended his lead to around two seconds during the opening laps, Hancock soon broke free of Bertrand Baguette's looming third place car and closed down the leader's advantage with a drive that would later earn him Radio Le Mans' "Driver of the Day".
After the first round of pit-stops, there were just 0.6secs between the leading pair, Hancock occasionally close enough to feign a move on the Oak racing team's Morgan, but not close enough to complete it. Baguette meanwhile had opted to take fresh tyres at his first stop and, newly-booted, he was able to bear down on the leading pair at an astonishing rate, slicing past Hancock on lap 59, engaging with Laheye briefly before pitting again for fuel.
While Baguette's apparent pace advantage saw him take the lead at the second round of stops, Hancock's Jota Sport car had been running a leaner fuel strategy that allowed it to pit several laps later than the Oak Racing Morgan - the advantage from which would bear fruit only in the dying stages of the race with a shorter final fuel stop than the French team's car.
The sister Oak Morgan of Laheye meanwhile that had lead from the start and now ran second, seemed able to match the Jota team's fuel consumption but Simon Dolan, taking over from Hancock at the second round of pit stops, soon put paid to their advantage with an extraordinary move around the outside of Laheye's newly-installed team mate, Jaques Nicolet, before settling into what must rank as his fastest performance of the year.
With pace to match the leading car, now driven by Dimitri Enjalbert, Dolan pegged the gap to around 14 seconds during his first stint, before whittling it down to as much as half a second per lap later in his second stint.
Three hours in and just nine seconds off the leader, Dolan suddenly suffered a heavy impact with the tyre barrier at The Old Hairpin, having bottomed out on the exit kerb of the fast right-hander. This bitter blow brought an immediate end to Jota Sport's race after an incredibly competitive performance right from the start of the weekend.
Jota Sport Official Driver, Simon Dolan:
"Obviously it's extremely frustrating to have such a promising race end this way, but on the upside, we've shown both here and at Spa with our win in the world championship round, that we are capable of running right at the front of this hugely competitive field. Up until the crash, I really clicked with the car and set some good times - I'll enjoy ribbing Sam about setting our fastest race lap for the first time. The Jota boys have done a tremendous job this weekend and I hope we'll repay them with another thoroughly deserved win next time out."
Jota Sport Official Driver, Sam Hancock:
"I just feel so sorry for the team and Simon right now. The car was great; he was driving brilliantly and just ran out of luck on that kerb. It's so easy to do, in fact I very nearly lost the car myself there in exactly the same way - and later on we saw Warren Hughes narrowly escape a similar fate. We would all have loved a podium today of course, maybe even a win, but that's precisely what we've got to take away from here: the fact that we've been so competitive - and for that we've got to thank the boys at Jota, Zytek and Nissan because driving that car was just a huge pleasure today."
Jota Sport Managing Director, Sam Hignett:
"Maybe this one will hurt a bit tomorrow, but actually I doubt it because there are too many positives: we were fast in practice, fast in qualifying, battled for the lead throughout the race, seemingly had the best handling car of our season so far, had no reliability problems, and have two drivers whose pace is a match for just about any of the other driver pairings out there. We'll bounce back from this at the next one, I have no doubt."