24 Hours of Le Mans LMP2 runner-up Tom Blomqvist explained how an unintended green light at pit exit resulted in a 90-second stop-hold penalty that required his JOTA crew to “play catch up” for the rest of the race.
JOTA’s No. 28 Oreca 07 Gibson was handed the sanction when Blomqvist left the pits following the completion of a pit stop under the first safety car just over five hours in.
Le Mans deploys three safety cars to manage the exceptional length of the 8.5-mile Circuit de la Sarthe, while a driver in the pits must wait for the next safety car to pass the pits before re-joining the track.
Blomqvist, who was teamed up with Stoffel Vandoorne and Sean Gelael, told reporters that he should have been held at pit exit to catch an upcoming safety car train, but was instead met with a green light signal.
Acting on the green light meant that the British driver caught the safety car train ahead, which guaranteed a penalty.
A stewards’ bulletin documenting the event read: “The car entered the pit lane after the safety car was deployed but left the pits immediately after a short pit stop and joined the queue behind safety car A instead [of] behind safety car B as required.”
Blomqvist recalled: “We made a really late call to box, so I had to cross over the [pit entry demarcation] line which we knew we would get a drive-through.
“But the loss wasn’t going to be so bad, so we went for that. But then we got caught with the pit exit light being green. We went out, but apparently you have to wait for the next safety car if you box. So we actually got a good gain out of that.
“It was a difficult one to take because the pit light should have been red, but it was green. So obviously we went out and that’s what hit us with the 90-second penalty.
“In theory, the onus is apparently on the team, which is a bit awkward because if the pit exit’s green, you’re going to go and send the car. So you can’t blame anyone for that.
“We had that 90-second stop and go and had a small strategy error in the night when we changed to intermediate tires when we shouldn’t have done.
“In hindsight, we should have stayed on slicks because when you pit, you have to wait behind a safety car. You lose a minute waiting for that safety car.
“So we lost about five minutes in the space of an hour. And then it was just trying to play catch up. The WRTs were faultless up until the last hour. It’s a shame because our car was really fast.”
Blomqvist reckoned that JOTA’s No. 28 Oreca was quick enough to have deserved the win but felt that the setbacks it encountered prevented it from fulfilling its true potential.
The British team’s sister No. 38 machine also offered impressive pace with Antonio Felix da Costa establishing a huge lead during the opening stint.
However, an early accident for Anthony Davidson who careered off in avoidance of a spinning GTE-Am Porsche put the No. 38 crew on the back foot. Da Costa, Davidson and Roberto Gonzalez ended up finishing eighth.
Blomqvist and his co-drivers were less severely affected by their dramas and managed to get within touching distance of the No. 31 WRT Oreca, which had lost ground due to a series of late problems.
The battle for second between Blomqvist and Robin Frijns then became the duel for the win when Yifei Ye’s leading No. 41 WRT Oreca broke down with a throttle sensor issue on the final lap.
“Over the course of the race, I think we had the fastest car,” said Blomqvist.
“I was really happy with the way I was driving. My teammates Sean and Stoffel did a great job. It’s a shame to lose. Maybe we feel like we lost the win, getting so close to it.
“It’s great to second, but to lose by seven-tenths is bittersweet in a way. I actually would have been happier to lose by more. It was so close.”
Blomqvist added that a time delay during his car’s final stop could have been the difference between JOTA scoring its third Le Mans class victory and finishing second.
“We actually got held up in the pits,” he said.
“We had a car in front of us, so we had to do a push-back which cost us about 10 seconds. So I was about 15 seconds going into the last stop, but we came out 28 behind.
“To lose by seven-tenths is hard. But everything went WRT’s way in this race. We had a few mistakes and things that went against us. The team did a great job and we had a super-fast car.”