Hertz Team JOTA signing Yifei Ye feels that his two seasons racing in LMP2 enabled him to showcase the full spread of credentials required for graduation to Hypercar.
Earlier this month Ye was named as the first confirmed member of JOTA’s lineup for its FIA World Endurance Championship program with a customer Porsche 963.
It will result in the 22-year-old Chinese driver making his top-category debut only two years after joining sports cars from single-seaters.
Ye won the European Le Mans Series with Team WRT and the Asian Le Mans Series with G-Drive Racing as a rookie before moving to Cool Racing as an upgraded Gold-rated driver.
He told Sportscar365 that the recent spell with Cool, despite being less fruitful in terms of silverware, was integral for demonstrating his capabilities as a future Hypercar competitor and that a single year with WRT wouldn’t have been enough.
This year also represented Ye’s first season under contract with Porsche Motorsport Asia Pacific as a Selected Driver, which established a key link to the JOTA Hypercar program.
“I think the first year in LMP2 was a dream year for me,” he said.
“I was working with quite a developed team. But this year, Cool Racing came from the Pro-Am category, so I had to take more responsibility in things like helping the team to compete at the [higher] level.
“Throughout the year we have made good steps and achieving a pole position at Spa showed how we progressed throughout the year.
“This year it was a bit less successful in terms of results, but it is more valuable to have that experience of learning and moving forward with the team, to be able to work with a manufacturer team in the future.
“So I was able to show that I could win, and then show that I could go forward with the team. These were both sides that Porsche wanted to see.
“Through the last two seasons, I think they got confirmation and decided to have me in the lineup.”
Ye explained that his first contact with JOTA regarding the possibility of a Hypercar seat came at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The British squad dominated the race with Antonio Felix da Costa, Will Stevens and Roberto Gonzalez who went on to clinch the WEC LMP2 title together.
Hertz Team JOTA has not yet received its new Porsche 963 but has attended tests with the Porsche Penske Motorsport factort squad to learn about the car.
Ye has not yet driven the LMDh but has been encouraged by the manufacturer’s recent progress in testing which has included a 36-hour endurance simulation at Sebring.
“I think it’s going to be interesting because, with new cars, I would like to say that a lot of the results will come down to the reliability,” he said.
“The fact that Penske has been able to run endurance tests reassures us that we have a good car developed for next year.
“With all the manufacturers joining — Ferrari, Cadillac, Peugeot, Toyota and so on — It’s going to be amazing in terms of competition.
“JOTA has shown they are one of the leading teams when it comes to endurance and prototypes. Of course, next year we will have more strong challengers coming, so it’s going to be tough.
“But I feel like I will have two extremely experienced and skilled teammates to help the team achieve great results. As a private team, it may seem that we’re underdogs, but I feel that we stand as much chance as the others when it comes to fighting for victory.”
Ye, who hopes to race in another series alongside his full-time WEC drive, has been retained as a Porsche Motorsport Asia Pacific Selected Driver for a second year.
He described being China’s first top-category Le Mans driver in a decade as the “icing on the cake” for a program that works to support and develop regional racing talent.
“I am very happy that we made it happen,” Ye said.
“It’s quite a good story, after just working with Porsche Motorsport Asia Pacific for one year, that they are able to promote a Chinese driver to the top class of endurance racing.
“I think it’s not only a good milestone in my career but also a good achievement for them. It shows they are able to promote promising, young Chinese drivers to the top races.
“They are supporting young talents in Carrera Cup Asia. People [in China] generally regard Porsche as a top brand for sports cars.
“Motorsport has always been in Porsche’s deepest DNA and they have had the greatest success in endurance. To have a Chinese driver at the top is the icing on the cake.”