Weiron Tan was denied a deserved podium finish on his FIA World Endurance Championship debut at Spa-Francorchamps last weekend (3-5 May), but despite the disappointment, the highly-rated Malaysian Chinese ace nonetheless took ‘plenty of positives’ from the experience as he revs up towards the biggest race of his burgeoning career to-date.
Competing as the first all-Malaysian driver line-up in FIA WEC history, Tan and Jackie Chan DC Racing x JOTA Sport team-mates Jazemen Jaafar and Nabil Jeffri proved to be on the pace from the outset around the legendary 7km Belgian Grand Prix circuit, in what is widely renowned as sportscar racing’s premier global series.
Following a productive free practice, Tan’s two countrymen teamed up to put the #Fortunecat37 entry fourth on the fiercely-disputed LMP2 class grid in qualifying – a tight session interrupted by a brace of red flag stoppages.
Jaafar took to the wheel of the Gibson-powered ORECA 07 prototype for the start of the next day’s 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, as some 63,000 enthusiastic spectators lapped up the sunshine and high-octane entertainment. Navigating his way safely past early dramas that prompted two safety car periods within the opening hour, the former British F3 Championship runner-up carefully managed overheating tyres to challenge consistently up at the sharp end.
Tan was next to climb into the cockpit. In an impressive performance, the 23-year-old stayed close enough to the front throughout his double stint to take the LMP2 lead during the pit-stop phase before handing over to Jeffri, who continued the good work.
After engaging in a mid-race duel with the sister #Mighty38 car – the reigning Le Mans 24 Hours class-winner – the #Fortunecat37 crew looked set for a rostrum result when the safety car re-emerged with one hour remaining following an accident involving one of the LMP1 contenders. With Jaafar in the pits for his final stop when the action was neutralised, the Jackie Chan DC Racing x JOTA Sport car was held at the pit-lane exit and dropped a position to fourth, where it would remain to the chequered flag.
It was a cruel blow at the end of a faultless run, but with the winner not eligible to score as a non-permanent entrant, Tan and his team-mates nonetheless walked away with a solid clutch of points and invaluable knowledge to add to their armoury as they turn their attentions towards the next outing on the 2018/19 FIA WEC ‘Super Season’ schedule – the iconic Le Mans 24 Hours on 16/17 June.
“I was happy to finish fourth and secure our first world championship points on our debut, but knowing we had the pace to be on the podium did make it bittersweet,” reflected the erstwhile Caterham F1 Academy member. “The timing of the full-course caution in the last hour was very unfortunate; just as we were leaving the box, the red light came on at pit exit as the safety car was deployed due to a massive crash at Eau Rouge and we were held in the pit-lane too long, which eventually put us a lap down.
“On the other hand, I am very pleased for our sister car finishing second and encouraged by the potential we displayed. Both Jazeman and Nabil did a wonderful job and the team performed well and put in a great effort all weekend as always, so big thanks to them and to Sepang International Circuit and Jackie Chan DC Racing x JOTA Sport for their unstinting support.
“There are plenty of positives to take away from Spa as we move on to the biggest race of my career – the Le Mans 24 Hours. It’s one of the most prestigious and historic motorsport events anywhere in the world, and I still can’t quite believe I’ll be in it!
“There will be a lot of big names taking part this year, and it will be the toughest race I’ve ever contested and a huge learning curve. Simply reaching the finish is a tremendous challenge in itself, so that is clearly our priority and the plan is to keep our heads down and focus fully on our own programme. If we do that, hopefully we can carry forward our early-season momentum and come away with a good result.”