Ho-Pin Tung is enjoying the adventure. The 35-year-old Dutch-Chinese race driver is coming off a fabulous finish in the World Endurance Championship circuit at Silverstone, his collaboration with teammate and founder David Cheng at Jackie Chan DC Racing and JOTA Sport has succeeded all expectations, and the team is looking toward a possible future in LMP1 competition.
Reached at his home in Hong Kong, where he is now based, Ho-Pin was eager to discuss the recent developments at Silverstone, and the current progress of the racing team sponsored by movie legend and avowed racing fanatic, Jackie Chan.
Speaking with a distinct Dutch accent, his voice reflected the quiet confidence of a racing team on the rebound.
Following disappointing showings at Spa and Le Mans this year – after scoring an outstanding first in LMP2 and second and third overall at the 24-hour French race last season – Ho-Pin said it was back to the drawing board for the engineers at JOTA Sport in Kent, England, who provide technical support to the team’s two Oreca-Gibson cars.
“I think we didn’t particularly have the pace we had last year … we came to Silverstone slightly different, we knew we had some catch-up things to do to keep up with our competitors,” said Ho-Pin, whose track resume boasts several elite circuits, including GP2, Formula 3, Formula BMW, IndyCar and also Renault in Formula 1.
“Even though the result at Le Mans wasn’t that bad for us as a team – it was mainly caused by bad luck and some punctures on my car – we worked extremely hard to turn it around.”
The car package from JOTA hadn’t changed, he admitted, but the tires did change, quite significantly, leaving the team at odds as they tried to figure out how to make it all work better.
“Plus, we ran the 24 Hours of Daytona earlier in the year and the car suffered a lot of damage … that put us on the back heel,” he said.
After the Le Mans result, the car underwent a complete overhaul. Stripped down to nothing, engineers literally turned every bolt, looking for any improvement and every possible set-up.
“We also did a one-day test with Dunlop at Silverstone … and basically, the solution they came up with would greatly improve the drivability of the car,” he said.
As a testament to that effort, all six drivers on the team – Ho-Pin Tung, Stephane Richelmi, Gabriel Aubry, Jazeman Jaafar, Weiron Tan and Nabil Jeffri – were closely matched on lap times during the Silverstone race, adding to their consistency and dominance.
Jackie Chan DC Racing finished first and second in the LMP2 class following the six-hour race at Silverstone, a few seconds apart and two laps ahead of its nearest rival.
So dominant were the Oreca Gibsons of the Jackie Chan team that a drive-thru penalty assessed to Ho-Pin at the start and a puncture to the sister car made no difference to the result.
“I took the start and when the lights went off, the car in front of me didn’t move, so I had to take evasive action to not hit him,” said Ho-Pin. “As a result I was deemed to have made a jump start and I received a drive-thru penalty.
“After I served the drive-thru penalty, we had to push hard to catch up again, but after only an hour, we were already back into second place (behind the other Jackie Chan DC Racing car) … and then, I gave over the car to Stephane, and he did two very strong stints, closing the gap even more.”
The Toyota Hybrids finished first and second in the LMP1 class, but were later disqualified for technical infractions – handing the podium to Gustavo Menezes, Thomas Laurent and Mathias Beche of Rebellion Racing, ahead of their sister car of Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer. SMP Racing’s Stephane Sarrazin and Egor Orudzhev grabbed third.
With optimism riding high at Jackie Chan DC Racing going into the next two races in Fuji and Shanghai on October 12-14 and November 16-18, Ho-Pin, who was the first Chinese driver to ever step on a Le Mans winning podium, believes the momentum also bodes well for the future of racing in China.
“The support we have received from Hong Kong and mainland China has been quite phenomenal,” he said. ” You can feel the growing enthusiasm for motorsport and it’s something David and I been working on quite hard.
“Since last year, all the WEC races are broadcast in their entirety on the internet … all the races, the full six hours, plus a pre-race program, all with Mandarin commentary, available thru live-stream on many different platforms.”
Corvette Racing will also debut its C7 Redline special edition at the Shanghai race, marking its launch across the country. China is Chevrolet’s second biggest market.
“The other thing I’d like to highlight, is that our team not only has a history of picking good drivers, but also grooming talent,” said Ho-Pin, echoing Jackie Chan’s dream of creating the first World Champion Chinese driver.
“Basically, all the five drivers with us this year, we have all trained in Asian Le Mans, I think that shows how well that philosophy works.”
While the team still has an eye toward a future in LMP1, Ho-Pin admits that a combination of several different factors would have to come together to make that happen. However, there is reason to be optimistic.
“It is the next logical step, with China taking more and more of an interest in cars and the involvement of car manufacturers,” he said.
“(Also) the FIA have just announced the road plan for the future of LMP1 cars, which will start in 2020 with road-legal hyper cars. This is an opportunity to look at it closer, and a chance that possibly we can exploit and explore for Chinese manufacturers.”
The new rules, which emphasize “aesthetics over aerodynamics,” allows manufacturers to design prototypes that have the look of road-going sports cars, maintaining performance levels but also substantially reducing costs — an opportunity for Chinese manufacturers to test the endurance waters and possibly paving the way for the return of others such as Porsche and Audi.
These are exciting times to be involved in WEC, and Ho-Pin appears more than happy doing his part. He’s also a test driver for Jaguar’s Formula E program, helping develop their new, high-tech powertrain for the premier all-electric series.
“I am thoroughly enjoying my time in endurance racing, David (Cheng) has been a fantastic partner, colleague and friend after so many years together … it’s extremely hard work and it’s paid off,” he said.
“The team he has been able to build is something quite unique in the world of motorsports – coming from Asian Le Mans to the world stage, winning Le Mans and being victorious is something quite special.
“There are still many challenges ahead for us, and we’ll be looking forward to improve step by step as well, hopefully in the future for LMP1.”