Jani not upset by FE exit, relishing WEC return chance

Neel Jani says he has a relaxed attitude about his short-lived stint as a Porsche Formula E driver, and is relishing the chance to return to the FIA World Endurance Championship with the marque’s GTE effort.

Jani not upset by FE exit, relishing WEC return chance

The one-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner endured a bruising 2019/20 season in the all-electric series as one of Porsche’s two drivers alongside former WEC teammate Andre Lotterer, managing only one points finish.

That result - a sixth place - came in the penultimate race of a disjointed, coronavirus-impacted campaign in Berlin, and after the decision had been taken by Porsche to drop Jani in favour of Pascal Wehrlein for the 2020/21 season.

Jani, who was part of the Porsche LMP1 project from its inception until its termination at the end of 2017 and won the WEC title as well as Le Mans in 2016, will remain with the Weissach marque in 2021 after being handed the chance to join its factory GTE effort.

Looking back on his stint in FE, Jani admitted he couldn’t understand why he suffered so badly with oversteer throughout the season, up until he was given a new chassis for the final weekend of the season in Berlin.

But the Swiss driver had previously made his ambitions of a top-class sportscar racing return clear with the advent of LMDh, and says that the chance to return to the WEC - even in a GT car - was something he was “not opposed” to.

“Obviously that season was everything except what I hoped for,” Jani told Motorsport.com. “I’ve never had a season like that in my career. I didn’t understand why the laptime wasn’t coming. 

“My biggest problem was always oversteer on corner entry. Whatever I did, I couldn’t get rid of it, even with the same set-up [as Lotterer] - I had oversteer, he had understeer. But in the end you can’t prove if that feeling comes from your driving style, the chassis or whatever.

Neel Jani, Porsche, Porsche 99x Electric

Neel Jani, Porsche, Porsche 99x Electric

Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images

“Then I had this shunt in Berlin [in the third race of six] when [Sergio] Sette Camara spun. I got a new chassis [for the fifth race] and suddenly it started working. I was less than a tenth off pole when previously I had been a second off.

“But it didn’t change anything because the decision [to take Wehrlein] was already made. Ultimately we are in a performance-orientated world, and the results weren’t there, so the reason does not matter.

“To conclude, I didn’t mind. I was happy to go back to WEC, because the aim was clearly to take advantage of any opportunity to go back into the top class. That’s where I wanted to go, because I like this kind of racing, and this kind of cars.”

Sebring cameo like "jumping into cold water"

Jani will partner Kevin Estre in Porsche’s #92 car for what will be his first full WEC season since he drove for LMP1 privateer Rebellion Racing in the 2018/19 superseason, taking the place of Michael Christensen.

The 37-year-old was drafted into Porsche’s line-up for the final round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Sebring last year for his first taste of the 911 RSR-19, joining Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor in the #912 car and helping complete a one-two for the brand in its final appearance as a works team in the GT Le Mans division.

“It was like jumping into cold water!” recalled Jani of his Sebring experience, his first outing in the 12-hour IMSA race since his 2017 outing in a Rebellion LMP2.

#912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR - 19, GTLM: Laurens Vanthoor, Earl Bamber, Neel Jani

#912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR - 19, GTLM: Laurens Vanthoor, Earl Bamber, Neel Jani

Photo by: Art Fleischmann

“The only other time I did a little bit of GTs was in 2010 with the Matech Ford [in the FIA GT1 championship], so my knowledge was limited. I realised that the references that I had and the corner speeds I had in my head were quite a bit different! I had to learn not to overshoot the corners, and in a very limited time. 

“IMSA races are decided in the final hours, so my task for the weekend was just to help with the strategy and drive the start, stay on the lead lap and allow Laurens and Earl to attack at the end. I didn’t have a lot of pressure, to be honest. I just had to keep the car on track and learn, and that was actually a great experience.”

Referring to the WEC’s decision to scrap its Sebring season opener in favour of an eight-hour event at Portimao owing to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he added: “I’m sad Sebring is not happening in WEC now, because it would have been a great opportunity to start this new adventure at a place you already know.”

Lack of testing set to make 2021 a challenge

While the withdrawal of Aston Martin has left the WEC’s GTE Pro class with only four cars in 2021, with Ferrari now Porsche’s only remaining opponent, Jani says he expects to be in for a “challenging year”, compounded by a lack of pre-season testing chances.

“It’s just Ferrari left to race against this year, which is a shame, but it will still be an interesting battle, full focus on beating them,” said Jani. “I don’t know exactly how the cars weigh up against each other, but I do know that every year it’s close. There’s a good Balance of Performance, so all the little details will count. 

“For me it’s great to have Kevin as a partner. I immediately have a benchmark to learn from, and he’s very open to sharing things. 

Neel Jani, Porsche

Neel Jani, Porsche

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

“I’m looking forward to the experience, but this year for me generally will not be an easy year. There will be a lot of things I have to absorb very quickly, also because it looks like I won’t get a lot of testing because of the pandemic.

“Even last year, I didn’t drive a lot. At Sebring I did 15 laps in FP2 and then I was straight into qualifying. It will be a challenging year in every aspect. 

“But it’s a cool opportunity, because now I can say I drove every factory Porsche car since I joined: the 919 Hybrid [LMP1], the FE car and now the 911 RSR.”

shares
comments

Related video

Mahindra becomes Formula E's first net carbon neutral team

Previous article

Mahindra becomes Formula E's first net carbon neutral team

Next article

Mercedes FE employing same 'no blame' culture as F1 team

Mercedes FE employing same 'no blame' culture as F1 team
Load comments
The understated Le Mans legend who has earned a testimonial Prime

The understated Le Mans legend who has earned a testimonial

OPINION: After 24 Le Mans 24 Hours participations, 50-year-old Emmanuel Collard will be absent from the grid this year, stuck at the mercy of his gold driver grading. But, while he's not motivated by breaking start records, the French veteran is determined to return to the field next year.

WEC
21 h
How glitches threatened Toyota's unbeaten WEC streak Prime

How glitches threatened Toyota's unbeaten WEC streak

The FIA World Endurance Championship's long-awaited return to Monza posed the sternest test yet for Toyota's new hypercar. Although the Japanese marque's GR010 Hybrid remains unbeaten, the victory for Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi was far from plain sailing.

WEC
Jul 19, 2021
The significance of the next step in WEC/IMSA convergence Prime

The significance of the next step in WEC/IMSA convergence

Following the latest convergence connection permitting Le Mans Hypercars from the FIA World Endurance Championship to compete against LMDh entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship from 2023, it could open up enticing options not only to manufacturers but also for the calendar and race formats

WEC
Jul 13, 2021
How overlooked Mazda produced one of Le Mans' greatest shocks Prime

How overlooked Mazda produced one of Le Mans' greatest shocks

The screaming rotary-engined Mazda 787 is regarded as one of the most popular Le Mans 24 Hours-winning cars, but until its surprise success on this day 30 years ago it was never regarded as a likely victor. But that reckoned without a new technical partner, some canny political manoeuvring and a rival's bizarre self-inflicted weakness.

Le Mans
Jun 23, 2021
How Alpine's stunted Portimao charge kept Toyota clear Prime

How Alpine's stunted Portimao charge kept Toyota clear

Despite going stride for stride for pace at Portimao, Alpine’s grandfathered LMP1 couldn’t convert pole position into a sustained victory fight against Toyota. And due to rules and car limitations that are set in stone, the French manufacturer will be searching for solutions in its own battle of endurance.

WEC
Jun 14, 2021
Charting 100 world championship sportscar starts for Toyota Prime

Charting 100 world championship sportscar starts for Toyota

This weekend's Portimao 8 Hours round of the FIA World Endurance Championship marks the 100th world champion prototype start for Toyota. Here are the major milestones on the road to three figures since the earliest low-key days of its entry into the Group C arena nearly 40 years ago.

WEC
Jun 12, 2021
The philosophical problems the WEC's new Hypercar class is already facing Prime

The philosophical problems the WEC's new Hypercar class is already facing

Most of the column inches after the World Endurance Championship's opener were centred around the relative pace of the Hypercar class and the LMP2s, but there's another question that needs addressing in order for the new division to have a successful future

WEC
May 7, 2021
How stumbling Toyota drew first blood in the WEC's new era Prime

How stumbling Toyota drew first blood in the WEC's new era

Amid concerns that the new Hypercar class would be upstaged on debut by the spec LMP2 machines at Spa, Toyota delivered the pole and victory that the vast majority of observers expected. But neither car had a clean run, which gave the grandfathered Alpine LMP1 an unexpected shot at glory.

WEC
May 4, 2021