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Jani Learning to Improvise on Rebellion Return

Neel Jani on returning to Rebellion, tackling Rolex 24…

Photo: John Dagys

Photo: John Dagys

FIA World Endurance Champion Neel Jani says he has embraced the spirit of improvisation upon his return to Rebellion Racing for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The Swiss driver won on his last outing with the team at the 2013 Petit Le Mans, the final American Le Mans Series event before the merger with Grand-Am and has since competed exclusively in Porsche LMP1 machinery.

He will share the Oreca 07 Gibson in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opener with LMP1 rivals Sebastien Buemi and Stephane Sarrazin, with Rebellion regular Nick Heidfeld completing the quartet.

However, without the luxury of hybrid power to negotiate traffic, no tire warmers and an operating budget a fraction of that spent by Porsche, Jani’s nostalgia trip has not been entirely without hurdles, although he has enjoyed taking them in his stride.

“I’ve never driven an LMP2 before, I’ve only driven LMP1 in sports cars,” he told Sportscar365. “The first time I was out I thought, ‘I can’t get rid of the GT car, what the [hell]?’

“You have to get a little bit used to it – for sure traffic management is more difficult in America because the difference between the P cars and GT cars in the slow corners is not that big.

“The biggest change in one way is coming from a factory team, where you have 200 or 300 people working just for you, to a private team, where not every wish is possible. Doing the seat for example is a little bit different too, but it doesn’t mean it’s worse, just different.

“There is less man power and you need to improvise a little bit more, but that’s where we came from, so it’s okay.”

Former Audi WEC racer Marcel Fassler had been earmarked for a drive, but was unavailable to complete the trio of Swiss World Champions after re-signing for Corvette Racing.

Nevertheless, Jani is excited to cross manufacturer lines and work with Buemi, who won the WEC title with Toyota in 2014.

“It’s great sharing the car with him – it’s a Swiss team, we have two of the three sports car world champions from Switzerland in the car and I think that’s quite a cool story,” he said.

“It would have been nice to have Marcel in the car as well, that would have been three Swiss World Champions and three manufacturer drivers, but unfortunately he already signed with Corvette so that was not the case.

“Still, we’ve got two of us and with Steph and Nick we have a good lineup, so I’m looking forward to it.

“The last race I did with them was in America, so it’s a good memory and hopefully we can continue where we stopped.”

Despite the undoubted star power of Rebellion’s lineup, Jani recognizes that their lack of recent IMSA experience may be a factor in the race.

“For sure we have a good lineup, so hopefully we can fight for the win, but I don’t think it gives us the edge,” he added.

“Barbosa, Fittipaldi, Albuquerque and the Taylor car, they have have a lot of experience on this track, with the regulation and so on, and experience is also speed at some stage.

“We don’t want to say we are quicker [than them] because we don’t know. We are coming from Toyota, from Porsche, so we have a different kind of experience, but it doesn’t mean anything in the end, as we have seen at the test already that they can always pull [a good lap] out.

“Anyway it’s quite impressive when you look at the driver lineups overall in the paddock, not just in Prototypes but also in GTs, BMW, Ford or wherever, it’s really a ‘who is who’ of motorsports, except Formula 1 but otherwise everyone is here.”

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