Neel Jani expects the pair of AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evos to be competitive in Saturday’s 6 Hours of Bahrain despite the Italian cars not showing any pace in the opening Free Practice sessions for the penultimate round of the FIA World Endurance Championship season.
The No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR-19 of Jani and Kevin Estre topped Friday’s FP2 with a 1:56.511 time in what was understood to be a qualifying simulation lap by the Frenchman.
Estre’s time was a considerable 2.906 seconds quicker than the best of the Ferraris, which have been pegged back this weekend in a controversial Balance of Performance adjustment made outside of the automatic BoP system.
While Ferrari’s James Calado told Sportscar365 they have “no chance” to beat Porsche on pace, Jani doesn’t believe that to be the case.
“Not really, to be honest,” Jani told Sportscar365. “When you watch what they’re doing in the beginning, they’re doing in and out [laps]. It’s a bit strange.
“I watched Calado do a long run, at least 5-6-7 laps and he was well in the [1 minute] 59s. It looks like they’re on [race] pace with us. That’s where we are and it’s not like we can go a lot quicker than that.
“I expect them to be close. The quickest lap times you see from them are done in a lap in a run over ten laps.”
Jani dismissed claims that the Ferrari will be at least 1 second per lap slower come race day, suggesting the manufacturer may be sandbagging or at least not showing its full qualifying pace potential.
“You know one thing for sure,” Jani said of their FP1 and FP2 runs. “It’s not low fuel [runs they’re on].
“I hardly think it’s a new tire because they’ve made too many runs in and out and we only have three sets [for Free Practice] so I don’t think they are putting a new set on each time.
“We know they will be there. They’ve always been there.”
The Swiss ace and co-driver Estre currently sit second in the GTE drivers’ world championship standings, 12 points behind AF Corse’s Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi, who took over the lead following their dominant GTE-Pro class victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
It has put the two manufacturers in a heated duel heading into the final two races of the season.
“We have to catch up on points,” said Jani. “Ideally we get the points gap under 10 points because that means it would still be in our own hands to win. That’s what we want.
“Both races are super important now and we have to finish ahead of Ferrari otherwise we’re going to need some luck.
“Interestingly this year we have always beaten them on the [normal] points races but on the big points races they somehow are always quicker, for whatever reason.
“That’s why we are not counting them out. We have to be on our toes.”
Jani Reflects on First Year of GT Racing
The 2016 LMP1 world champion, who made his GT racing debut in last November’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, is approaching the one-year anniversary of his transition to GTE competition.
“Sebring was basically a jump into the cold water,” Jani said. “There was no real prep. I didn’t run in Free Practice. I think I had 10 or 15 laps before I directly went into qualifying to get more laps.
“That was tough but it was a good job into cold water because it really showed me what the difficulties were or not.
“I think that helped me to win the first WEC race as well at Spa. The season went super well. So far we’ve had four races and Kevin and I have won 50 percent of those.
“Monza was super close and every tenth counted. From that point of view, I couldn’t have wished for more.
“I think the transition went very well but it’s also thanks to Kevin and also Michael [Christensen] who were very open, also Richie [Lietz] and Gimmi [Bruni], who were all very open with what’s important with this car, how to drive it, what are the little tricks, etc.
“They were very open in giving me an idea of what I needed to do and that helped me a lot.”