In the first part of a special series, we take a look back at some of the key moments in Porsche’s four-year run with the 919 Hybrid through the eyes of those involved with the championship-winning program. First up is Neel Jani.
Having been one of the six original factory drivers, Neel Jani was part of Porsche’s LMP1 program from the start and achieved great success with the German manufacturer, including the first win for the Porsche 919 Hybrid at Interlagos in 2014.
However, for Jani, his 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship-winning season, which included a last-gasp victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, ranks among the most memorable moments in his career to date.
“Racing for Porsche in LMP1, the aim for every driver was to win Le Mans and win the World Championship at least once, and we’ve done that,” Jani told Sportscar365.
“That was the minimum target for everyone because we knew we had the machinery. But it was also combined a bit with luck and 2016 was our year and I will never forget it.”
Jani and co-drivers Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb’s Le Mans win in 2016 helped propel the trio to the Drivers’ World Championship, despite claiming only two victories that year.
However, a race-ending engine-related issue in this year’s race not only dashed hopes of a repeat victory at Le Mans but also a chance to defend the title, in what the Swiss driver says highlighted the rapid change in fortunes from one year to the next.
“Three hours more, and most probably, we’d be winning the championship right now,” Jani said.
“Three hours decided if it was a win or no win. It’s small things that decide between being lucky and unlucky, and in 2016, everything worked out for us.
“Along with the fact that I enjoyed the four years and having a car able to compete up front, sometimes you still needed that luck.
“Either you were lucky or you were unlucky, and it depended on the situation.
“Driving-wise, I think everyone was capable of winning the World Championship and capable of winning Le Mans, out of the Porsche drivers, so that’s why everyone won it in the end.
“It’s a positive overall but mixed with these lucky moments that you need.”
Jani admitted he initially questioned whether the Porsche 919 Hybrid would be able to take on Audi and Toyota following the car’s initial tests in 2013, which resulted in a re-design due to a vibration issues.
“My first impression was, ‘How will we beat Audi?” he said. “I didn’t think it would be possible.”
“My very first test was August 2013 at the Lausitzring and I got into the car and it was vibrating so much you’d start coughing because you’d get this tickling feeling in your lungs.
“I thought I’d tell them it vibrates but I won’t tell them I don’t want to drive it! They had to [redesign it afterwards] because you couldn’t drive two stints.”
“That was in August, and then came November when we were testing in Bahrain. We did a 1:52 or 1:53 lap time, and 12 months later, we were there for the race and I got pole position with Romain [Dumas] and the quickest lap time was a 1:41.
“That explains what happened in 12 months. It was the same car with the same engine. Eleven seconds in 12 months. Then to 2015 and we made up another six seconds.
“The development curve was incredible. As bad as the first experience was, the rest of it was amazing, and that’s why the car was so successful.
“The team managed to really have a development curve that set a new standard in WEC.
“Audi and Toyota both had to raise their game from what they knew from the past two years, and I think that’s what Porsche brought in.
“That is what is the most impressive thing, just looking at the lap times from where we started and where we ended up.”