Born: 8th December 1983
Where: Rorschach, Switzerland
Lives: Port, Switzerland
Height/weight: 1.72 m/62 kg
Marital status: Married to Lauren
Hobbies: Sports, cross-country skiing, tennis, cycling
The Swiss driver with Indian roots lives up to the image of what a race car driver used to be, more bon vivant than robot, more casual than driven. At least that’s what he’s like outside the cockpit. At work the objectives are clearly drawn, “I want to take overall victory in Le Mans and to become the world champion in the next few years. With a top works team like Porsche that should be possible.” Neel Jani is demanding. If a driver delivers lap records like he does, he wants to get results too, but he knows in the WEC this can never happen on just his own merits. “Without my teammates I couldn’t have achieved that,” he said after the Porsche 919 Hybrid’s maiden 2014 win in Brazil. “It was a great feeling to be the one to bring the car home.” In 2015, it was again Jani to cross the finish line first at the season finale, again sharing the cockpit of the 919 with Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb. In Bahrain, this signalled the end of a dry spell, during which they had assisted their better-off sister car in terms of points. “That’s also part and parcel of working in a works team towards the world championship title,” says Jani amenably.
Heading out on weekends in a Porsche has always been his passion. “I have wonderful childhood memories,” said Jani. “On Sundays my sister Reena and I would climb onto the back seat of my father’s 911 RS 2.7 and he would take us out for a drive. These trips were real highlights for us, but unfortunately, we later had to sell the car, because my racing was so expensive.”
Neel Jani moved from Formula Renault, GP2 and the A1GP series to Formula 1. In 2004 he tested for Red Bull Racing for the first time and in 2006 he was the third driver in the sister team, Scuderia Toro Rosso. He took part in testing and raced in the American Champ Car series and the A1GP series. In 2008 he was a guest starter in the Porsche Supercup. “I unfortunately did not get to finish the race,” he recalled, “but I got to drive a 911 GT3 RS for a fortnight beforehand. That was quite something for me as a 24-year-old. The car has so much power and the steering is so precise, it’s an impressive performance.” He likes calculation and precision. The question as to what he would have done for a living if he hadn’t become a racing driver yields an unexpected answer, “An accountant. I like numbers.”
In 2009 he started in Le Mans for the first time and has done so every year since, including in 2013 with Rebellion in the LMP1 class. In 2011 he won the Le Mans Series with the team, and in 2012 he narrowly missed the Le Mans podium when he came in fourth. In 2012 and 2013 he took victory in the ten-hour race in Road Atlanta, better known as ‘Petit Le Mans.’ Jani has long been considered one of the experienced players in endurance racing. “The WEC has developed very well,” he said, “the level of technology and drivers is absolutely world class, the competition is tight and the racing is serious.”
In June 2013, Porsche signed him on as a works driver. “It’s an outstanding chance, being involved in the LMP1 programme from the very start. When I think Porsche, I think racing cars,” he explained. “Now everything fits together.” Does he miss Formula 1? “Not at all, because things always work out as they should. I’m happy to have good memories.”
Neel Jani competes in the FIA World Endurance Championship WEC, including the Le Mans 24 Hours race, in a Porsche 919 Hybrid for the Porsche Team.