With Porsche dropping out of the WEC LMP1 class next year, their six works drivers have been forced to look elsewhere for drives next season. Neel Jani is the first of the six to break away from Porsche, having signed with Faraday Future Dragon Racing Formula e team for the 2017/18 season. Jani made it clear that he had “prepared” himself to have to move to another race series earlier this year.
Jani took Porsche to their second consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours victory in 2016 and helped keep the team on top by securing their second consecutive World Endurance Drivers’ Championship. After a sorrow-filled 2017 Le Mans, where his car lost a huge lead and were forced to retire the car with just three hours remaining, Jani and his team mates Andre Lotterer and Nick Tandy have been on the back foot this season as they have had to move out of the way through team orders as the sister car fights for the championship. With the #2 Porsche looking to secure the World Endurance Championship at the next round in Fuji, the #1 will hopefully be allowed to race their team mates on the race track for the last few races of the season.
Jani replaces ex-Audi Sport LMP1 driver, now racing in DTM, Loic Duval in the Faraday Dragon car and will be teammed up with Jerome d’Ambrosio. The Swiss driver has already completed a test in the second Faraday-backed team and is currently out in Barcelona for pre-season testing.
Jani’s new team Dragon is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2016/17 season and Jani says he is “thrilled” to be joining the American team. Dragon had been a team to watch when FE was first inaugrated, but had a bad first campaign after aliging with American manufacturer Faraday. After winning a race in both of the first two seasons, the team could do no better than eighth in the standings last season, with their best result being fifth.
The Dragon team are looking for a resurge of form next season.
Porsche is due to enter FE in 2019/20 and have stated that they aimed to keep all of the LMP1 drivers together, whereever they ended up outside of WEC. It is likely that one of the key reasons Jani has made the move to electrical racing is so that he is ready to re-join his current employer with experience in their electrical-powered car when it joins the grid.
However, Jani has been keen to state recently that joining Dragon is not to train for a seat at Porsche in 2019/20 nor is it a guarentee Porsche will take him. The Porsche LMP1 driver is making no assumptions that Porsche will re-sign him when they join the series in two years time, but he has not ruled out the possibilty that he will stay in the sport until Porsche join. When asked by Autosport whether he would race with Dragon until Porsche joined FE, Jani responded: “A lot is possible, isn’t it?
“I’m contracted to Porsche next year anyway. For now, we’re finishing the WEC season, then everything will fall into place. It is an adavntage that I can have my first steps at Dragon, because they had a difficult season last year and expectations are not that high. So I am not learning for Porsche at Dragon, I am learning about Formula E for myself.”
After his first test in the series, Jani admitted that his first impressions of the electric-single seater series was “strange”. “You miss the sound, but the car is a real race car.” he explained. “It’s what you’re looking for as a driver. It’s wonderful to drive. The car is agile, the steering is great. I was feeling at home very fast.”
Jay Penske, Dragon team owner, said to Autosport: “As a team, we have set our target of wining races and competing for the championship in the coming season, and Neel was an essential component of that equation. When you look at the best drivers in the world, from both a racing and car development perspective, Neel is at the top of that list. He is an excellent fit with our programme.”
After completing his Barcelona pre-season test, Jani will participate in his first ePrix December 1/2 for the Hong Kong ePrix.