Circuit of the Americas WEC pole hero Neel Jani was the toast of the Austin paddock after he grabbed the top spot on Friday evening – despite a hybrid boost failure that meant he set the fastest lap of the weekend on old tyres.
Jani thought his chances of pole had vanished when his Porsche’s boost system failed on his second flying lap – his first having already been ruined by a red flag.
But after mechanics fixed the system for teammate Marc Lieb to set a respectable time, Jani got back in and nailed an unbelievable laptime on rubber that was far from its best.
“Clearly I was mega-frustrated,” Jani told Motorsport.com. “When I got the red flag on my first attempt, I was on such a good lap. Apart from Turn 1, I’d nailed it, then I get to Turn 11 – red flag. Bah, it was mega! I was way below 1m46s, I’m sure about that really. Ah, OK, go again.
“We’d struggled through free practice, but the car was good now, so when I went again the boost just didn’t work. On the main straight, my comparison time went up eight tenths just there, so I was like ‘oh shit – that’s a gonner!’
“Problem is, when the boost doesn’t work, there’s a lot of other things that don’t work – the brakes, the braking points, how it recoups the energy, everything changes. It’s like an avalanche starting.
“Luckily they could fix the issue with the hybrid for Marc [Lieb, his teammate]. Maybe it was as simple as a reset, I don’t actually know because I jumped out and was so pissed! He did a solid lap, but we were still too close to the Audis. Then I was able to go back out and do that – the unexpected can still happen, no?
“I was even thinking ‘why should I go back in?’ We were a tenth clear of the Audi, I didn’t think it could beat us, but they said ‘you need to go’. I was on my seventh lap on the tyres!
“I didn’t have the same grip, they were far from fresh anymore. But everything came together, maybe it was lucky, maybe Brendon [Hartley] should have done a second lap? Who knows?
“I was still totally unexpected to be fastest of all. To be faster than even Timo’s lap on such used tyres. That just doesn’t usually happen. But I’ll take that! It reminded me of good old A1GP pole positions – one lap, doing it when it matters.”