Neel Jani believes that his Le Mans lap record set in 2015 could come under attack this year, despite rule changes to slow down the LMP1 cars.
In the wake of the rapid development of hybrid-powered LMP1 cars, which led to Jani’s stunning 3m16.887s pole position time for last year’s race, the decision was made by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest to slow the cars for 2016.
The previous record was Stephane Sarrazin’s 3m18.513s set in 2008 with a Peugeot 908 – and Jani's lap was a staggering 5s quicker than the 2014 pole.
A 300kW limit has been slapped on the LMP1 cars’ released hybrid power at FIA Grade 2 tracks (Le Mans is the only Grade 2 track on the WEC calendar). All hybrid-powered cars also now have a reduced fuel-per-lap rate for Le Mans.
However, Jani still believes the LMP1 cars could threaten his mark at Le Mans – as he claims the track conditions were far from perfect when he set the time.
“I think for the Le Mans record... the track wasn't great when I did it,” Jani told Motorsport.com. “And with what I heard from Toyota and everyone... I don't know where we'll end up, but the record isn't set in stone, because the track was at least two seconds slower when I did it, compared to later in the week.
“I think we all lost out a bit, we all regained most of it, but I don't know if we regained 90 percent or 100 percent. But we didn't lose everything, that's for sure.
“At Le Mans, with the power they're taking away from us, we're losing four seconds. It means two or three seconds here [at Paul Ricard]. I think we regained most of it, especially thanks to the aero, the suspension, and a little bit the engine too. The sound is better, it's a bit more aggressive for a V4!”
Jani on the upcoming WEC season
How do you feel about the revised Porsche 919 for 2016?
“I really like this design. The car looks aggressive, even though it's not like the Audi or the Toyota, but I think we made a good step forward in terms of aero and suspension.
“Our concept is what everyone is doing now – Toyota and Audi. On our side, our forte really is reliability, which is what we felt in testing last week. The car worked well, which is good.”
Do you feel like there was a bigger step between the 2014 car and the 2015 one, or between the 2015 one and this one?
“We lost a lot of power for this year, nearly eight percent. At Le Mans, this represents four seconds already. I think we regained part of it, so I'm confident that the car will perform, but we can't gain six seconds like we did between 2014 and 2015. But we still gained something.”
Which of your rivals do you fear?
“Audi, I'm not too sure yet... But we heard that Toyota have gained a lot, that they have a very strong car and package. I'll say more tomorrow, but Toyota are going to be very strong and Audi won't have any reliability issues.
“We know one thing for sure – Audi wasn't so quick in 2014 and 2015 but when came Le Mans they were spot on. And what happened last year with Toyota, being at the back with no chance, won't happen to another team because everyone has been warned. It was like a warning.”
What's the forte of your new car?
“I think it will be reliability and the concept. Because we did this concept first, everyone copied it, but we understand it better, its strengths and weaknesses. Which goes with reliability. This will make us stronger this year.”
With one fewer car at Spa and Le Mans, how did your approach change?
“It's a shame neither we nor Audi have a third car, because it's good for competition, but it didn't change much in terms of development or that kind of things. It doesn't help us, but it doesn't affect us. But it's a shame, because it would be great to have more cars.”
What's your programme like here for the Prologue?
“We're mostly preparing for Silverstone. We're not using any special aero kit for here, we're preparing for Silverstone.”