24 Hours of Le Mans pole sitter Neel Jani believes that despite setting the fastest lap in qualifying, Porsche will have to fight both the other LMP1s and the weather if it is to win the French endurance race for the 18th time.
Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas will share the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid during the race on June 18-19, with Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard starting from second in the sister car.
“We had the right tyre at the right time during qualifying, which was good planning,” Jani told The Checkered Flag. “Despite the heavy traffic we were able to get the 1-2, which is great, but tomorrow is the race which is much more important than grid position.”
Jani’s pole time of 3:19.733s set during the first of three qualifying sessions was a second quicker than the fastest Toyota TS050 Hybrid driven by Stephane Sarrazin.
Audi ended the two days of practice almost three seconds off the pace but despite separate transmission and driveshaft problems for both R18s, Jani believes the four rings will be in contention throughout the 24 hours.
“Toyota will push us hard in the race; you could see how close they were to us in qualifying. But also we will have to keep an eye on Audi because although they had some issues on Wednesday they have the pace to be a threat. The gap has closed so much between the three LMP1 teams that anyone can win on any given day.”
The two Thursday qualifying sessions were affected by heavy rain around the circuit. What made the weather particularly challenging was its tendency to cover only parts of the 8.5 mile track, something that could have a major impact on the course of the race.
“There’s a lot to think about,” said Jani. “You can be as prepared as you want, but there are some things you just cannot control. Le Mans is a track we cannot test on before the month of June so it is a unique challenge. Our pace during the race itself will depend on the variables which we simply have no say in.”
“To be honest it will all depend to the weather conditions. Last year the Porsche was good during the night so based on that run we know the night is not our enemy, but that was mainly because the track conditions were perfect for the car.”
“This year we cannot be promised of perfect track conditions which means it is hard to tell at what point during the race the 919 will be quickest. These cars are extremely sensitive to outside variables which makes any prediction difficult – whoever manages the conditions best will succeed.”
Jani and co will begin their quest for a maiden 24 Hours of Le Mans victory together on June 18 at 15:00 local time.
“Driving for Porsche is one thing, but winning for Porsche would be incredibly special,” he said. “When you see the spectators and their enthusiasm for the Porsche team it makes clear just how important this race is to the public. We feel we have the tools to do a good job on race day – I’m looking forward to it.”