Neel Jani revealed that third and fourth for Porsche during qualifying for the opening round of the FIA World Endurance Championship at Silverstone was what they were expecting heading into session after running with a lower downforce Le Mans-style package this weekend.
However, the Swiss driver and defending LMP1 champion feels positive that the pace of his 2017 machine is better than he expected it to be heading into the weekend, and quicker than in 2016 when they were running an aero kit more suited to Silverstone than this year.
“The weekend so far, 3-4 is the maximum we could do,” said Jani to The Checkered Flag. “We knew that [coming into the weekend], we always knew that we cannot do more.
“But I have to say, everybody talks about the two second gap to Toyota… first of all I think the lap time they did is great, it is unbelievably quick for an LMP1 around here, considering how much downforce they took away, fuel and so on, but I am positively surprised about our own pace.
“Last year with more downforce we did a 39.6s, but this year we have less downforce and we come with a Le Mans package, we do a 38.4s, we went one second quicker, which I think we’ve improved our car very well. It gives us hope and makes me actually very positive for Spa and Le Mans with our aero kit.
“It just shows we have improved our car mechanically quite a bit, and I hope that will give us the advantage. So that’s the positive side I think.”
Jani believes the two-second gap seen during qualifying on Saturday to Toyota Gazoo Racing will not be as large on race day, especially as he feels Porsche would have an advantage when it comes to recharging his battery under braking.
“In terms of the gap to Toyota, I think qualifying will be always worse than in the race,” said Jani. “From my point of view, in qualifying I think they can charge the battery full, I don’t think in the race they will, because more downforce means less long braking and more rolling speed, which means they will most probably struggle more to charge their battery than us.
“So that’s where I think we come together. I don’t think we can challenge them for the race win, but if we manage to get in front of them, maybe it can be like 2015 so they cannot overtake us like the Audi, who knows?”
Jani admitted that the simulator said the Porsche pace would not be as strong as it was during qualifying, ending up around two seconds faster than expected, and he feels, in theory, that they would have been up and around the pace of Toyota had they brought a Silverstone-spec aero kit to the circuit.
“That’s all theory, because our numbers said we are slower here than we were in the end,” said Jani. “So we were a lot quicker. We were meant to drive maybe 40s or 41s our simulation said, and now we go 38s, so its quite a big difference, but we would have expected around two seconds.
“The gap would not have been two seconds, maybe plus/minus half a second with Toyota would have been the maximum. So that’s why I’m positive still.”
For 2017, Jani has a new pair of team-mates following the departure of Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb, with Nick Tandy and Andre Lotterer coming in, something he is very happy about heading into the new season.
“Driver wise I think we’re really good with Nick and Andre,” said Jani. “I’m very happy to have those two on board, so far so good. It’s the first race with us three as we’ll try and learn as much as possible [together].”