Neel Jani: “We’ll go to Monza without having driven the car!”
Photo: WEC

Neel Jani: “We’ll go to Monza without having driven the car!”

Neel Jani, a 2016 FIA WEC World Champion, returns to the premier class of endurance racing with Proton Competition next week fielding a Porsche 963 for the 6 Hours of Monza (7- 9 July).

Jani has experienced all the highs and lows in endurance racing. The Swiss took the checkered flag of the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans with the Porsche 919 he shared with Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb, directly benefiting from the leading Toyota’s mechanical failure only minutes from time. The three-man LMP1 Porsche No. 2 crew was then crowned FIA WEC World champions.

Fast forward six years, and Jani is competing with Duqueine in European Le Mans Series and now with Proton Competition and its Porsche 963.

“I really like the atmosphere in Duqueine”, Neel says. “We’re doing our utmost to have a good car. Team founder Gilles Duqueine and Team manager Marc Favard are exceptional people. Everybody within the team are passionate. We are all here because we all love motorsport. We are able to fight for wins and show that Duqueine is a force to be reckoned with.”

On the back of an overall second place at the 4 Hours of Barcelona, Duqueine took the highly competitive LMP2 class by surprise with another podium finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Beating the likes of Alpine, Prema Racing or United Autosports, the plucky French squad could have aimed even higher than P3. “We took the lead at around 4am on Sunday. Unfortunately, we suffered two punctures that cost us more than a lap and eventually deprived us from fighting for victory,” Neel recalls whilst acknowledging the flawless drives from his teammates, Nico Pino and René Binder.

A few days before LeBron James waved the Tricolour for endurance racing’s main event, Proton Competition had announced Neel as the third driver for their privateer Porsche 963.

From the 6 Hours of Monza until the end of the WEC season, the Christian Reid-owned German outfit will compete in the Hypercar class. “I’ve always been in contact with Christian, we have known each other for years”, Neel underlines. “We discussed the possibility of working together. Eventually, we put pen to paper and signed the contract at Le Mans.”

With Proton, Neel will share the wheel of the No. 99 Porsche 963 with Harry Tincknell, a two-time class winner at Le Mans (LMP2 in 2014 and GTE Pro in 2020), and Gianmaria Bruni. The former Minardi F1 driver and Neel go back a long way. They raced each other in the 2005 GP2 Series and drove for the Porsche GT Team in the LMGTE Pro category.

Facing fierce competition in the Hypercar field, Proton Competition have no choice but to set themselves modest goals and targets in Lombardy.

“Finishing the race would be a good start”, Neel admits. “All the other teams have done tests and raced at Le Mans, they have much more experience than us.” The 2016 WEC World champion views the Italian round as a full-scale test for Proton Competition. “We’ll go to Monza without having driven the car. We’ll even fit the seats, for all three drivers, once we’ll be there. It is not ideal but that’s how it is!”

The second half of the year will be a busy one for Neel. Besides the three remaining WEC races, and the legendary IMSA round at Petit Le Mans (October 14th), the Swiss got the nod from Proton to continue the ELMS campaign with Duqueine. “The proposal from Proton was attractive for several reasons”, Neel adds. “Christian Reid really gave me the freedom to do what I want on the side. But the goal is to write a new good history with Proton in Hypercar, because they achieved many successes in GT.”

Neel was also appointed by Audi as their simulator driver for the development of their F1 power unit. The German four-ringed constructor has committed to a Formula 1 entry in 2026. “It’s a great project. It’s always interesting to be involved in an F1 factory programme, it is the pinnacle of motorsport racing. I look forward to taking part in it and to offering them my experience”, shares Neel, who was the Scuderia Toro Rosso’s third driver in 2006.

Jani, who will turn 40 next December, does not look close to hang up his racing gloves yet, even more so with endurance racing entering a new golden era. “In the LMP1 age, we had such a great fight in terms of development with cars as amazing as they were complicated and powerful. Thanks to the new Hypercar category, it is now very attractive for manufacturers to field an entry, courtesy of the possibility, at long last, to race in IMSA and WEC. I’m glad to be part of this class, the competition is awesome. It’s a special era in endurance racing history.”