Former Champ Car driver and current Porsche factory ace Neel Jani says he would welcome a chance to revisit open-wheel racing in America.
Fresh off shattering the outright lap record at Spa Francorchamps in Porsche’s 1100hp 919 Evo LMP1 machine, the 2016 Le Mans winner and FIA WEC champion has taken a renewed interest in IndyCar after seeing how much fun the racing has been with the low-downforce 2018 universal aero kit installed.
“I’ve heard many times that this new [bodywork] could be a good fit for me,” the Swiss driver told RACER. “All we’ve talked about is how mega the cars look; they look like real Indy cars. I would never say no to a test, try it out, and who knows from there what happens.”
Jani’s diverse open-wheel background propelled him to Formula 1 as a test driver for Toro Rosso in 2006 before Red Bull shipped him Stateside to Champ Car in 2007. As a rookie with the PKV Racing team (below), Jani earned three podiums and finished ninth in the championship, one point behind fellow rookie Simon Pagenaud.
He’s gone on to win the A1GP title for the 2007-2008 season, and like the Frenchman, would turn to racing prototypes after his open-wheel career stalled. Hired by Porsche for its all-conquering 919 Hybrid LMP1 program in 2014, Jani has remained with the German manufacturer after it exited the WEC during the offseason.
Although a factory Formula E program is in the works, Jani is among a handful of elite Porsche drivers with relatively open calendars to fill. Considering his Champ Car experience and accomplishments in the fastest LMP1 Hybrid of its generation, Jani’s comfort in blindingly fast race cars could be assets worthy of an evaluation.
“I’ve read many, many times it’s a proper racecar,” he continued. “Proper grip from the tires and good power, and you can hammer the car into the corners and really have to do the driving to get speed from the car. The Porsche  always had excellent downforce, but with Le Mans, low drag is the secret for speed, and this configuration was something that I loved. Reading about this [2018 Indy] car, drivers say it is an animal that is very different, with many behaviors. I like the sound of this.”
Having raced against Schmidt Peterson Motorsports breakout rookie Robert Wickens, Jani has received further encouragement of all that’s possible in the new-look Verizon IndyCar Series.
“I’ve raced against Wickens many times in A1GP, and it’s not a surprise how good he is,” he said. “He was already quick at the age of 17. He’s proved a lot and developed something extra. I raced against Will Power in my Champ Car days and he was a reference. And Wickens is a reference that if you are with a good team and are ready to perform, you can make an impact.
“He’s proof that if you work hard and have talent, good things are within reach. I’m always careful to say what I can do against other guys I’ve raced against, but I will say that I am confident good things of my own could happen.”