Neel Jani is a racing driver from Switzerland who has competed in various categories of racing. His best results so far are Le Mans 24h victory and FIA WEC title in 2016. Earlier in a career, he was the A1 Grand Prix champion.
He was born in Rorschach, a small town in St.Gallen canton, on 8th of December 1983, by an Indian father and Swiss mother. As Neel once said, his parents were his biggest support through the whole life and career and always encouraged him in his efforts to become a racing driver.
Neel’s first steps in the world of racing were made in 1996 when his father inducted him into the karting racing. Over four years, Jani moved through the ranks, winning many competitions and showing natural talent what allowed him to progress further, so in 2000 he moved to single-seaters racing, driving in the Swiss Formula Lista Junior Championship. Jani won the title in impressive style, winning 8 out of 12 races and finishing 2nd in four races.
In the following year, Neel had double duties. He has competed in Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup but also in the Italian Formula Renault Series. In 2002, Jani was a vice-champion of Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup after he has won three out of nine races. The next challenge in the career of talented Swiss driver was Formula Renault V6 Eurocup. He was 2003 season runner-up, but what was very important to Jani was the opportunity to act as the test pilot for Sauber Formula 1 team.
In 2004, Jani got another opportunity to test himself in Formula 1, this time with Red Bull Racing team. He impressed the team officials and was promoted to Red Bull Junior team. At the same time, Neel has competed in Formula Renault V6 Eurocup and debuted in A1 Grand Prix, driving in one round.
Jani’s progress through the ranks continued in 2005. Driving for Racing Engineering, Neel debuted in GP2 Series and did well for the rookie as he won two races and finished 7th in the overall standings. Later that year, Jani drove for Team Switzerland in A1 Grand Prix winning one race and finishing 2nd with his team in the 2005/2006 Championship.
The season of 2006 brought a new experience to the Swiss racer. As a member of Red Bull Junior Team, he was hired as the reserve driver for Toro Rosso Formula 1 team. However, he had enough time for other duties and appeared in two rounds of GP2 Series as a substitute for Nicolas Lapierre in Arden International team.
The Swiss pilot got a new chance in 2007 when he has competed in the American ChampCar series as a member of PKV Racing team. He managed to score three podium finishes to take 9th place overall. In parallel, he drove for Team Switzerland in A1 Grand Prix and won the 2007/2008 title. He was really impressive that season having four wins and other seven Top 3 finishes on his account. Swiss driver failed to defend his A1 Grand Prix in the following season, despite again winning four races. He had to settle for runner-up title what still was an excellent achievement.
In 2009, Neel for the first time drove at 24 Hours of Le Mans. Alongside Nicolas Prost and Andrea Belicchi, driving Speedy Racing Team’s Lola-Aston Martin, he finished 14th overall. In the following year, he was a member Matech Competition team in the FIA GT World Championship, but the results weren’t perfect. In 2010 Le Mans, Jani drove for the Swiss team Rebellion Racing, alongside Nico Prost and Marco Andretti, but they were forced to retire on lap 175. Neel also appeared in the short-lived Superleague Formula, driving in one round for Olympiacos CFP and managed to win one race.
In the same competition, Jani tested himself in 2011 too, this time driving for Anderlecht RSC and scored two podiums out from six starts. The same year he performed well at Le Mans, finishing 6th with Rebellion Racing, again with Prost and with Jeroen Bleekemolen. The highlight of the year definitely was championship title in the American Le Mans Series LMP1 with his team.
The season of 2012 probably was the turning point in Jani’s career. Driving alongside Prost and Nick Heidfeld for Rebellion Racing, they were 4th at Le Mans 24 Hours. Neel also won at Petit Le Mans and moved up to 5th position in the overall sportscars' drivers ranking for 2012. It was just a matter of time when some of the factory teams will ask for his services.
During his 6th and last season with Rebellion Racing, Neel combined his duties between ALMS and the FIA World Endurance Championship. The results weren’t as good as in the previous year, but still, there were some notable results, like a victory at Petit Le Mans ad 2nd places at Laguna Seca and Long Beach.
However, the parts of the jigsaw are started to complete in 2014. Porsche returned to the top tier of motorsports. They needed drivers for the WEC and Jani was one of those who were employed as the factory team pilots. He formed the drivers line-up of Porsche 919 Hybrid car #14 with Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb and they were 3rd overall in the 2014 WEC campaign, winning the last event of the season at Sao Paulo.
In 2015, they again finished 3rd in the championship, with a victory in Bahrain as his only triumph that year, while at Le Mans they were 4th overall. That year they needed a bit of luck to earn more points after they finished 2nd in five out of eight races.
Finally, the trio entered the season of 2016 with more experience and ready to jump into the battle for the title. The season opener at Silverstone proved to be perfect as they won the race.
But, the best was still to come at Le Mans. Throughout the race, at Circuit de la Sarthe they were battling with Toyota, but Porsche’s trio looked unable to catch the Japanese car. Anyway, in the one of the most dramatic editions of the prestigious racing event, Toyota’s car failed in the penultimate lap what allowed Jani and his mates to win the race, so the Swiss racer secured him a place in the history of motorsports.
Later in the season, Jani/Dumas/Lieb didn't score any more wins or podiums, but they were consistently collecting points to finish first in the 2016 FIA WEC classification.