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DERANI: Le Mans Debrief

Pipo Derani files his latest Sportscar365 column following Le Mans…

Photo: Vision Sport Agency

Photo: Vision Sport Agency

My second Le Mans is over and unlike the first, when I finished fourth last season, this one had a less happy ending.

Yes, we got to the finish, but after the start to the season we have had, we should have got more.

At Le Mans I know there will be 20 or so drivers saying the same thing, but if you look where SMP finished (third), then we would have got a podium if we had stayed out of significant trouble last weekend.

Second time around there seemed to be more time to take things in at Le Mans. The scale of the occasion, the prestige and history the place has is so special. It is at least two weeks of everyone’s year there at that track and you never lose the sense of occasion. It is just a very unique race.

I went in to the race week feeling good, even though I didn’t get any running in practice on Wednesday due to the fact that Ryan missed the test day and rightly had the most track time in practice.

On Wednesday I got in to the car and set a time right at the end which was good enough for sixth fastest.

Overall that was ok but I am sure we could have found a bit more if the weather had been better and if I had a few more laps in the #No. 31 Tequila Patrón ESM Ligier JS P2 Nissan.

We knew that we wouldn’t be as competitive as the Oreca on pace but with the conditions changing and the fact there would be incidents and punctures, etc, a chance of good points might be possible for us.

We started the race with some clever thinking as I took the start but came in after the first lap so that Chris (Cumming) could get in the car.

We knew with the amount of spray the green flag was not coming soon, so it made sense for him to go out in Safety Car conditions so that it ate in to the time he needed to register (six hours). It worked well and took 50 minutes out of his allocated six hours.

Ryan did a nice job after Chris and we were back in contention before Chris had his second spell in the cockpit.

In the early evening Chris had a brief excursion at the Ford Chicane and unfortunately had to do a whole lap back to the pits with some suspension damage. It was unlucky and we had lost about four laps completing the repairs.

Still, we kept focused and the team was super impressive in the pits, really very quick in getting the car back out.

From that point we just focused on WEC points and see how we could maximize as many as possible.

After we started to fight back again we had another blow with more suspension dramas. This time it was at the back and was tough to fix as of course the suspension is connected to the gearbox.

This cost us two hours and effectively put us out of contention of the top-ten as the gearbox case and many other parts had to be changed.

It was really frustrating because I was about to do a quadruple stint and we would have made some good progress in the hunt for what turned out to be third place at the end.

I have to say I am very proud of the team. They worked for this race all year and to keep fighting with these issues and to fix the car so quickly was just fantastic, they are the best. It is very special to work with them and share the ‘never give up’ spirit.

We eventually finished 11th in class but got eight points for the WEC campaign which was something positive after the dramas.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank the ACO, FIA and all of the other competitors. Like everyone, I could not believe the end of the race and what happened to Toyota. Unbelievable!

But, they will be back I’m sure and back stronger. Congratulations to Porsche for an 18th win, what an incredible record.

Signatech-Alpine did a fine job and had a clean run. Fair play to them and congratulations to my friend Gustavo (Menezes), and also Nicolas (Lapierre) on his back-to back LMP2 win, and Stephane (Richelmi).

Overall, it was a great opportunity to be back at Le Mans and especially with Tequila Patrón ESM and the No. 31 crew, and my great teammates Ryan and Chris.

Of course, I know we cannot get results like we did before Le Mans every race. That would be unrealistic. But it all counts for my continuing experience at Le Mans and in the tough teams you learn doubly as much.

Now I head to Sao Paulo for a few days to catch up with family and friends before I go straight to Watkins Glen for the next round of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup, which we lead.

I look forward to hooking up with all the Sportscar365 readers after the Nurburgring WEC round next month and telling you all about it.


Pipo Derani (@PipoDerani) is the 2016 Rolex 24 at Daytona winner and three-time Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring winner, driving for Whelen Engineering Racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

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