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DERANI: Living the Sebring Dream

Pipo Derani files his latest Sportscar365 column following his big win in Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring…

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

Wow! We did it, we won the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Let me tell you straight away, it feels so good for so many reasons.

Firstly, the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R was incredible all race and the Whelen Engineering Racing were perfect with all the calls and pit stops.

Then next up, for me to be able to win a third Sebring just felt and still feels amazing.

To be in the record books alongside the likes of true all-time greats like Mario Andretti and Phil Hill as a triple winner is very, very special indeed.

Someone told me afterwards that I was the youngest ever three-times winner. That feels incredible but also humbling at the same time because I know how thankful I am to have such great people behind me.

This includes family and all the teams I have worked with since 2016 because without them you have no chance.

We arrived at Sebring really pumped up to continue our fight for the championship after our strong start with the second position at Daytona in January.

Straight from the get-go we had an extremely quick car and we were happy with everything right from when the car rolled out of the truck last Wednesday.

This does several things at a big event like Sebring. It gives everyone an immediate confidence and then it instils an added feel good factor that spreads through the team, you can really feel it.

Photo: Scott LePage/IMSA

It wasn’t all plain sailing though because in Friday’s practice we encountered some understeer with the car. But we figured this was pretty normal due to the amount of rubber going down from the WEC cars.

The team decided that I would qualify and I took the session with very good feelings and trust from the team.

Both the Action Express entered cars proved to be the quickest Cadillacs that qualified, so we were reasonably satisfied because at these races you always look at the long game.

We already saw at Daytona that the Acuras and Mazda are a bit quicker in qualifying trim so we were not concerned too much that they were ahead.

The weather had been perfect all week and then as we opened the curtains on race morning it was all dark skies and a fair amount of rain.

So at that point we knew the race would probably have a real element of simply surviving, because the Sebring track is just so treacherous in the wet.

There was a lot of responsibility at the beginning starting from fifth position and we had a frustrating start with 40 minutes or so of safety car.

As soon as the track went ‘green’ I could feel the car was really nice and I was able to move my way through from fifth within six laps and in to the lead, which was very satisfying.

But I can tell you that the stress levels inside the car were pretty intense.

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

You have to balance so much, like feeling the grip levels and thinking very carefully about the risk and reward factors.

At the same time I knew we could take it relatively easy if we got to the front. Once there it as easier because there was less spray and you could manage things better all-round.

We were also the first car to go on to slicks which was an amazing call by the team and myself. At one stage we were lapping five-seconds quicker than anyone which was a remarkable part of the race

After that the race was more or less perfect. Eric (Curran) and Felipe (Nasr) did amazing jobs and the team was brilliant as always in the pits tops. Everything just seemed to click perfectly and we all hit our marks.

Leading at the four and eight hour marks and then winning the race was really pleasing too because it was also good for the Endurance Cup, which was a nice cherry on top of the cake.

Felipe took the checkered flag and we were able to celebrate a great team effort. The scenes were fantastic and something I will always remember.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have three Twelve Hour of Sebring wins on my resume. It feels very good but I would not have been able to achieve any of this without great people around me and the Whelen guys are just exceptional.

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

have done such a good job with balancing the engine and aero among all the cars. When all of the cars are performing so closely, the wins go to the team’s that make the fewest mistakes.

As we know, racing is a team sport, so I just have to thank everyone in the team for allowing us to race such a great car in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi I feel very humble for the work they do, and they are the best I can’t thanks them all enough.

The car’s balance, and strategy of the team makes the most difference these days.

I also want to thank Philippe Dumas, my manager, who has been instrumental in my professional life for the last few years.

We are tied on top of the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and now we can really start to build our campaign.

I can’t wait for the next challenge in Long Beach next month and telling the Sportscar365 readers 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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