Pipo Derani, the breakout star of the 54th edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, says 2016 was a transformative year in his young driving career.
The rapid Brazilian evolved from relative unknown to sports car racing sensation in the span of 24 hours with his starring drive to victory in the Rolex 24 for Tequila Patron ESM one year ago, and returns to the site of his greatest triumph this week to defend the team’s crown.
“It’s amazing, to be honest,” Derani told Sportscar365 at the Roar Before the 24. “When I got here and I looked at the facilities, it got me thinking that the year has passed so quick.
“It’s already a year since we won here, or almost a year. So it’s pretty special. It’s where my career kind of exploded and where I won the biggest race of my life.
“It’s amazing that we are here again to try it another time.”
Derani, who is set to contest the four Tequila Patron North American Endurcance Cup rounds for ESM in the team’s full-time return to IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition, acknowledged last year’s win at Daytona was life altering.
“In my personal life, it hasn’t changed much: I still do the same things, I wake up at the same time, I eat the same things,” he said.
“But on the other hand in the professional life, it’s life changing because I now have respect from a lot of people who didn’t know me before.
“As a professional, it’s a lot about reputation, right? Especially here in the USA, people give you a chance, they believe you’re going to do right, but you have to prove that you can do the job.
“I think those races last year, Sebring and Daytona, that put me on the marketplace where I know I’m going to have a job in normal conditions. I’m really lucky to have won those races and to be back here with Patron.
“I’m living the dream right now and doing what I love as a professional and enjoying awesome tracks and places like this.”
Derani’s performances in the Patron Endurance Cup races, which included a win at Sebring, plus his drives in ESM’s full-season WEC campaign, set the stage for him to take the wheel of a Toyota TS050 Hybrid LMP1 machine at the end-of year WEC Rookie Test in Bahrain.
While the WEC in general remain his focus, in his goal of landing a LMP1 drive, Derani said it was a no-brainer to return to the Patron Endurance Cup with ESM.
The 23-year-old will team up with Ryan Dalziel and team owner/driver Scott Sharp in the No. 2 Nissan Onroak DPi for the four-round campaign.
“We signed the contract really early last year that I was going to come back at least for [those races],” he said. “I was kind of relaxed about that.
“By the end of the year, about September or October, we started working harder on the other side of the project which is trying to stay in Europe and doing something at least a few years more or a year more in WEC.
“That’s starting to get along right now. We know WEC starts very late in the season, so things are starting to get into place right now. But the program in the U.S., I knew I was going to do it quite early.
“I’m really happy to at least be a part of the North American Endurance Cup with Patron. These are amazing races and tracks, so hopefully I can keep doing this for awhile.”