Brazilian sports car ace Pipo Derani said his new role as a Ford factory driver for the first three races of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship season is a dream come true as he prepares to branch out into GT racing with the historic American marque.
Ford’s newest hot shoe is set to share driving duties with Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx in the No. 67 Ford GT while continuing to race in IMSA for Tequila Patron ESM at Sebring, Watkins Glen, and Petit Le Mans.
Derani, who starred in ESM’s 2016 victories at Daytona and Sebring and tested a Toyota TS050 Hybrid LMP1 machine at the end of the WEC season, has seen his star rise rapidly in the last year.
Speaking on this week’s Sportscar365’s Double Stint Podcast, the 23-year-old said his successes racing and winning in IMSA and the WEC last year with ESM, plus a handy personal connection, helped set the process of earning a factory seat with Ford in motion.
“My manager is Mr. Phillipe Dumas who also works with [Ford factory driver] Olivier [Pla],” Derani told Sportscar365. “Since Olivier joined Ford, they have a very nice relationship.
“WEC in LMP2 has been a great place for me to show what I can do, but understandably I always said I wanted to be a factory driver.
“I think WEC, together with my victories in the US, and the relationship that my manager has with Ford, it all came together at the end of 2016. I’m extremely happy to join such a brand with so much history, especially at Le Mans, for these 2017 WEC three races.”
Derani said his place within a factory squad is the culmination of years of effort on and off the track.
“It’s been something that I’ve been working toward since I started racing in sports cars back in 2014,” he said. “To be able to achieve that in two and a half years, still at 23 years old, I think its very, very nice.
“I would like to say a big thank you to Ford, and I hope that I can give them back the thanks that they expect.
“It’s been amazing. I think I couldn’t have done a better choice for my career coming into sports car racing. Being able to sign with such a historic brand like Ford, it’s a dream come true.”
Derani has a limited amount of GT racing experience to draw upon, most notably a start in a Garage 59 McLaren in last year’s 24 Hours of Spa, and said he is eager to get behind the wheel of his newest toy.
“I’m itching to get my hands on the Ford GT, but we’re still working on getting the test plans, where we’re going,” he said. “Most likely it will be some time closer to the [WEC] Prologue in Monza.
“Maybe a little bit before that, or maybe at the Prologue. We’re not sure about that, but we’re looking forward to it.”
He added that while LMP1 remains a goal, he is thrilled about his dual WEC/IMSA program with Ford and ESM for 2017.
“Nowadays, if you look at how the P1 situation is, I couldn’t be happier with where I am,” Derani said. “Being with Ford in GT, it’s a category that is growing every year, so for sure I won’t ever say no to P1 or any opportunity that might come.
“I will definitely look at them and study to see what’s the best, but to be honest I’m extremely happy with the program for 2017 that I have with Ford, and I hope it could become something longer than it is right now.
“To keep doing prototype racing in IMSA, especially in January and March which is always before WEC begins, it’s great.
“I keep my foot not only in GT racing, which is growing, but also in prototype racing and the top class in America.
“I think I am hopefully in a better position right now to have opened another door in GT, but also keeping my door open in Prototypes.”
Click Here to listen to the full interview with Derani on this week’s Double Stint Podcast.