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DERANI: Fuji Debrief

Pipo Derani files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: Drew Gibson/ESM

Photo: Drew Gibson/ESM

Last weekend in Japan is one I will not forget in a hurry. Not so much because of the race, although I love racing at Fuji and we actually got some good points with fifth place, but because I got the news I will test for the Toyota Gazoo Racing LMP1 team next month.

I had no idea that I was going to be chosen, but of course I was hoping I would be considered. It was a massive honor to discover on Saturday afternoon that I was one of the three young drivers selected by the FIA WEC and the ACO.

I am already pretty excited by it all, and I cannot wait to get behind the wheel of one of the Toyota TS050 Hybrid’s at the Bahrain Rookie test.

I have told you here on Sportscar365 before that my absolute aim is to be an LMP1 driver. Well, this is the first step and I am determined to make the very best of the opportunity to work with the team which won the race last Sunday.

I have to say that I am very grateful to the committee which selected me and recognized the work I am doing over the last couple of seasons.

I came in to WEC with just two ELMS races under my belt. The WEC is the strongest championship in the world and I have learned so much from being part of it.

I have learned an incredible amount and have been lucky enough to work with some incredible people like Philippe Dumas, Ed Brown and all the guys at OAK Racing too. This is as much of an endorsement for their work and professionalism as well as my own achievements over the last two seasons.

I have admired Toyota’s approach to racing for many years now. They are obviously proven winners with titles and race wins in so many motorsport disciplines.

It will be fascinating to spend a day with them and get to sample LMP1 hybrid power. I will be soaking it all up and concentrating on doing the best job possible in every area of how to be part of an LMP1 set-up.

Congratulations must also go to Gustavo Menezes and Antonio Giovinazzi for also getting tests in Bahrain with Porsche and Audi respectively. I know Gus well and I am pleased for him. He’s a good guy and shown to be quick in his first year of WEC.

The weekend in Fuji started for us getting back in the groove with the Dunlop tires after three races on Michelins. The switch back provided us with some extra pace last weekend and overall it was very positive.

Ryan (Dalziel) and Chris (Cumming) were on qualifying duties and we started eighth. Ryan started the race and did a couple of great stints which laid the foundation for Chris and then myself to attack later in the race.

Sadly we lost a lot of time with a belt issue when Chris handed over to Ryan again. It was a big shame as I am sure we could have been right in the mix for our fourth podium of the season.

I finished the six hours with a triple stint and the pace of our Tequila Patron ESM Ligier JS P2 Nissan really came alive and I attacked hard. I was able to be among the quickest out there and make some progress up the order.

In fact I learned after the race that my 70-lap stint had the average quickest, so this was really satisfying and we were able to get fifth in the end.

The team was again absolutely magnificent and were ‘on it’ all weekend. We have a really solid team and everyone has both individual and collective team skills which make me very proud to be part of the operation.

Now we head to Shanghai, an interesting track which like Fuji is a bit of a compromise on set-up and getting the car just right.

After Shanghai it will be just two weeks to Bahrain and the anticipation for me will be growing as I head towards the test. You will be able to read all about it here on Sportscar365.

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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