While the FIA World Endurance Championship has seen an influx of ex-Formula One and veteran open-wheel stars in recent years, it’s also still been a hotbed for up-and-coming talent, with Pipo Derani among the latest crop of rising stars to join the globe-trotting championship.
The 22-year-old Brazilian, who took part in his first endurance race just over 12 months ago, has been one of the standouts in the LMP2 class this year, in what’s been a fruitful learning experience for the G-Drive Racing driver.
“It’s been a wonderful year,” Derani told Sportscar365. “I like the challenge of being in a new championship for me, especially learning new tracks.
“If you look at the grid, it’s [more or less] ten cars and the level is very high. If you’re on the top, you’re fighting against the drivers who have Formula One experience, factory experience like [Nick] Tandy and Sam [Bird].
“For me coming from Formula 3, there’s no better way to be measure myself.”
Derani has turned more than a few heads through his rookie season, having helped lead the Russian-backed team to class victory at Spa, while having yet to finish off the podium this season alongside co-drivers Ricardo Gonzalez and Gustavo Yacaman in their Ligier JS P2 Nissan.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve been adapting to is how long the races are,” he said. “Coming from Formula 3, the races are no longer than 40 minutes. I never had the chance to move up to GP2 or any of those series where the races are over one hour.
“I’ve not reached more than ten races where I’ve driven more than a hour and a half. Last year in Estoril was the first one I did a double-stint.
“It’s been nice because I like the format and how the driver can make a big influence not only in strategy but managing tires and all of these things. But the biggest challenge has been learning this.”
Like most motorsports-addicted kid growing up in Brazil, Derani had his sights set on F1, but has since realized his potential in sports car racing.
“It got to a point where in my career that I wanted to be in F1 but I realized that in order to be there today, you need to have a big check,” he said.
“I wanted so much to become a professional [driver] that I looked where the best chance would be in a top championship and where I’d enjoy the most.
“During this transition, where I wouldn’t say I was giving up the F1 dream because we never do, I realized I might find a very nice place somewhere. I already had the Le Mans passion and had been following it and understanding for a few years.
“So I said, ‘Yeah, sports cars is the way to go because first of all I’ll enjoy it and there might be opportunities for me.’ I couldn’t have made a better choice.”
While having taken part in a handful of Brazilian GT3 Championship races, Derani’s first true taste of sports car racing only came last year after getting a call up from Greg Murphy, who placed him in his Oreca 03R Nissan for the final two European Le Mans Series races.
Derani shined in his prototype debut, scoring a podium finish at Paul Ricard, while setting the fastest race lap at Estoril.
“If it wasn’t for those races, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said. “It was an opportunity but at the same time, it was what I was looking for and what I wanted to do, so I’m really happy.”
Despite not having been chosen as one of the three drivers to take part in next month’s LMP1 Rookie Test in Bahrain, Derani has still targeted a step up to the top prototype class in the years to come.
“I’d have to say that WEC is the championship for me,” he said. “I want to be here and [eventually] on the top of this championship, which is LMP1.
“It’s an objective I have as a racing driver to be able to have a factory drive. To do that, I need to keep pushing and do my job.
“The best picture at the moment would be to go to P1 but the plan is to continue in P2. I’ve been working on a few things but to continue as an Onroak driver would be the best for me at the moment. But there’s still some way to go until the end of the championship.”
With two rounds to go, Derani and co-drivers Gonzalez and Yacaman are still within a fighting chance of the LMP2 title, as they head into this weekend’s Six Hours of Shanghai at a 19-point deficit to their G-Drive teammates and championship leaders.
“It’s funny because there’s the focus on trying to decide what’s going to happen next year,” Derani said. “At the same time, I’m letting it flow because so far, the results have been good this year and I’m sure the results are everything to make you continue.”