There’s a new face at Tequila Patron ESM this weekend, with Pipo Derani not only making his team debut, but also set to embark on his maiden Rolex 24, as the Brazilian driver looks to make a positive first impression.
Derani, who joins the Scott Sharp-owned squad in this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship season, is getting a jump start on his 2016 program, teaming with Sharp, Ed Brown and Johannes Van Overbeek in its Ligier JS P2 Honda at Daytona.
“I was a bit surprised because I wasn’t expecting to be here,” Derani told Sportscar365. “I was expecting to only do WEC.
“So when [Scott] said I was coming, I was really happy because definitely, this one and Sebring are races that I’ve had in my bucket list and to be adding them so soon in my endurance career is great.
“It’s going to make me grow as a driver. The more [experience] I have in these long races, the better I’m going to be.”
While being a rather unknown quantity in North America, aside from a partial season of Star Mazda in 2014, Derani is arguably one of sports car racing’s brightest new stars in the making.
The 22-year-old Brazilian made his WEC debut last year with G-Drive Racing, finishing third in the LMP2 championship with a class win at Spa and multiple fast laps in the team’s Ligier JS P2 Nissan.
Derani’s breakout performance was enough to catch the eye of Sharp, who has brought him, along with other OAK Racing personnel, on board to the restructured ESM squad for 2016.
“To start here before the WEC season is a great step ahead,” Derani said. “We’re able to start working early.
“I think it’s going to add to my experience with the team and make us more of a group instead of individuals and will be great for when we start testing for WEC.”
For now, the team’s immediate focus is on Daytona, with its Honda-powered Ligier showing encouraging pace this weekend, running inside the top-five of the time sheets in the majority of the sessions.
Remarkably, most of the car’s quick times have come from newcomer Derani, who brings a season’s worth of experience with the Ligier chassis but hadn’t seen the 3.56-mile circuit for the first time until earlier this week.
“The main thing for me was to understand the tires as I know the car pretty well,” he said.
“It was also the first time I drove the HPD [engine] but I didn’t seem to need any extra time to see how it goes. We did a few laps but after that it was good.”
For Derani, who grew up watching F1 and IndyCar on TV in his native Brazil, getting the chance to drive alongside some of his idols has also been a bit of a surreal experience.
“It’s such a great experience to be here and to see these cars here,” he said. “To drive around the Ganassi cars, and be racing with guys like Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan is pretty mega.
“I’ve been looking [up] to them in IndyCar when I was much younger. Even here, it’s pretty awesome to have his chance to be fighting with them.”
Derani, meanwhile, is also looking forward to the prospects of making another championship run in WEC, under familiar surroundings but with new co-drivers and the ESM team.
“In the end, I hope I can apply all of the learning that I had last year to be even better this year,” he said.
“We all know it’s going to be extremely competitive in P2. The Silver drivers are going to play an even bigger role in it than last year.
“I think at the end of the day, for me, what I look to is improving every bit that I can that I’ve learned in the first season I had. I’m hoping it can all come together for a great result.
“We fought for the championship last year and finished third. In a way, we had that little taste of fighting for it up until Bahrain.
“I just hope we’re consistent and consistently good throughout the whole season, not making any mistakes that I think in the end we’ll have the chance to be up there.”