After claiming wins in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Twelve Hours of Sebring, both in his race debuts, Pipo Derani is looking to add victory in another endurance classic to his resume this weekend, as the Brazilian makes his Total 24 Hours of Spa debut.
The 22-year-old open-wheel turned prototype star has joined the Garage 59 McLaren squad, alongside Bruno Senna and Duncan Tappy in a third McLaren 650S GT3, as part of the manufacturer’s bolstered effort for this year’s race.
The deal to put Derani in the car came through his manager, Philippe Dumas, who ran the now-defunct Hexis Racing squad prior to his move to OAK Racing and Onroak Automotive in 2014.
“They were looking for a third driver to put in the car for Spa 24,” Derani told Sportscar365. “Philippe has always had a close relationship with Andrew [Kirkaldy] and the guys from McLaren. The opportunity came up and it was too good to refuse.”
For Derani, it marks his foray into modern-day GT racing, after getting a taste of GT3 competition in 2009/10 in his homeland, prior to his rise on the international stage.
“The GT cars have evolved so much during those years,” he said. “I did a couple of races in Brazil and now the GT cars seems to be so much better nowadays. The progress they’ve made with the cars is very nice.
“To be able to drive with Garage 59 is fantastic. To be in that car, especially driving alongside Bruno. For me, I just want to take the most out of it.”
Derani got his first laps in the McLaren earlier this month at the Spa Test Day, which came between the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen with Tequila Patron ESM and Onroak/ESM testing duties at Sebring.
While it’s been busy times for the young Brazilian, he’s also cognizant of the opportunity and challenge ahead, in what’s arguably the most competitive field of GT3 cars in the world.
“It’s a very, very tough race,” Derani said. “We all know that from previous years that it’s down to such small details to be in the top-10.
“Obviously it will take some time for us to glue together as a team and hopefully we can do that in a shorter period of time during the race week.
“The most important thing for this race is for us is to be consistent and not make any mistakes. That’s the first point.
“But we’re always going for the win, otherwise we wouldn’t compete.
“McLaren is giving great support and they obviously have high expectations for the race. I expect to deliver for their expectations and see what comes up in the end.
“There’s obviously a little bit of a learning curve with us not racing together like the other cars have done for the whole season. That does give us a little bit less of an advantage compared to them.
“But at the end, we’re going for the win.”
Derani believes the opportunity this weekend with the Garage 59 squad could also open the door for bigger things in the future, having previously laid out ambitions of becoming a works driver.
With LMP1 drives few and far between, a factory GT drive could be the next best option, particularly in the short-term, as GT3 and GTE racing continues to expand globally.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to have my feet in GT racing, especially with Garage 59,” Derani said.
“I’m a professional race car driver, and if I’m involved with a factory, either in P1 or GT, that would be absolutely amazing.
“It’s very nice to have this drive; it’s a dream drive to be honest. I’m very thankful to them for giving me this opportunity and let’s see what the future brings, you never know.”