Once a British F3 race winner, he is now making a mark in sports cars. Sam Smith spoke to a victorious Daytona rookie
As breakthrough performances go, winning the Daytona 24 Hours at the first attempt is fairly decent. British fans might be aware of Luis Felipe Derani, better known as ‘Pipo’, but during the famous enduro the young driver earnt himself a considerable amount of US support as he got to grips with the legendary circuit.
Derani raced in the British F3 International series in 2011 and 2012, taking a couple of wins for Fortec Motorsport. After a fine third place at Macau in 2013, this deep-thinking, remarkably mature 22-year-old recalibrated his career and plotted a sports car course that has started to pay dividends.
“You have to be realistic in life and getting to F1 – my original goal – was unlikely,” says the pragmatic Paulista. “In 2014
I looked at sports cars and liked what I saw. It was obviously growing to be a very strong option for young drivers so I jumped in.”
The path to Daytona started with Greg Murphy’s ELMS team at Paul Ricard in 2014, when Derani caught the eye by holding off Harry Tincknell’s Jota Sport Zytek for most of the opening stint as he led his first-ever laps
in an LMP2 car. That theme continued in 2015, when he grabbed class pole position on his FIA WEC debut for G-Drive Racing. The first maximum points score came at Spa a few weeks later.
“We had a good campaign last year and it was a perfect learning season,” Derani says in his trademark analytical tones. “The guys at Onroak and OAK Racing [who ran the G-Drive Racing operation] really believed in me and last spring I shook down ESM’s new Ligiers. I suppose that is where the relationship with my new team started.
“It was a fresh adventure for me. I had never raced in IMSA and I had new tyres, new engine and a new team. So really my thinking as I went into Daytona was to finish another 24-hour race, like I did last year at Le Mans [fourth in LMP2], and just gain experience.
“The ROAR test in January went well and then I qualified second, so the expectations were growing a bit.”
Those expectations were delivered when Derani took the Rolex 24 at Daytona by storm. And he did so from the very first corner, where he put a brave but calculated move on Indycar driver Mikhail Aleshin to ensure he led his first racing lap of Daytona. Twenty-four hours later he rounded the same piece of banking to take the chequered flag after an explosive final two hours at the wheel, chasing down the leading Wayne Taylor Racing Dallara.
“When I crossed the line it was crazy and yes, there were some tears,” says Derani. “I couldn’t understand how it had all happened, but it had. It was an amazing feeling and one I want
to repeat again very soon.
“The team was fantastic and the faith that Scott [Sharp] and Ed [Brown] showed to get me into
the team is very much appreciated. I think they expected me to take more time to feel my way in, but after Daytona I hope they can see they have made a good choice.”
He has since won Sebring, too, and now gets set for an FIA WEC campaign with ESM in LMP2. His aim, however, is very much to get a chance with endurance racing’s big guns.
“I hope I get a chance to test an LMP1 car and show what I can do,” he says. “But generally I will just do my best, the strategy I have followed throughout my career.
“I want to look back one day in the future and know I was able to do the best and hopefully achieve some great things. I have always loved motor racing and I am fortunate that I have time on my side. My aims are clear and with dedication and the right attitude I believe I can achieve all my goals.”