You’ll never know who might turn up at an Autobacs Super GT Series race! And when its one of the brightest young stars in international motorsport, their attendance will undoubtedly capture the attention of a few people in the paddock.
Enter Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani, factory Ford GT racing driver and former winner of the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring (as well as a friend of Super GT World). At just 23 years of age, Derani has exploded into the forefront as one of endurance racing’s top stars in both prototypes and GT racing, a driver with tremendous upside for the future.
Derani is at Sugo this weekend as a spectator, but in an interview with AUTOSPORTweb head contributor Ryuji Hirano, he said in no uncertain terms that his goal is to land a factory drive in the premier GT500 category – perhaps as soon as 2018.
Derani’s sportscar career began in 2014 after a successful stint in Formula 3. In 2015, he signed with G-Drive Racing to run the FIA World Endurance Championship. But it was in 2016, his first year with Extreme Speed Motorsports in IMSA & WEC, that really put Pipo on the map – thanks to two heroic individual drives to win Daytona & Sebring to kick off the season.
Derani then signed with Ford to become a factory driver for the first few rounds of the 2017 WEC season with Chip Ganassi Team U, winning in the GTE Pro class at the 6 Hours of Silverstone. Since Le Mans, he’s returned to ESM to finish out the remainder of the IMSA season with the Nissan Onroak DPi.
His inspiration for seeking out opportunities in Japan was former Formula Nippon and All-Japan F3 driver Roberto Streit, who worked as Derani’s driving coach in British Formula 3.
As a Nissan-affiliated driver in IMSA’s premier class, and as a Ford factory driver in the WEC, Derani is seeking opportunities to compete at the highest level as a full-fledged factory racing driver – and is gravitating towards GT500, a category comprised exclusively of factory teams and cars, along with a four-way tyre war.
“It’s a difficult series to race in,” says Derani, “but it’s well worth the challenge.” Truer words couldn’t be spoken for the fastest, and most competitive GT racing series on the planet. He also states that he is not interested in racing in the GT300 class.
Logical ties exist with Nissan and Honda through his time at ESM – who are Nissan’s factory DPi partner in IMSA this year, but competed in 2016 using Honda engines. He also tested Toyota’s LMP1 car in a rookie test this off-season – so Lexus aren’t out of the picture either.
We’ll keep tabs on Derani’s plans for 2018 and beyond – chances are, Pipo could be speeding his way through the land of the rising sun next season!