Luís Felipe "Pipo" Derani is currently an official Ford driver in the LM GTE Pro class, getting ready to compete in his first 24 Hours of Le Mans with the American marque. In preparation, he is participating in the first two rounds of the World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC) in the #67 Ford GT with Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx.
You spent several seasons in LMP2. What made you decide to move to LMGTE Pro this year?
"I was given the opportunity to join a manufacturer and, as a professional driver, you don't turn that down! I've always said my goal was to compete in LMP1 in the World Endurance Championship. But with Audi's retirement, the situation has become a bit more complicated for certain drivers who were looking to change classes. There are fewer open seats and a lot of drivers in the ranks. That's when I decided it might be better for me to be with Ford in LMGTE Pro and have the possibility of becoming world champion. To represent a marque with such a successful history, not only at Le Mans, but across the globe, is really something special."
What are your first impressions of the Ford GT?
"It's really a fantastic car, very well thought out during the design phase. It puts you at ease in the very first laps, it doesn't take long for drivers to get used to it, you feel good right away. I'm impressed by this GT even though it's a huge change for me in comparison to being at the wheel of prototypes. There are a lot of new things for me. I competed in the 24 Hours of Spa last year with a McLaren (650S GT3 entered by Garage 59 with Duncan Tappy and Bruno Senna, 40th overall, Ed.), buy that is still my only real experience. Also, I'm involved in a program with a manufacturer for the first time. The team is helping me a great deal and it has made the transition easier, I've learned pretty quickly. And it motivates me even more to know everyone is behind me."
To represent a marque with such a successful history, not only at Le Mans, but across the globe, is really something special.Pipo Derani
What are your thoughts on the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year?
"Every year the LMGTE Pro class gets more and more competitive. There are a lot of factory teams and drivers, it's tough. With the arrival of the new Porsche, it will be even tighter. They've already run and done thousands of kilometers at Daytona and Sebring. You can't call it a new car anymore. In GTE, we have different types of cars, with a different approach, but in the end, we are grouped within a few thousandths of a second at times. Like I've said, the drivers are very strong and experienced. Every second, every tenth of a second counts, but I think we have a good thing with our Ford GT. It's reliable, which is very important in this racing discipline, and it continus to develop in order to return to Le Mans and win again. I can't wait to go up against Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin and Corvette."
What does it mean to you to represent Ford with its impressive track record at Le Mans?
"Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time 51 years ago now, in 1966. I am very proud to be a part of the marque's present history. I am hoping to add my name to the Le Mans record. I have won the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring and would like to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That is my next goal, and it would be wonderful to do it with Ford. But the fact Ford won last year and has four overall victories (from 1966 to 1969, Ed.) doesn't add any particular pressure, more like additional motivation. The pressure doesn't come from the outside, if there is any, I put it on myself because I want to be the best all the time, perform well from the moment I get in the car. It's true that when you go to Le Mans, the whole Ford family is around you, so of course you think about it a little, but I use that in a positive way. Everyone in the team has the same objective, to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but no one puts definite pressure on you. The team knows how hard Le Mans is, the members have confidence in you, that's very important! In any case, who understands the 24 Hours of Le Mans better than Ford?"
I have won the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring and would like to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.Pipo Derani
And this year there is something special about your class...
"Yes, another Brazilian driver is joining the ranks of the LMGTE Pro class, Lucas Di Grassi with AF Corse (Ferrari, Ed.). I think it's great not only to continue the legendary battle between Ford and Ferrari begun in the 1960s, but also to have one between Lucas and myself. I'm happy to share this piece of history with my fellow countryman, in his red car (laughs, Ed.). It's going to be exciting, I hope one of us will be able to carry the Brazilian flag to the top step on the podium, and I hope it will be me (laughs, Ed.)! It's already starting to draw the attention of certain Brazilian media outlets."
You won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring in 2016 (Ligier JS P2 entered by Extreme Speed Motorsports). How have those two victories made you a better driver today?
"Once you've won those types of races, it takes weight off your shoulders. You've proven it not only to yourself, but also to others, that you can do good work! I think those two wins opened the doors to me at Ford. You can be fast, but what a manufacturer seeks is a driver who can finish a race, who can fight all the way to the 24th hour. It was a good thing for my career to have won those two big races. I admit I'm more relaxed now, and I know I am capable of doing good work. I no longer need to prove anything to anyone. Now I can just concentrate on my driving, and when that's the case, you perform better."
Photo (Copyright - VSA): Pipo Derani (at left) kicked off his collaboration with Ford by winning the 6 Hours of Silverstone in the LMGTE Pro class.