Last month at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Johannes van Overbeek and co-driver Pipo Derani were celebrating an IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship victory following the America’s Tire 250.
At the end of Saturday’s Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, van Overbeek will retire as a full-time driver.
“I thought about retiring last year, and then in discussions with (Patrón Spirits President/CEO) Ed Brown, he said, ‘Hey things are going to be different at the end of next year,’” said the 45-year-old driver of the No. 22 Tequila Patrón ESM Nissan DPi. “Patrón’s not going to sponsor this anymore, so why don’t you just wait one more year? You started with the team and then you can say you ended with the team and bookend the entire program.’ It seemed like the smart thing to do. I love the group that (ESM owner/driver) Scott Sharp has put together. It’s a fantastic program. We have great partners, we’re still competitive and I think we get more competitive as we learn more about the car.
“The second part is, I’m 45. I’ve been doing it at a high level for 22 years, and it just feels like a good time to make a lane change in terms of career. I can do it another few years, but I couldn’t do it another 20 years, so I just figured now’s as good a time as any to step away and pursue other opportunities.”
Among the opportunities the resident of Oakland, California is looking to pursue is in the mobility and autonomous car industry. It makes sense to him geographically and in other ways.
“At the moment, I’ve been pretty busy managing a very valuable car collection for a Silicon Valley guy,” van Overbeek said. “With my proximity to Silicon Valley and having a lot of linkages to Silicon Valley — and then with this sort of new wave of mobility and specifically, autonomous cars — being able to work for a manufacturer or supplier in that space is something I’m very interested in. Because transportation as we know it — big and small — is changing. I’d like to be a part of that in some way, shape or form.”
While this will be the end of his full-time driving career, van Overbeek hasn’t ruled out a return to the cockpit for selected events. He’s got too much love for the sport to totally walk away.
“My love for driving remains,” he said. “I will still do the occasional race. If the right opportunity for an endurance ride comes along, I’d certainly take a look at it. I’ve been spoiled. I’ve had the luxury of being in top-end cars. It’s really from a safety perspective. When I go out on track in a Patrón Ligier, I don’t have to worry that it’s got an old part on it.
“My interest is only in equipment that is good and properly maintained by a good team. What I’m really retiring from is racing at a full-time level. Doing it on the side or for fun, occasionally, I’d still like to be involved because I still love the sport.”
The WeatherTech Raceway victory was van Overbeek’s 15th IMSA win. That total also includes an overall victory in the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona and two overall wins in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, which rank among many career highlights.
“I started out pretty late as a driver,” van Overbeek recalled. “Although I raced go-karts, it was kind of when my dad had extra time and money and it was always kind of a bit of an afterthought. But the first thing that sticks in my mind was sort of putting the pieces together and realizing, ‘Well, if I could raise the money to go race and then find a team and basically create the opportunity.’ So, I would say the first big memory is being successful in raising money to start racing back in ’96. That was a win like no other, when your dream becomes reality, again, through hard work and effort.
“On the track, you always remember the wins. The first win with Flying Lizard’s, sort of, career as a team at Mid-Ohio with Darren Law in 2004 against a factory Porsche team was very rewarding. But I have to say, winning Daytona overall and Sebring twice overall are probably highlights. Those are two races that were just outside my realm of possibility when I started racing because I started off racing GT cars.
“I just didn’t have the imagination to think I could win one of those races overall. Being able to do it and win Sebring twice, it’s truly a dream come true.”
Van Overbeek will look to add one more win — which would be his third Petit Le Mans victory — in the No. 22 Nissan DPi alongside co-drivers Derani and Timo Bernhard.
Live television coverage of Motul Petit Le Mans begins Saturday, Oct. 13 at 10:30 a.m. ET on FS1, with continuing coverage on FS2 from 12 p.m. ET through the checkered flag. Live IMSA Radio coverage also will be available on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio (Sirius 119/XM 202/App 972).