The 2022 season has been challenging for defending champions in many forms of racing, including the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Pipo Derani, who teamed with Felipe Nasr to win the DPi class title in 2021, has battled through a difficult campaign this year in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.
Nasr joined Porsche Penske Motorsport this year to help develop the Porsche 963 LMDh prototype that will debut in IMSA’s new GTP class in 2023. Derani, meanwhile, has endured a bumpy ’22 campaign while continuing in the No. 31 Cadillac prepared by Action Express Racing.
He started the 2022 season with Tristan Nunez as his new co-driver. They were strong contenders in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts and had three third-place finishes in the first five races, but Olivier Pla replaced Nunez starting in June at the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic in Detroit. The Derani/Pla combination is also coming off a third-place result in the last round at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
“Coming in this year as the champ and having such a difficult year — changing teammates in the middle of the season — it hasn’t been easy,” said Derani, winner of 11 IMSA races.
“It’s been a reality check to what motorsport is. You have ups and downs during your career. Now we are heading into the last two races without a single chance at the championship, but I think it shows how the championship is so competitive you can’t have any weak link in the team whatsoever.”
Derani hasn’t thrown in the towel on the remainder of the season, however, especially since he and Nasr won last year at the next stop on the schedule: the IMSA Fastlane SportsCar Weekend at Road America.
“You are in one of the most competitive championships in the world,” Derani said. “IMSA right now is extremely competitive. Hopefully, we can be in the mix for a win either at Road America or Road Atlanta to finish the year on a strong note. As they say, you’re only as good as your last race.”
It’s difficult enough for a team to go through any change in the driver lineup, but Derani and the Action Express organization have experienced the transition twice in the space of six months.
Pla, a 40-year-old Frenchman, brings the effort a wealth of prototype racing experience and Derani believes the midseason driver switch has gone as well as could be expected.
“We welcomed Tristan at the beginning of the year, and it’s already in itself a difficult situation when you have to learn a new teammate,” Derani related. “It takes a little bit of time to adapt, and then not only that, we had a change in the middle of the season. You repeat the whole process again. When Olivier joined at Detroit, it’s obviously not a very easy track to join and get to learn a new team.
“Instead of focusing on details, you’re focusing on getting the driver who’s in the car up to speed quickly,” he added. “You’re starting on the back foot already. In such a competitive championship, this can’t happen.”
Qualifying has not been a strong point for the No. 31 Cadillac, with a single front-row start at Sebring and an average starting berth of fifth. But Derani doesn’t think pure pace has been the problem.
“We’re definitely not missing speed; we’ve been close to a couple of pole positions this year that just didn’t materialize, and we led more than 50 percent of the Twelve Hours of Sebring,” Derani noted. “It’s details that make a huge difference when it counts at the very end to have the strong result that we have missed. I would say that’s down to not being fully in sync with one another, especially on the driver front.
“We’re working hard on that, and I hope we can have a strong finish to the season. … There are only two shots (remaining) at showing that we are able to do that, but I think if we put everything together, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be where we belong.”
Practice at Road America begins Friday, with qualifying streaming live at 11:55 a.m. ET Saturday on IMSA.com/TVLive. The two-hour, 40-minute race starts at 11:40 a.m. Sunday on Peacock and IMSA Radio, with USA Network TV coverage joining at noon.