SEBRING, Fla. – Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani made a smooth transition from sports cars to Indy cars today at Sebring International Raceway. There’s a reason for that.
The 23-year-old Brazilian, who has dozens of Formula 3 races in Brazil and Europe as well as a six-race stint in the 2014 Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires on his extensive resume, tested James Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda on Sebring’s short course. During an afternoon break, he said he felt comfortable in his new, if somewhat familiar, surroundings.
“Going back to an open-wheel car is something really nice,” Derani (above) said. “Having the wind blowing in your face has a nice feeling to it. The team has done a really nice job helping me adapt since the first go. It’s been a nice experience.”
The test isn’t likely to lead to an immediate opportunity in the Verizon IndyCar Series – Derani is locked down for two sports car rides in 2017 – but it could lead to something in the future.
“I’m open to new things,” said Derani, who will compete in three races of the World Endurance Championship with Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK and in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Tequila Patron ESM. “I think this test will open a new door for me, but for now it’s just a test. I’m really happy that Sam (Schmidt, team co-owner) gave me a chance to test an Indy car. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for years.”
While Derani was testing his car, Hinchcliffe was in the middle of a car swap with longtime friend Robert Wickens, who drove the No. 5 Honda on Tuesday and again today as part of the swap. In turn, Hinchcliffe will drive Wickens’ DTM touring car in Italy after the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, on March 12 (noon ET, ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
“I’ve known him the better part of two decades,” Hinchcliffe said of Wickens. “We grew up racing go-karts together. He’s a couple of years younger than I am, but we ended up doing some (Champ Car) Atlantic together for a season, and then we did A1GP for a year or two. Then he was part of the Red Bull program and got shipped off to Europe and has been there ever since.”
Derani’s story is similar but with reverse geography. He made the transition from open-wheel racing to European sports car racing in 2014. He achieved victories last year in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, and made comparisons between sports cars and Indy cars after his morning session in Hinchcliffe’s car.
“It’s really very similar to sports cars,” he said. “When you look at the prototypes that run in WEC and IMSA, they’re very high-level cars already in terms of power and brakes. All in all, the biggest difference was the braking in comparison to an LMP2 car or an IMSA car. The brakes combined with the amount of grip the tires have makes the braking ability really, really good.”
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports also used this afternoon to test Luis Michael Dorrbecker (above left) in the No. 7 SMP Racing Honda normally driven by Mikhail Aleshin. Dorrbecker, a 24-year-old Mexican born in Germany, is also a veteran of European Formula 3 and Formula Renault 2000. He won the AutoGP championship in 2016.
Honda pleased with test results
Sixteen Verizon IndyCar Series cars tested Tuesday at Sebring. Today’s final day of the test – the last before the St. Pete opener – featured SPM’s cars and all four Andretti Autosport entries with the team’s full-season drivers. The test also featured some happy faces at Honda Performance Development after its newest addition, Chip Ganassi Racing, swept by unofficial accounts the top four positions on Tuesday’s time chart.
“We’ve had some pretty positive test results,” said Allen Miller, race team principal for HPD’s on-track activities in the Verizon IndyCar Series, IMSA and the Pirelli World Challenge. “We’re fairly happy with the direction we’re on. It’s looking good. It’s nice to see Ganassi running quickly and picking up on how to use the (aero) kit. These are pretty positive results so far, I’d say.”
Even top rivals within Honda were encouraged by the times recorded Tuesday by Scott Dixon, Charlie Kimball, Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan. The Ganassi team switched from Chevrolet to Honda in the offseason.
“Some of that was push-to-pass, but just by having time with the kit, all the Honda teams have stepped up,” said Marco Andretti (right), who took to the track today in his No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda. “The power source is good. One step at a time.”
Hinchcliffe, who led SPM’s two-car effort Tuesday, echoed Andretti’s thoughts.
“Everybody with an ‘H’ on their car is going to benefit from (Ganassi) swapping over,” Hinchcliffe said. “Their expertise and experience is already showing. It’s already making us stronger as a unit.”