How To Win The Rolex 24, From The Guy Who Just Vaporized The Daytona Track Record
“If they can get on top of some of their issues, such as reliability, then they will be a very, very formidable opponent. At Indianapolis, the factory Penske Porsches just switched their tires on so much faster than anyone else, and were crazy quick compared to the rest of the GTP field.”
“The DPi was more of a raw race car. The harder you pushed, the faster you went. It was that simple. Minimum speed on the corners was also much higher than in the GTP, which can feel quite long and lazy at times.
“The DPi and the GTP aren’t too dissimilar in terms of outright speed, but how they achieve these speeds is definitely different,” he says. “The DPi had a 580 bhp, 5.5L V8. However, the car weighed just 930 kilograms, which is 100 kg less than the GTP. Whilst it was less powerful, its lightness made it more nimble.
The 2024 running of the Rolex 24 is also set to be the biggest in its 58-year history with a total of 59 cars competing across four categories: GTP, LMP2, GTD Pro, and GTD.
… and it’s wonderful. If you have even the tiniest drop of petrol coursing through your veins, it’ll make you smile.
Despite having driven the GTP car for more than a year now, Derani illustrates that the hybrid MGU system makes the No. 31 more challenging to drive than its predecessor, the DPi. In terms of the Cadillac GTP’s layout, this small electric motor sits at the rear of the car between the thunderous 5.5-litre naturally-aspirated V8 and eight-speed gearbox.
The first leg of endurance racing’s unofficial Triple Crown (the following two events being the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans respectively), the Rolex 24 has been a key fixture on the international motorsport calendar since 1962. The event also historically marks the open season for motorsport in North America.
“With the GTP, it’s almost like you have to drive under the limit to be quick. I find this intriguing, because there is so much you can extract purely by thinking. Now when racing, you have to have a little more brain power to understand all of the tools these cars have like the hybrid system, for example. Once you grasp how they work, you can adjust them to your liking, which eventually translates into faster lap times.
“Even for me as a driver sitting inside the car where it’s not as loud and we’re wearing all of our protective gear, the sound gives me goosebumps whenever I start it. Whatever happens at this year’s Rolex 24, you can be sure that Cadillac will still have the best sounding car there…”
Undoubtedly, the racing driver playing down their expectations ahead of a race is almost a cliché. At least it is where I’m from. For sure. Yet throughout the conversation, Derani seems genuinely unsure as to where Cadillac and AXR stand in the Daytona pecking order. At the time of writing, it’s a question that will be answered within five days.
It’s a refreshing admission from a racing driver, who, in Europe, would most likely trot out a non-committal line preceded by a “for sure”.
I’m from the United Kingdom, and I absolutely love endurance racing. Both IMSA and the LM24 are my biggest loves in motorsport. In fact, they have been so for around a decade now. The names, the stories, the unpredictability, big brain energy, and a rumbling, throaty V8 stir me in a way that Formula 1 outright fails to do.
Public service announcement over, now allow me to make a motorsport confession.
Both Cadillac V.Racing.R cars – the red AXR No. 31, and the sister gold car run by Chip Ganassi Racing – scored one victory apiece. The Meyer Shank Acura ARX-03 claimed three wins; the two Penske Porsches 963s made three trips to the top step of the podium between them, whilst the RLL-prepared BMW M Hybrid V8 won the Six Hours of Watkins Glen.
On January 19, the Rolex 24 started with its traditional “Roar Before The 24″ event. Over two days, competing drivers took part in six practice sessions, culminating in a 15 minute qualifying race on January 21 to determine the grid for the 62nd running of this iconic event, which begins at 1:40 p.m. EST on January 27 and will conclude 24 hours later. Pipo Derani dominated those proceedings, destroying the previous track record and setting his Cadillac at the front of the grid next to two other Cadillac entries.
“With 59 cars this year, all of us will be in survival mode,” he continues. “At Daytona, it’s only in the last six hours when the puzzle of the race starts coming together, and you start to work out what piece you are, and the game of on-track chess begins!”
Despite scoring one race win to the three of the winningest car of the season – the Meyer Shank Racing Acura ARX-06 shared between Tom Blomqvist and Colin Brown – the No 31 crew’s ability to bank points big or small when it mattered saw them come out on top come season end.
Little wonder, then, that in 2024’s automotive world of turbocharging, downsizing, and full electrification, the Cadillac’s unapologetic nature has already made it a living legend.
Since 2019, the podium has eluded Derani at Daytona. Yet with Blomqvist replacing Sims in the No. 31 Cadillac (don’t forget, the Briton is seeking his third straight Rolex 24 win after move to AXR for this season) and a second IMSA title under his could 2024 be when Derani joins the likes of Ken Miles, Kamui Kobayashi, and A.J. Foyt as a two-time winner of North America’s most celebrated endurance race?
In 2023, when DPi was dropped in favour of the oh-so-badass hybrid GTP cars, Derani took his second title. Championship number two came in the No. 31 AXR Cadillac V-Series.R at the Petit Le Mans season ender following an outstandingly consistent year from him and teammate Alexander Sims.
Born in 1993 in São Paulo, Brazil, Derani is a double IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship title winner, and he took his first championship with a Cadillac run by Action Express Racing – or “AXR” – in the series’ now-defunct top-flight DPi prototype category in 2021.
“To be honest, I don’t know,” Derani tells Jalopnik. “At Daytona, the biggest thing you need is luck. I could go on saying about preparation and dedication and hard work. Of course, these are a few necessary parts to win this race, but ultimately, you need a lot of luck, especially in the first three quarters of the race.
At the push of a button, the MGU can add up to 50 kilowatts – or 67 bhp – worth of extra power to the engine’s 671 bhp baseline. At Daytona last year, estimates show that the GTP class cars were producing around 40 additional horses thanks to the electronic witchcraft whirring away silently in the cars’ hind quarters.
“It’s a tricky track to get right for both drivers and engineers, because to get the speed down the straights, you need to remove aero. But to get the best out of the infield, which is very narrow, you need aero because you’re trailbreaking towards the apex of these corners and need a stable rear end to support the car whilst doing this.
Cope harder, Formula 1 fan, because the world’s finest motorsport series – the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – begins this weekend courtesy of the Rolex 24 at the Daytona International Speedway.
“Overall, then, the DPi and the GTP are two very different race cars requiring two different approaches. In terms of pure racing, I would say I prefer the DPi. However, I think it’s really cool that with the GTP, you can get the edge on another driver purely by being smarter than them.”
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In short, the GTP field ended up so close last season thanks to different chassis and tyre pairings performing better than their rivals depending on the track. Yet despite the teams having a year’s worth of knowledge about their cars and their characteristics under their belts, Porsche is proving to be Derani’s biggest headache heading into Daytona.
“Finally, you need a car that rotates mid-corner, because some of the infield corners are up to 180-degrees. Factor in the traffic, it’s all very difficult and very much an art of compromise. It’s very unique, because you’re asking the car to do so many things at the same time on one circuit.”
Despite AXR claiming the 2023 IMSA title, the GTP field was largely an even playing field with each manufacturer taking a win at some stage during the season. This plays into Derani’s upcoming thought about the racing set to take place a stone’s throw from Daytona Beach in a few weekends time.
With its narrow, twisty infield paired with an imposing oval section, the Daytona Sports Car course makes for an “unusual” track, with the remaining circuits on the 11- round IMSA calendar adopting a more traditional layout.
“You didn’t have to use your eyes to recognise them, and I think we’ve done the same thing with the Cadillac – it has that old school energy, and given that noise is a form of energy, I think that’s why it brings so much joy to our fans!
“In my opinion, getting the straights right at Daytona is the most important thing,” Derani explains. “If we’re able to minimise drag down those parts of the circuit, that’s where the name of the game will be because it gives you more top speed. Acura did this in 2023, and they were pretty much able to control the race whenever they wanted.
The all-American 5.5L V8 powering the “Caddy” snarls and growls. It’s loud, too. Very loud, actually. In fact, the noise is not too dissimilar to Neil Fallon in a lift shaft. When the Cadillac’s Internal Combustion Engine over from the silent MGU during a pitlane start, the aural assault is little short of explosive…
“With the GTP, it’s so much more complicated, because you really feel that extra weight from the hybrid system and its infrastructure. You need a much more refined driving style to be able to understand all of the transitions that are happening in the car under braking. The biggest of these is the regen to the battery, and then how it’s deployed back in terms of power under acceleration!
Derani knows how to win around the 3.5-mile Daytona Sports Car course. In fact, it’s where he scored his series debut victory in 2016. AXR knows how to win at Daytona, too. Until the North Carolina-based outfit became part of Cadillac’s factory GTP programme in 2023, the once-privateer outfit showed itself to be “the little team that could” thanks to three outright Rolex 24 wins in 2010, 2014, and 2018.
Between now and then, the-31 year-old is confident that despite whatever transpires over the 24 hours between January 27 and 28, the V.Series.R will once tug at the heartstrings of motorsport fans across the world, just as the car did when it first hit the track in testing mid-way through 2022.
Good for me then, really, as Jalopnik asked if I would like to interview Cadillac’s Pipo Derani for this Rolex 24 preview.
It’s not an unfounded concern. Far from it, actually. Porsche has won the Daytona outright a record-breaking 23 times. To put this mammoth achievement into perspective, its closest rival, Ford, has notched up six outright Daytona wins. Between 2017 and 2020, Cadillac scored four.
“It’s a happy car, isn’t it?!” Derani laughs. “I think with the way things are going, it’s very easy to forget the true essence of motorsport. If you go back in the day, you could instantly recognise a Ferrari V12. Even recently, with the Corvette C7.R, that car had its own unique sound.
“If you look throughout 2023, then the Porsche 963 was the car that showed the most promise in terms of speed,” Derani says. “They have a lot of resources, and they have a lot of experience from their LMP1 programme in the FIA World Endurance Championship, where they wonLe Mans every year from 2015 to 2017.