DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Drivers contending for championships occasionally say they prefer to be trailing the leader heading into the final races of the season.
The theory is that drivers who trail in points have more options, are able to be more aggressive, and can react to what’s happening to the championship leader.
Pipo Derani knows the theory. He’s living it now, no matter how much he wishes he weren’t.
“I think people say that for a reason,” Derani said. “You go in and you’ve got nothing to lose. You go in flat out. You don’t think about championships when you’re 12 points behind like we are. You just go in and try to win the next two races. (But) if there’s a preference, it’s always to be leading the championship.”
Derani is third in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Daytona Prototype international driver standings, 12 points behind co-leaders Ryan Briscoe and Renger van der Zande, heading into this weekend’s Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. It’s the penultimate race of the 2020 season.
Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves, who share the No. 7 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05 DPi, are in second place, four points ahead of Derani.
The No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R that Derani shares with Felipe Nasr is third in the entry standings.
Derani and Nasr are trailing because of a controversial collision Oct. 17 between Derani and Taylor during the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
The No. 31 car shared by Derani, Nasr and Filipe Albuquerque came into the race trailing the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Konica Minolta Cadillac shared by Briscoe, van der Zande and Scott Dixon by three points, but the crash late in the 10-hour race – with Taylor attempting to overtake Derani for the race lead – opened the way for the No. 10 to win and for Briscoe and van der Zande to expand their lead in the driver standings.
Derani confronted Taylor in the pits after the crash, but Derani said Tuesday that the two haven’t talked since. Derani and Nasr have vowed to return to their aggressive strategy when Sunday’s two-hour, 40-minute race begins at 4:05 p.m. ET.
“It’s definitely harder with the outcome of the last race,” said Derani, who wound up fifth at Michelin Raceway. “But if there’s one thing you guys can be sure of, it’s that we’re never going to lift one percent off the throttle. … We’re going to try our best to win the last two races. If we are first, second or last in the championship, that’s how we go racing.”
The season concludes with the 68th annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts on Nov. 14 at Sebring Int’l Raceway.
Winning the final two races is the goal now for Derani and Nasr.
“The last race pretty much put us on our back foot,” Nasr said. “To be consistent in this championship is always key. Having a race (finish) outside the top three can hurt a lot when you’re in the hunt for the championship. All we’ve got to do now is the best we can do on track. We’re definitely going to fight for those two wins. That’s all we can do.”
Slower pit stops than the competition is an issue the team is hoping to resolve in the final two races.
“We have been really aggressive for one reason and one reason only, which is the fact that unfortunately we have a slower pit stop than our competitors,” Derani said. “If you look at Mid-Ohio, we came in on the lead and lost it on the pit. The last two pit stops of the race at Petit, we lost on the pit. We have to be a little bit aggressive if we want to try to win races. That’s how it is.”
Nasr said he expects the Acuras and Mazdas to be faster than the Cadillacs at WeatherTech Raceway, but added that his team will try everything to get an advantage at the 11-turn, 2.238-mile circuit in northern California.
“I can tell you, man, that we are working on everything from the engineering side,” Nasr said. “We’ve got a great group of guys working on the (No.) 31 Whelen Engineering car. In the last two races, we’ve been the fastest Cadillac out there.
“We can’t control what just happened. It would’ve been up to the fight the last two races, but in my mind now, we just have to go out there and give the best we can.”
In other words, leading the standings would be ideal, but coming from behind is the revised goal.
“That’s no question,” Derani said. “For us, it’s going to work out (the other way). We’re going to go in with no pressure in both races and see what the outcome is after Sebring. But I definitely would’ve preferred to go into the last two races leading the championship.”