Last Three DPi Champions Have Been Seventh or Lower in Standings after Two Races
By Jeff Olson
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The plan, simply put, is to win as many races as possible.
Pipo Derani and teammate Tristan Nunez are 40 points behind in the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) standings after the first two races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season. It’s a position the Action Express Racing team has experienced before.
Last time it happened, it resulted in a championship.
Derani and then-teammate Felipe Nasr opened the 2021 season by finishing sixth in class in both the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts before rallying to win the championship.
This year, Derani and Nunez finished fourth at Daytona and third at Sebring in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R. That has them trailing co-leaders Tristan Vautier and Richard Westbrook in the No. 5 JDC Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi-V.R.
“Last year was a little bit chaotic in the beginning for us,” Derani said Tuesday. “I’d like to think this year has started smoother than last year. … Last year it was hard to overcome a difficult start, but this year … we’re much closer to the championship leaders than we were last year.”
Rallying from a points deficit has become a trademark of the DPi championship. In 2020, Acura Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor were eighth in the DPi standings after the first two races but won four of five to claim the championship.
In 2019, Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya were seventh in points after Sebring but finished third at Long Beach to start a run of seven consecutive podium finishes on the way to the championship for Team Penske.
Last year, Derani and Nasr were seventh after the Sebring race. The start of their recovery happened at Mid-Ohio SportsCar Course and continued through the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, which was rescheduled to September.
This time, Long Beach is back to its spring date (April 8-9) and several teams are looking to begin their come-from-behind efforts there.
“There’s no philosophy in starting slow and trying to finish strong,” Derani said. “A championship is built not only on the second half of the season but on trying to make sure you get points early on, as well.”
Derani and Nunez aren’t the only ones angling for a championship surge in Long Beach. Two Acuras – the No. 10 Konica Minolta ARX-05 co-driven by Taylor and Filipe Albuquerque and the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian co-driven by Oliver Jarvis and Tom Blomqvist – are in second and third places, respectively, behind the No. 5 Cadillac.
The Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs – the No. 02 co-driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn and the No. 01 co-driven by Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande – also are in the early points mix. The No. 02 overcame several late dramas to win at Sebring on March 19. The No. 01 took the Motul Pole Award at Sebring and has shown tremendous pace, but mechanical issues have hampered the car and dropped it to seventh in the DPi standings – exactly where the 2019 and 2021 champions sat after two races.
The key is to get the most out of what you have in each race the rest of the way.
“The championship is so strong,” Derani said. “We try to maximize points when we can. If we can’t win, then we try to take second or third or fourth. That’s what we’ve done already this year.”
Practice and qualifying for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach take place Friday, April 8. The 100-minute race featuring the DPi, GTD PRO and GT Daytona (GTD) classes airs live at 5 p.m. ET Saturday, April 9 on USA Network and IMSA Radio.