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Déjá Louis: Deletraz’s Winning Drive Reminiscent of Derani’s IMSA Arrival

WTRAndretti Driver’s Charge to Sebring Victory Evokes Memories of Similar Scenario that Propelled Brazilian’s Career


By John Oreovicz


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Cadillac was won via a daring pass by a young pilot who initially made his mark in the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) before parlaying that success into an endurance race role and finally a full-time seat in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.


But wait. Are we talking about Sebring 2016 or Sebring 2024?


In 2016, that driver was Pipo Derani, who the prior year when he was more widely known as Luis Felipe Derani, won at Spa-Francorchamps and finished third in the WEC LMP2 standings in his first full season racing sports cars. That earned the Brazilian, then 22, a shot as an endurance driver in IMSA with the Tequila Patron ESM team, which fielded a Ligier-Honda LMP2-based entry for regular drivers Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek. Joined by team owner Ed Brown, they were victorious in Derani’s IMSA debut at the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona.


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It was at Sebring seven weeks later when Derani really made an impact. He drove nearly half of the punishing 12-hour race, which included a lengthy red flag for lightning (the opposite of Sebring 2024’s perfect weather). Derani was in the car for the final stint and held an eight-second lead when a full-course caution interrupted the proceedings with 45 minutes to go. Knowing that the No. 2 Ligier-Honda would require a longer pit stop than the competing Corvette Daytona Prototypes (DP) fielded by Action Express Racing (AXR), the Patron ESM crew also changed tires.



Running seventh for the restart, Derani moved up to fourth before another full-course caution put things on pause. Racing resumed with just over 12 minutes remaining, and Derani wasted little time. He passed Filipe Albuquerque in the No. 5 Action Express car for second place into the hairpin with a little under eight minutes left, then repeated the move on leader Dane Cameron in the No. 31 AXR Corvette the next time around. When the checkered flag flew, Derani had a 2.926-second margin of victory.


“Unbelievable!” gasped an exhausted Derani, after taking a swig of orange juice for the TV cameras in Victory Lane. “I’m still out of breath. I’m so tired I can barely remember.”


If Derani couldn’t recall what happened at the end, his teammates did and spoke for him.


“I didn’t think we had the speed at the end, but he showed them all that we did,” said Sharp. “Obviously, Pipo did awesome, an incredible job.”


Eight Years Later, Deletraz Repeats the Feat


Now eight years later and a two-time WeatherTech Championship top prototype champion, 12-time race winner and ironically driver for Action Express in the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R, Derani realizes how that monumental victory affected the trajectory of his career.


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“Some people, with truth, said we won Daytona only because the car was so good,” he said. “That’s fair because you don’t get to win such a big race without a good car. Then, because we won Sebring because I did a very strong job at the end, I believe is what cemented myself as a new, young and perhaps up-and-coming star to the sport.


“It was for me a career-changing moment because up until that moment I was nobody. I was racing in Europe; I had done a year of WEC that went really well. It was my first two races in America and had been in a moment when I had just turned pro. So, I went from someone who had a dream of being a professional to then becoming a professional and immediately when that happened, I managed to win two of the most prestigious races you have around the world. That helped cement my name and push me to where I am now. I would say Sebring ’16 was a very special one.”


Could that same scenario be playing out now after Louis Deletraz made his own amazing charge to victory in an eerily similar fashion at the 2024 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring just nine days ago?


The Swiss ace won consecutive LMP2 championships in the European Le Mans Series before adding the 2023 WEC LMP2 title to his resume. Deletraz made three IMSA LMP2 starts in ’22, taking a win at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca with John Farano for Tower Motorsports. That caught the eye of stalwart IMSA team owner Wayne Taylor, who tapped Deletraz as the endurance driver for the No. 10 Acura ARX-06 Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) entry in the 2023 WeatherTech Championship.


Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti showed its confidence in the relative newcomer by entrusting Deletraz to qualify the No. 10 Acura for the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. He promptly put the car on pole position in challenging wet/dry conditions, briefly elevating the team into the GTP championship lead in the process.


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WTRAndretti has expanded to two GTP entries for Acura in 2024. His 2023 endurance performances earned Deletraz a plum full-season seat alongside Jordan Taylor, joined by IndyCar star Colton Herta for the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup races. At Sebring, Deletraz got the call to take the anchor stint, with the No. 40 in contention for the win.


At the start of the final hour, after climbing back into the No. 40 a final time, Deletraz dispatched Felipe Nasr in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963 for second place. Aided by slightly fresher tires, he then hounded leader Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 01 Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R. With six minutes to go, he feinted to the outside at the same Sebring hairpin before making a very late dive to the inside of Bourdais – a move reminiscent of Derani’s passes in 2016 – and held the advantage out of the corner.


From there, the Cadillac and the Acura made light contact at least three times through the ensuing series of turns before Deletraz was able to achieve some breathing room. He crossed the finish line 0.891 seconds ahead of Bourdais.


“I can’t say enough about what Louis did in the last stint to bring it home,” Herta said. “The type of pressure he was under, being able to perform through it and put on a pretty spicy move on Seb.”


“Louis’ closing stint is what made the difference today,” Jordan Taylor added. “The team did a good job to keep us in the fight, but he really fought for that win and got it for us.”


Remember the Name


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Until his recent rise, racing fans were vaguely familiar with the Deletraz name through his father Jean-Denis, who started three Formula 1 races in the mid-1990s prior to a respectable sports car career that included nine WEC race wins and a pair of class victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.


Already a Sebring winner at 26, Louis was asked if he thought his memorable final stint was the kind of performance that would propel him to stardom the likes of which Derani has reached.


“I think it’s not up to me to say that,” he smiled. “I’m very happy and very proud. To do it with the team that gave me an opportunity a year ago, brought me to the team as an (endurance) driver, gave me a chance to go full-time, gave me my first factory drive … I’m very thankful to be able to achieve that together.


“It means a lot,” he added. “I think winning this coming here was an objective, but for sure it was going to be hard work. To do it this way means really a lot.

Jordan and Colton didn’t do any mistakes, gave me the car up there, then I could fight. Obviously with them having won so much in their career, having them by my side, I can learn from different categories and keep improving.


“That’s always the goal in the end.”