GTP Champ Derani Heads Kickoff To Roar Testing

Derani

Pipo Derani in action Friday with the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing entry at Daytona Int'l Speedway. (IMSA photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Fifty-nine car and driver combinations took to the track at Daytona Int’l Speedway Friday to mark the start of the new season with Roar Before the Rolex 24 test sessions for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Defending Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class champion Pipo Derani set the overall pace, lapping the 3.56-mile Daytona road course that incorporates the iconic NASCAR banking in 1 minute, 35.217 seconds (134.598 mph) with the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac Racing Cadillac V-Series.R.

Derani’s fast lap came during the second of Friday’s 90-minute practices.

The time was exactly four tenths of a second faster than Nick Tandy managed in session one in the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport Porsche 963, and .377 seconds better than the next-best session two lap, achieved by Connor De Phillippi in the No. 25 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8.

Derani actually turned three laps late in session two that eclipsed De Phillippi’s best.

“It’s just getting back to the rhythm,” Derani remarked. “Everyone has been on holidays – well not on holidays, but just trying to prepare for the comeback. Like I’ve said before, you’ve got to be on your toes. It was a good day, but you’ve got to keep digging.

“It’s great to be back,” he added. “I think the three of us (Derani and co-drivers Jack Aitken and defending Rolex 24 winner Tom Blomqvist) are running fairly similar, and we want the same thing from the car. We still have our program to go through, but we are ticking those boxes and hopefully we’ll be as ready as we can for the race week.”

Katherine Legge posted the best lap of the day among all GT cars, also topping the Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) class in session one.

She took advantage of the cool initial late-morning conditions to extract a 1:46.289 lap (120.577 mph) out of the No. 66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3 she shares with Sheena Monk, Tatiana Calderon and Stevan McAleer.

“A very good start for us,” Legge said. “Obviously, nobody necessarily wants to win practice, but I think it’s a good omen that we have the speed to be competitive next week which is when it counts. With a twin-turbo engine and it being cold this morning, we were as fast as I think we are going to be.

“We wanted to see what it was going to be like, and I think we’re in the mix.”

Jan Heylen was the fastest GTD driver in session two at 1:46.741 (120.066 mph) in the No. 120 Porsche 911 GT3 R (992) fielded by Wright Motorsports that is carrying a livery representing “Chip Hart Racing” for an upcoming Apple Original Films production starring Brad Pitt.

Meanwhile, Ford’s ambitious program for the new Mustang GT3 got off to a good start, with Christopher Mies’ 1:46.494 lap (120.345 mph) in session two topping the GTD PRO class.

It was also a good day for Italian manufacturers, as Lamborghini ran one-two in GTD PRO in session one, headed by Matteo Cressoni in Iron Lynx Racing’s No. 60. Ferrari was also represented in the top three in both GTD classes in both sessions.

In the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class, emerging open-wheel star Christian Rasmussen was quickest in the No. 18 Era Motorsport ORECA LMP2 07 at 1:39.674 (128.579 mph) in session two.

“Very happy to start off the week like this – that’s always what you want,” Rasmussen said. “We improved the car a lot for session two. We’ll keep on working at it and see what we can do for the race.

“It’s one thing to put down a lap that’s fast, but we need to have a race car that’s works well over the course of a stint or a race.”

Roar Before the Rolex 24 activities continue at Daytona for the next two days. Saturday’s action features three test sessions for the WeatherTech Championship, including two hours of nighttime track time, while Sunday is highlighted by qualifying for the Rolex 24 starting at 1:55 p.m. ET.

Those looking to watch Sunday’s qualifying can stream the action live on Peacock and IMSA.tv.

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