|Johannes van Overbeek|
He isn’t entirely sure how long he’s been doing it, but this Wednesday Johannes van Overbeek, driver of the No. 22 Nissan DPi for Tequila PatrÃ³n, will hop on a bicycle in San Jose and ride down to Monterey ahead of the America’s Tire 250 on Sunday, Sept. 24.
The two-hour, 40-minute IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race is the headline event of the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix and will be televised live on FS1 at 5 p.m. ET. IMSA Radio also will have live coverage on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio.
The Oakland, California resident estimates this could be the 10th year that he’s taken the pre-event bicycle ride.
“My dad used to live in San Jose, and the first year, he and I did it," van Overbeek says. “We rode from his house down to Monterey, but instead of just going out to the coast and down, we looked at the maps and picked a route that exists today.
“It’s just a beautiful mix of everything that’s great about the outdoors of California. There’s the Redwood Forest, there’s some stereotypical dry hills and oak trees, and then at the end, the bike trail by the ocean and the beach. At 70 or 80 miles, it’s a perfect representation of what California is all about."
He will lead a group of bicyclists that includes his co-driver, Pipo Derani, on what he characterized as “fairly leisurely, but difficult" ride with upwards of 4,000 feet of climbing. However, the group will not be quite as large a group as originally planned due to recent events at the team’s Riviera Beach, Florida headquarters.
“A lot of crew guys at ESM ride and this is something that we talked about nearly a year ago," van Overbeek explained. “Everyone was excited, people have been training for it, and then when Hurricane Irma came through, they boxed up the cars prematurely and sent them west, which means the day of the ride, a lot of those guys have to prep the car in anticipation for the race on Sunday. There was going to be something like 15 and now it’s probably going to be less than 10."
Regardless of the total number of bicyclists, once they get to the racetrack, van Overbeek and Derani will be riding the momentum of a breakthrough first victory for their No. 22 Nissan DPi. That victory came in the most recent WeatherTech Championship Prototype race, the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America on Aug. 6.
“Winning is sort of proof of concept," van Overbeek says. “It shows everybody that’s been putting in late hours and walking uphill for the last eight or nine months that we do have a package that’s capable of winning.
“There’s more work to be done, for sure, that’s just the nature of the beast, but at least it validates our package, our team, that we can contend for wins when we put all the pieces together. Now, it’s incumbent upon us that we put those pieces together on a more regular, consistent basis."
The opportunity to put those pieces together extends beyond the end of the 2017 WeatherTech Championship, which closes with the 10-hour Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 7. The team announced that Derani re-signed last month, while van Overbeek’s 2018 plans were confirmed earlier this month.
Van Overbeek knows they’ll face stiff competition next year, not only from many of the same teams and drivers they’ve been racing against this season, but new programs such as the Team Penske/Acura program and the Joest Racing-led Mazda operation.
“I’m excited about it," he said. “It feels like a renaissance in sports car racing. To have a front-row seat to this exciting new era is great. Nobody is under any illusions about the difficulty of the task ahead of us, but we do have a committed sponsor in PatrÃ³n and a partner in Nissan.
“The team is fired up. Part of it is, we don’t know what we don’t know yet in terms of what we’re going to face next year, but we’re ready to fight hard and do everything we need to do to be competitive."
But before that struggle begins, there’s the matter of Sunday’s race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to handle. Van Overbeek and Tequila PatrÃ³n ESM know what it’s like to win there – they did it in 2014 in a caution-free race with PatrÃ³n Spirits CEO Ed Brown as van Overbeek’s co-driver.
That history, coupled with the momentum the team has built recently, has to put the No. 22 team as a clear favorite to win, right? Not so fast.
“Any team of drivers in the Prototype class can win that race if they come across the right setup for that weekend," van Overbeek said. “For us, if we can get the setup so that we can use it to its fullest and take full advantage of the equipment we have, I think we have as good a shot as anybody.
“But if we miss or anybody else misses it, it’s such a fine line to get right. After Road America, we’re definitely feeling more optimistic about everything, but we haven’t run that car on that track, and we haven’t been to that track in a couple years, so we’re a little bit behind relative to some of our competitors."
They’ll get their first chance to get back on track on Friday with a pair of hour-long practice sessions, beginning at 10 a.m. PT and 2:50 p.m. PT, respectively. A third practice session opens Saturday’s schedule at 8 a.m. PT ahead of qualifying at 11:30 a.m. PT. IMSA.com will provide live coverage for every session.
Tickets for the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix are available at MazdaRaceway.com.