Cadillac Racing announced Sept. 20 its driver roster for the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season — the first for the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class. Reigning IMSA DPi champion Pipo Derani will co-drive an Action Express Racing-prepared Cadillac V-LMDh car with Alexander Sims, while Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande return as co-drivers of a Chip Ganassi Racing-prepared Cadillac V-LMDh.
Sims and Derani met with the media Sept. 20th
YOU’VE HAD A RELATIONSHIP WITH GM ON THE CORVETTE SIDE. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS OPPORTUNITY WITH THE CADILLAC V-LMDH?
“I’m super-excited about this opportunity. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind situation since Le Mans, which ended in disappointment when things were going the right way for us with Corvette. Speaking to (GM sports car racing program manager) Laura (Wontrop Klauser) after the race about how things went and she put us in touch with Action Express and conversations went pretty positive from the start. I was able to get over to Atlanta to do a test with Pipo and the team. It was a short day in the DPi car, but it was a wonderful thing to drive. Everything went well thankfully, and we were able to agree to things for next year, which is an absolute dream come true from my point of view. I’m really looking forward to the challenge. I’m joining an incredibly experienced group of people at Action Express – a group of engineers and Pipo who have had success in the past – and hopefully I can learn quickly from them and slot in and do a decent job.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT PUTTIG YOUR SOLE FOCUS ON SPORTS CAR RACING AFTER DOING FORMULA E?
“I’m really looking forward to it. I don’t think I shied away from the fact that Formula E has been an interesting time for me, but ultimately concluded that it’s not the championship that fits with me in a sporting sense. I couldn’t get my head around it and ultimately didn’t want to be there anymore and wanted to get back to IMSA racing. To be in this position to basically get exactly what I wanted and be racing in the top class for the first time is genuinely a dram come true. I loved the two years that I did in IMSA – the most enjoyable form of racing that I’ve done. The rules format tends to keep you in the races if you’re struggling, if you’ve had issues there are so many times where you can get back in the race after a hiccup. And even if you’re in a strong position and you’re fast, it’s unlikely that you’re ever just going to sail away for two hours ahead of the field. There’s always going to be safety cars, there’s always going to be close racing to keep you on your toes.”
ARE YOU NOW EXCLUSIVE TO GM OR DO YOU STILL HAVE A DEAL WITH BMW?
“That’s yet to be fully decided, but my absolute main focus is going to be IMSA with Cadillac.”
WERE YOU PURSUING THIS AS YOUR PRIMARY FOCUS?
“This has been my sole focus, honestly. This year and last year that I raced with Corvette was a great introduction to the GM Racing program. All the people on it were a joy to work with. Obviously, the teams are different but the people at the top are the same and to be able to continue working with them is my goal.”
WAS MAKING THE MOVE TO THE TOP LEVEL A PRIORITY FOR YOU?
“Honestly, it wasn’t the main priority when deciding to leave Formula E. The priority was to get back to racing that I enjoyed, which was racing in IMSA. If that were in GT or prototypes, the same fulfillment in that criteria would have been there. When prototypes were discussed, the opportunity for a race driver is pretty exciting to run in the top class of any championship. It’s been a while since I’ve driven a prototype. I drove LMP2 in ALMS and a few WEC races quite a few years ago. The more higher downforce driving is something that’s not too far away from my current situation, but obviously driving in Formula E is somewhat different. To get back to higher downforce, fast racing where you’re generally always going to be the leader in terms of speed of class, not having to look into your mirrors always – which is a little bit of a challenge in a GT car – is going to be nice and focus forward. I’m going to need that focus because things come up pretty fast in these cars; they’re super quick. It’s a bit of an adjustment period in these test days we’ve got, but that’s the reason why we’ve got them and I’ll get up to speed for the first race.”
ARE THERE SOME THING YOU LEARNED IN FORMULA E THAT MIGHT BE ADVANTAGEOUS TO THE LMDH CAR?
“In terms of not getting my head around it, it’s just in terms of being able to achieve top performance consistently. With four years in Formula E with two different manufacturers, I’ve gone through quite an extensive development process with both of them. Understood quite a few things about the systems that are used in Formula E, which probably gives me just a decent technical base knowledge. I’m under no illusions that LMDh GTP racing is not Formula E. Hybrid systems have some similarities to a full electric drive, but there’s not the same as well. They have their own set of challenges. I’m not coming into this that I know all and can teach people how to do their jobs. I guess it just helps when some engineers are having discussions about various systems and the way some things work, I guess I have a bit of a head start and might the basics of how things are working. There are a lot of challenges. You don’t stop learning. So far, it’s proven useful at times to have some knowledge of electric drive systems.”
HOW HAS PIPO HELPED YOU DURING TESTING?
“It’s one of those things where you’re never quite sure until you start driving, and I tend to have a bit of self-doubt sometimes. Although I raced at a decent level ion F3 some years back, driven GTs and Formula E, I was thinking I hope this comes back to me quickly. Thankfully, it all did. It’s not like I’m a sorted, polished driver in every aspect in high downforce racing just yet but the basics are coming back. Pipo has been really helpful in being able to ask and giving honest answers about some of the challenges and whatever hurdle I’m facing during testing. It generally tends to be small things, but it’s small things that we have to focus on to optimize our performance to be right at the front which is what we want to do.”
ANY MEMORABLE COMPETITIVE RACES AGAINST EACH OTHER IN F3?
“I couldn’t believe when we looked back at the Vallelunga race that I couldn’t remember racing (Derani). We must not have been together on track. But I do remember Macua, following (Derani) for far too many laps not being able to pass. That was quite frustrating.”
HOW EXCITED ARE YOU TO WELCOME ALEX TO THE TEAM AND GET GOING WITH THE CADILLAC V-LMDH?
“Alex has been a guy that I raced against in Formula 3, so we’ve known each other for a little while. Lots of respect, so whenever his name showed up and when he tested it definitely was a no-brainer. Whenever the team asked what I thought about him, I said, ‘Yeah, go for it. He’s very good.’ I think he’s going to help us a lot over the development of the new car with his electric and hybrid experience. That’s a plus as well, having Alex come on board with so much experience. We’ve started testing already the new car and it’s great to see you can develop basically from scratch and put your input into every single detail of what’s going to possibly be the most exciting time in endurance racing over the next few years. Looking forward to it. We have one more race with the DPi, so I’m going to be looking to enjoy. It’s a car that has had so much success. It’s a car that has given me one Sebring win, one Petit, an overall championship and an endurance championship, so it was a great time in my career to have had the chance to drive the Cadillac DPi-V.R. Trying to enjoy the last race at Petit, which is a very special race and nice track to be at for a farewell drive – if I can put it like that. Trying to enjoy that moment and very much looking forward to what the future brings. Me and Alex have had a little experience already driving and going testing with the new car and so far whatever we share has been very positive. And it’s good we can get to do that in a non-pressure environment and get to learn each other, what we want from each other and what we can improve on to become a strong pairing of drivers for the Action Express Cadillac GTP program next year.”
HOW ARE YOU ADJUSTING TO THE VARIETY OF CO-DRIVERS?
“I think it’s going to be great to have Alex onboard. Over the last three years before the beginning of this year it was pretty straightforward with Felipe (Nasr). We developed a relationship form the very beginning testing and even before the season of 2019 started. That relationship as a racing partner just evolved over the three years, and it got to the point where it was very good. I think once you start that relationship from the very beginning, it’s easy to develop and improve as a pair for the better result. It’s definitely much harder to do that in the middle of the season like I had to do this year. It’s not ideal. Looking to the future now with Alex joining us and be able to be involved in the development and testing from the beginning like we have already, it’s just going to help. By the time we get to Daytona, I’m sure it’s going to be smooth, and we’ll be thinking only about performance. At the moment, I think it’s been going very well and we’re already into that phase of our relationship. His driving style is in a way similar to mine, which is a help. We seem to get more or less the same things from the car to go quick and it’s been quite a pleasure to be sharing and learning from him as well things he’s going to bring on to the program from experiences he’s had from other series. And I’m sure from his side as well getting a little updated to the high downforce cars, which I’ve been driving over the last four years. So, I think it’s a plus and plus that we can use from each other and be strong from the very beginning of next season. I’m looking forward to that. Whatever happened over the course of 2022 was not ideal. But, nevertheless, in difficult moments I was always focused on trying to do the best I could for the team, and I believe I was able to do that. Now looking forward to the future.”
HOW CAN YOU HELP OR DOES ALEX NEED TO BE BROUGHT ALONG MORE QUICKLY IN GETTING UP TO SPEED WITH THE PROTOTYPES?
“I think it’s more fine tuning. He’s been driving Formula E, which doesn’t have as much downforce. He was brought up racing Formula 3 in Europe, where it’s a very high downforce car and the driving style is very similar to the DPi and the new Cadillac V-LMDh GTP car. Really, the first test he was asking a couple of things. But you can see that the guy who’s had the formation he’s had in his early days definitely pays dividends whenever he jumps into a high downforce car. It’s almost like riding a bicycle. It took him just a couple of laps and he was up there already. I think he wanted to ask me a few questions just to make me feel important. He’s been doing great. He’s got it pretty much sorted.”
ANY MEMORABLE COMPETITIVE RACES AGAINST EACH OTHER IN F3?
“There’s a funny story we were discussing. 2013 wasn’t an easy year for my team, but I was telling Alex that I had a strong weekend at Vallelunga in Italy. Actually, that was the strongest weekend I had all year. We had three races per weekend back then and I had two podiums and started on the front row over a 32-car grid or something. He said, ‘No way, that was my strongest weekend as well.’ We checked and found pictures of us sharing the podium twice on that same weekend. And in Macau, where I think we finished one after another in 2013. It’s good pictures to have.”