IMSA: ESM’s Sebring win ended roller coaster day on a high note

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Tequila Patron ESM’s day at the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring can be described in two words: roller coaster.

The team entered Sebring looking to rebound from a disappointing Rolex 24 at Daytona – the Nos. 2 and 22 Nissan Onroak DPi entries fell out early on after running near the front – and qualifying showed that the team had plenty of speed in hand to do so, their No. 2 machine qualifying second and the No. 22 in fourth.

However, the race saw things nearly fall apart for them in Turn 1, Lap 1 when Olivier Pla, in the No. 2 machine, tried an outside pass on polesitter Tristan Vautier in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R. Pla tried to pinch Vautier against the inside barrier, but Vautier held his ground and the two collided, sending Pla sliding off the outside of the corner.

While the slide itself was somewhat innocent, the contact did terminal damage to the car’s gearbox. After Pla limped back around to the pits, the ESM team quickly took the car into the paddock area to further investigate, only to have no choice but to retire the car soon afterward.

That left the team’s hopes for victory alone in the hands of the No. 22 entry, shared by Pipo Derani, Johannes van Overbeek, and Nicolas Lapierre, a seemingly daunting task given the strength of the Prototype field.

However, while many of their competitors stumbled – both Acura Team Penske cars dropped out with mechanical failures, Wayne Taylor Racing battled overheating issues, Mazda Team Joest was plagued with clutch issues in their No. 55 RT-24P, and Action Express saw their No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac spin with the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson – ESM was able to keep things clean and keep the No. 22 machine near the front.

And when Pipo Derani got around Felipe Nasr for the lead with less than two hours remaining, he was able to rocket away into the darkness and give the team it’s second Sebring victory in three years.

“Just Unbelievable. It’s the second victory in three attempts. It’s amazing. From 2016, to having a problem last year, and coming back to win is just amazing,” said an elated Derani, who also helped lead the team to victory in 2016, making a late-charge from fourth to first in the final minutes that year.

Derani also dedicated the victory to his father, who is battling health issues.

“This victory goes to my dad who is watching us back in Brazil and is fighting for his health. I’m just so happy to be able to win and know that he’s watching my race. I just have to thank the entire team for giving me this opportunity to win again and win in front of him.”

Co-driver Johannes van Overbeek, also a part of the 2016 triumph, added that he feels the ESM team showed its true colors in fighting its way to victory.

“I think ESM proved its mettle today,” van Overbeek asserted. “A lot of teams and manufacturers had trouble. The Nissan power worked great all day, and the tires were great. My co-drivers did an amazing job. It was one of those races were everything fell into place when it needed to. We didn’t have any issues whatsoever, and I don’t even think there’s a scratch on the car. That’s the way it should be.”

The victory gives ESM its second endurance race victory in the last three races, the team having won the 2017 Motul Petit Le Mans with Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel, and Brendon Hartley in the No. 2 entry

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Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
James Gilbert/Getty Images
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.