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