Emanuele Pirro: career memories

Probably the best day of my life was the day I sat in a race car and first realised that I had actually become the professional race driver I had always dreamed of being.

I started out my career in karting at the age of eleven and spent six years racing them. I competed in two world championships that Ayrton Senna also drove in and we became good friends. Later in my career I was actually crazy enough to propose him as my team mate when I drove in the European Formula 3 championship for the Malboro sponsored EuroRacing team. In 1982 Oscar Larrauri was the team’s number one and I joined as the second driver. Larrauri duly won the championship and I finished second. It was a frustrating season for me, in testing I was always quicker, but when it came to race day, he would always win. I realised that I was never destined to beat him due to how the team set up the cars. However, the following season I was due to move up to be the team’s number one and they were then looking to bring in a new driver as number two. We were based in Silverstone and I told the team boss there’s a guy called Da Silva who is really good, you should talk to him… He did and Ayrton thanked him for his interest but was already fixed up to compete in the British F3 championship with Tolman. Over the winter I read that EuroRacing had moved into Formula One with Alfa Romeo and they had stopped all Formula 3 plans, I called the boss up and had a very brief conversation!

My racing career really began at the age of seventeen when I had the chance to race in the Fiat Arbarth 2 litre championship. The day I received my official overalls, I slept with them next to me, I remember thinking at the time, I am a racing driver, this is it, I’ve made it to being a driver!

My first test session in the car was a Mugello and it ended in a big crash and a huge lesson learned. It was a new car, a new category and Fiat delivered all fifty new cars on the day for all the drivers. I had an experienced driver in my team and he told me that Arrabbiata 1 and Arrabbiata2 corners should be taken flat. I took his advice, tried to take them flat and crashed heavily. I learned there and then not to trust the advice from other drivers!

The first race in the championship was at Mugello and it was raining. I’d never driven the car in the wet before. It was dry for practice and qualifying, so this was a whole new experience for me. I started on the second row of the grid and just expected everyone to pass me as I really didn’t think I could drive competitively. But then as we started, I found myself in the lead. I couldn’t see behind me, expecting cars to come past, but no, one corner, two corners, three corners and I was still in the lead. I thought that maybe there had been a big pile up behind me, as I felt I was going so slow. But it turned out I was actually pretty quick. With two laps to go, I was still leading but the rain got heavier. Like a big stupid idiot I didn’t ease off and ended up with the car stuck in the gravel. The season certainly improved from that point on though as I ended up winning the championship.

There was always a pressure to deliver results as I didn’t have the financial resources available to fund my racing, but I was always optimistic and determined to succeed. I could write a book about sliding doors and opportunities! It was quite amazing how one opportunity led to another. How I got to Formula 1 was quite bizarre. I had no sponsorship, I’d competed in Formula 3000 and was given an opportunity of a drive. I needed $200,000 USD to fund my move into Formula 1. Stefan Johansson, a good friend of mine, told me that Malboro wanted to shoot a big commercial over in the States with Tony Scott as the director. Stefan was driving for them at the time, as was Alain Prost who couldn’t do the shoot, so they were looking for somebody to drive the car for the commercial. Stefan suggested I go out to Pheonix and do the shoot. Whilst I was out there, they were busy finalising the deal for the following season with Honda and I was told they were looking for someone who could help them develop the car over in Japan. Being a test driver in those days was not quite as big a thing as it is today, but I’d be working alongside maybe two of the best drivers and who knows what that might lead to. I took the job, moved to Japan and got to work with Alain Prost. Prost was really helpful and I learned an awful lot from studying him. He changed my outlook and approach. Prior to meeting him, I assumed you could only ever get the results your talent would allow. If another guy was blessed with a greater talent, he would beat you. But Prost demonstrated to me how good planning, attention to detail, good communication with the team and good race management could add to the talent you already had. I realised the top drivers had more than just natural talent, they were doing so many things around the team so much better than me. I realised then that I couldn’t improve my talent, but I could improve all these other things

This learning and the connections I made eventually led to me getting a drive in Formula 1.

Emanuele Pirro

Our sincere thanks go to @celebkarting and @racedriversinc for making this memory possible. Emanuele was interviewed whilst participating in the Autosport International Karting Challenge (AIKC), run in association with Race Drivers Inc. and presented by Johnny Herbert

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Memory added on February 26, 2013

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