Former Grand Prix driver and Le Mans legend Emanuele Pirro is celebrating a special milestone today: he is turning the BIG 5-0!
One of Formula 1’s ‘nearly men’, Pirro’s career has been a mixture of ups and downs, as he has frustratingly (and undeservedly) fallen short of the results he clearly deserves in many of the categories in which he has competed over the years.
But it is his association with Audi – which began in 1994 – that finally yielded significant dividends. More on that later…
A regular visitor to the Vallelunga circuit as a child, Emanuele had his first kart outing aged eleven and was immediately hooked. He won several national titles before graduating to Formula Fiat Abarth in 1980, winning the title at his first attempt.
He moved from karts into Formula FIAT, winning the 1980 title. The European F3 championship was next up, but before that, he’d already managed a class win at the Daytona 24 Hours in a Martini Lancia Beta.
After three years in Formula 3 (while continuing to dabble with endurance racing), Pirro moved to Formula 2 in 1984 before it rebranded into Formula 3000 in 1985, where he finished third overall and won a test with Brabham.
The test came to nought, and so he went back to Formula 3000 where he finished runner-up to Capelli – a mid-season slump seeing him lose the crown to his compatriot.
But the year saw him take a multi-disciplined approach, racing everything from Japanese F3000 to sports cars and in the World Touring Car Championship, and by 1988 he had finally made it to F1, admittedly as McLaren’s test driver in the all-conquering MP4/4.
Impressed by his work developing the mighty car, Benetton hired him for 1989 as its test driver, and he was brought in to replace Johnny Herbert in race line-up, peaking with fifth at the rain-soaked Australian Grand Prix.
But it was not enough for him to be retained for the 1990 season, and so he landed himself a seat at Scuderia Italia. But the car was not competitive and he failed to grace the points that year.
A further year with the team yielded mixed results – the highlight being a sixth placed finish at Monaco – and he left F1 at the end of the year to concentrate on touring cars, first with BMW and then Audi.
Appointed by Audi to contest the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours, he finished third in 1999 before peeling off a hat-trick of wins in the dominant R8 LMP900 partnering Tom Kristensen and Frank Biela, also winning the 2001 ALMS title.
Two more Le Mans wins would follow – he became the first driver to win the race in a diesel-powered car in 2006.
Still involved with Audi’s Le Mans project (although in a more managerial capacity today), Pirro has twice been a member of the FIA Stewards’ panel. He also made a return to racing as a late stand-in for Scott Dixon at last year’s ArmorAll Gold Coast 600 V8 Supercars event.
[Original images via Corbis, Emanuele Pirro; LAT]