Why I Love...

Re­peat Le Mans-win­ner Emanuele Pirro on the thrill of his de­but race

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents -

‘Three laps from the fin­ish the rain in­ten­si­fied and I spun in a river of wa­ter. Only then did I re­alise I’d amassed a 15 sec­ond lead! As I walked back to the pits I couldn’t stop cry­ing’

I loved my first car race, I can re­mem­ber it as though it was only yes­ter­day. Racing is in my blood. I be­gan in karts and when I reached the age when I could start mo­tor racing I had two things in my favour – the suc­cess of older kart driv­ers such as Elio De An­ge­lis, Ric­cardo Pa­trese, An­drea De Ce­saris and Ed­die Cheever helped me to get started, plus the Fiat Lan­cia Group, which was very sup­port­ive of Ital­ian driv­ers, had just launched the new Fiat Abarth For­mula.

The first sea­son was 1980. The de­sign was based on limited -bud­get racing us­ing the Lan­cia Beta en­gine and gear­box. The cars were all de­liv­ered to­gether dur­ing March at Mugello, a cir­cuit that in­tim­i­dates even the best. Power was in the area of 150bhp.

I had just won the Ital­ian kart­ing cham­pi­onship for the sec­ond year and this gave me a limited bud­get, suf­fi­cient only to join a team which had never en­tered cir­cuit racing before. The ques­tion I couldn’t ig­nore was whether I was good enough to make a ca­reer out of mo­tor racing? I could not be just av­er­age.

I was very ner­vous ahead of my first race. I qualified 8th out of 52, started on the sec­ond row of the sec­ond heat, and fin­ished in sec­ond place. This earned me the chance to start from the sec­ond row for the fi­nal.

Then it be­gan to rain, heav­ily. I’d never driven in the wet before and I thought it could spell disas­ter for me. To make mat­ters worse, I had to skip the fif­teen min­utes of ex­tra prac­tice time agreed by the race di­rec­tor be­cause my rain light was faulty.

By the time it was fixed the other cars were al­ready on the grid and so I had to com­plete my for­ma­tion lap alone. The car was slid­ing about ev­ery­where and the sit­u­a­tion seemed hope­less.

When the flag went down I found my­self lead­ing along the straight and into the first cor­ner. I had no idea where to brake. As I came out I was still ahead, a po­si­tion I main­tained for the next few turns. Be­hind, all was a huge blur of spray. Be­cause no-one had passed me I thought there’d been a mas­sive ac­ci­dent.

Three laps from the fin­ish the rain in­ten­si­fied and I spun in a newly formed river of wa­ter across the track. The car stopped, buried in a sand trap fac­ing the on­com­ing cars. Only then did I re­alise I’d amassed a 15 sec­ond lead! As I walked back to the pits I couldn’t stop cry­ing, fully ex­pect­ing ev­ery­one to be an­gry. In fact, they were to­tally ex­cited by my per­for­mance. I then won the next race and went on to take the cham­pi­onship.

That first race was so im­por­tant. It helped me to an­swer my ques­tion: could I hope to suc­ceed as a racing driver?

Pirro about to em­bark on a fate­ful drive at Mugello in his Fiat Abarth For­mula

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