Emanuele Pirro a five-times Le Mans 24-Hour winner with Audi and a former Formula One driver, is Audi’s guest of honour at the 2013 Johannesburg International Motor Show.
“I have no idea what to expect,” said the likable 51-year-old Italian, who jetted into South Africa from Japan on Tuesday. “That way I am always interested, always surprised,” said Emanuele, who still races competitively in various sports car and GT categories, although he retired officially from the Audi Le Mans effort at the end of the 2008 season.
“I see my role as an Audi ambassador as an honour, a unique opportunity to give something back after such a great career with the team,” he said. “I enjoy the people. If I wasn’t a race driver I would be a fan.”
Indeed, Pirro was a driver at Audi’s very first Le Mans effort in 1999, and finished in third place. Not only does he have five magnificent Le Mans wins to his credit with Audi, and these were back-to-back wins, but he has recorded an unprecedented nine consecutive top three finishes in what is undoubtedly the most famous endurance race in the world.
While this is Pirro’s first visit to the Johannesburg International Motor Show, it isn’t his first visit to South Africa. He raced at Kyalami in the Nine Hour race in 1981 for the Martini Racing Lancia Monte Carlo, and ended up winning the race! This was against strong Porsche and BMW M1 competition. His co-driver was the late Michele Alboreto.
“That race win was a huge break for me. I was just a young guy making my way in the sport. It was a beautiful circuit. And it was like the big time for me.
“I raced in Formula One later, but I was never obsessed with Formula One. Even in those years I kept driving touring cars and I won championships in the 1990s. Then in 1994 I joined Audi in their touring car team and it’s been a dream for me.”
“Le Mans is special. In the world today, with money you can buy nearly everything. But fortunately, you cannot buy history and tradition. And fortunately you cannot buy time. In 2008 it was my last year and I said I would be happy with a third, because 10 consecutive top three finishes would be a dream. But everything didn’t go according to plan.
“For me the magic of Le Mans is it requires maximum effort from everybody. Including the cars. Everybody has given maximum, and this includes the spectators, the journalists, the mechanics, officials, marshals and of course the drivers. And this is what I don’t like about Formula One of today. You don’t see that fatigue in the face of the drivers. Somehow, everything looks too easy.
“If you see a bicycle race, there is nothing special about seeing a bicycle going at 40 km/h. But people love it, because they see those riders giving everything. This is what I like to see. I am an emotional person and I like to see the struggle.”
Emanuele is married to his Belgian wife, Marlene and has two sons, Chris (20) and Goofy (17). He lives in Rome, where he was born on January 12.
What does being a brand ambassador for Audi mean to Emanuele?
It gives me a commitment to a long period of success. I am a person who likes continuity, I don’t like to change brands, jobs, whatever. So was a very lucky to come across Audi at the right time in my career and we have achieved a lot together. This is thanks to an incredible effort by man people.
So, being an ambassador afterwards, it’s a reward, it’s like you can keep this period with you and share this with other people. Sometimes people are paid by companies to promote their products. But for me this is not a question of money. Audi is in my DNA because we did so much together.”