Alessandro Pier Guidi: «my karting past has left me with a lot»

Columns: Interview
Alessandro Pier Guidi, together with James Calado and Antonio Giovinazzi, drove the Ferrari 499P number 51 to win the Centenary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, Alessandro is not a new face for us at Vroom, given that we were writing in the 90’s about his "stockpile" of victories on the legendary Parma track. (mb)

Alessandro Pier Guidi (1983), with a degree in mechanical engineering, was a kart driver at the time of Hamilton and Alonso, winning the 1995 Trofeo delle Industrie with the 60 Minikart and in 1996-1997 in the 100 Junior. He then moved on to Formula Renault in 2002 to then concentrate on closed wheels with two Italian titles won in GT. In 2017 he became an official Ferrari driver and in 2019 and 2021 he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the LMGTE Pro class, then winning 3 world titles in the FIA WEC in LMGTE Pro in 2017, 2021 and 2022, at the wheel of the Ferrari 488 GTE.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans this year was a real Ferrari "miracle" and will enter the history of motorsports, deservedly so. How is it possible to win the first shot after 50 years of absence? Did you expect it?
It was something fantastic and I am delighted that this victory has become part of the history of our sport, especially in a special edition that has seen Ferrari return to compete in the top class after half a century, achieving the success it had been missing for 58 years. And if I think that it was also the centenary edition (the first 24 Hours of Le Mans was held in 1923, Ed.) let's say that the numbers make it really special! However, I would not speak of a "miracle" because in reality it was the result of a lot of work. Obviously, none of us in the weeks leading up to the race expected to win. It was a goal, but we knew how difficult it would be in such a short time since the debut of our 499P. Let's consider that we put this Hypercar on the track in July of the previous year (Pier Guidi was the first driver to drive the car in the Shakedown of 6 July 2022, Ed) and Le Mans was in June 2023, therefore not even a year of development. We immediately saw that the performance was there, but we were uncertain about its reliability considering how important this factor is in a 24-hour event. We did everything possible and, as the hours went by, we realized that we could do it, and therefore we believed in it more and more. Up until the end, however, we couldn't rest easy, because even Toyota has happened to lose a 24-hour race on the last lap in the past. Endurance races are very particular and when you are in the lead you are sure to win them only once the checkered flag has passed. Hour after hour the dream has come true, but it is the result of the work of the whole group, starting with our head Antonello Coletta who strongly wanted this project, and arriving at my companions James and Giovi of course. It was truly a success for the whole group: I don't want to forget our teammates in the 499P number 50, Fuoco, Molina and Nielsen, who are doing a great job, nor the entire engineering team led by technical director Ferdinando Cannizzo. Since the Shakedown there has been an extraordinary involvement of everyone: I remember when the Ferrari engineers called me on Saturday evening or Sunday to discuss the car, to find useful solutions to improve some aspect. This makes you fully understand the passion of those who work on this project. Achieving this success repays everyone for all their efforts.
What kind of racing was it at Le Mans? Above all, tell us about your amazing night shift in which you literally flew compared to the others!
It was a very particular race, full of ups and downs, like almost all endurance races. Paradoxical as it may be, endurance racing is not boring at all, because strategy, accidents, neutralizations always make them come alive, especially at Le Mans. The weather at Le Mans is always very unpredictable, a bit like at Spa, given the similar latitudes. In fact, at night I happened to do shifts with a lot of water on the track. You can well understand that visibility is already poor during the day with water (not counting the aquaplaning, of course). At night, with the powerful lights we have, the water causes no less visibility problems, creating a sort of fog effect. In those phases from inside the car I tried to do my best, but I didn't exactly have an idea of the performance of the others. When I learned that I was going very fast, I was obviously very pleased, but I remained focused on what I was called to do. I obviously tried not to risk too much, also because if you exaggerate by taking too many risks and go off the track, compromising the car to lap a second faster, you risk throwing away the work of the whole team. I was able to have a very fast pace and not lose control of the car. Of course, at times I was pleased to lap four seconds faster than our rivals, although it must be said that the lap gaps at Le Mans are much wider than at other circuits, being a very long track. In any case, let's say that I felt good on the wet track! As you have seen, however, the race was not easy, we also had some very stressful moments, such as the last pit stop with 20 minutes to go which kept the public from all over the world in suspense, although the situation was under control. While I was carrying out the restart procedures of our 499P, I even heard the speaker's voice from inside the car, I perceived the tension in the air. But I was quite calm because I knew what I had to do. This is to reiterate how endurance races never really end right up to the checkered flag.
You are an engineer, how much did this title or degree of yours influence the development of the machine?
This question has been asked of me many times. At Ferrari there are many well-trained people who know how to do their job well. I'm a driver, not an engineer. On a purely technical level, I didn't put anything "mine" from an engineering point of view. What helped me, however, is the working methodology learned during my studies, following the work of engineers to the best of my ability. Sometimes when they explained the car to me or when I felt particular feelings on the track, I was able to understand the reason for all this. Let's say that with technical training like mine you can better understand the car in a way that I would define as "active" and not just "passive".
You won at Le Mans, but now the dream would also be to win the FIA WEC championship. What hopes do you have on winning it?
This is very complex. I think Toyota is the reference team at the moment and it was also in the first part of the year. We won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but they have been in this championship for many years. We've been there since 2023 and we're trying to optimize everything a bit, despite having already shown great capabilities and having a car like the Ferrari 499P that has proven to be fast and reliable. In Monza, in the fifth round, we had some bad luck with the strategy with the timing of the safety car, but in any case I don't think we were able to compete for the win in that race, despite the second place of our teammates’ team. However, the leading car in the championship finished behind us, so we gained something in terms of points in the standings. Only two races left, one of which at Fuji, Toyota's "home" circuit. We will try to do our best, but it's not easy. However, as long as mathematics gives us hope, we will try to do our best in terms of the world championship.
Let's talk about your karting past: you belong to the generation of drivers like Hamilton and Alonso and you raced with karts that were very different from those of today, less powerful but more brutal. What do you think driving those vehicles left you?
Well, in the end karting is the foundation for becoming a driver. The kart is a car, a miniature car. Even back then, the kart, although less sophisticated than today, was training, formative, both for driving and for learning how to manage battling in the race. Many of the overtaking techniques you learn in that context. Karting is the cornerstone of becoming a driver. You can hardly become a great driver without going through karting. The kart itself, in my case, taught me a lot in the field of testing, whether it involved chassis or engines. All these aspects allow you to learn the ability to perceive and feel the differences to become a good test driver, an indispensable skill in cars. In a kart, I spent many hours trying different materials to try to give feedback to my mechanic. In short, my karting past has left me with a lot.
What characteristics of driving a kart (then as now) do you think are most formative, given that in your career you have driven various types of cars and not just single-seaters?
GT cars are actually becoming more and more similar to single-seaters in many respects, especially when driving a Hypercar which is an extraordinary car in terms of performance. Already the karts of my era, with the soft tires that were used in international competitions, made you drive in a very "clean" way. You also need this with racing cars, for example in the ability to make the car slide in the center of the curve and to minimize the distances from other competitors. The techniques that make you go fast in a kart also make you go fast in a car. The world of karting and cars is not far away. What changes is the use of the gearbox or things of this type, but you learn driving "cleanliness" in karting.
You have won three Industry Trophies in karting on the legendary Parma track. Were these your best races or do you remember others that are even more exciting?
There were many races in Parma that I remember with great pleasure, but I also remember my victory in the Italian Championship in the third round on the Pista d'Oro in Rome. At the time, the Trofeo delle Industrie was one of the most important trophies that existed and at the time I was always very strong in Parma, also because I was racing for Top Kart and it was our reference track.
How was your transition from karting to cars?
At that time, I actually should have done another season of karting, but I had an accident at the European Championship, and I broke my shoulder. So, I stopped that season, and later I was offered to test with a Formula Renault. The test went well and I found myself doing the winter championship of the same series. From a negative event, therefore, came the opportunity to anticipate the "leap" to racing cars, which took place at the age of 17. I think I found myself in the motoring world at the right time.
What advice would you give to a young kart driver?
Allow me to start by saying that I am no longer involved in the world of karting, but sometimes from the outside I have the impression that the great passion that characterized karting a few years ago has been somewhat lost, or at least reduced. The reasons? There may be several, but I think that many young drivers experience karting with a professional driver's approach, perhaps excessive. Perhaps a certain simplicity and authenticity has been lost. I remember that when I competed, I cleaned the kart with my mechanic, with whom I spent a lot of time even on simple but still important matters. Obviously, I repeat, I'm outside the karting world and I don't want to generalize. Speaking to young drivers of any class, one piece of advice is undoubtedly to always give your best, never feel too satisfied, always be open to learning and improving. The "hunger" for knowledge and the desire to fulfill one's dreams are resources of inestimable value in this world.
Do you think today's young people are starting to dream of racing in the WEC as well as in Formula 1?
Let's say that the return of Ferrari to the WEC and the victory at Le Mans have given a great stimulus to the whole world of endurance. I see that there is more and more interest both in the media and in terms of widespread knowledge regarding endurance racing. More and more drivers want to come and race in the Hypercar class. So, I would say yes, affirmative.
Do you still go karting every now and then?
Unfortunately, it rarely happens to me because I have many sporting commitments being an official Ferrari driver, furthermore considering that my job is to race for the Prancing Horse, I tend to avoid other activities that could in some way cause possible injuries, especially if you are in the middle of the championship season. But when I do, I enjoy it like a child!



 

Created by: fmarangon2 - 18/09/23

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