Olivier Pla is a French racing driver who achieved the most in sports car racing in recent years.
He was the LMP2 class Le Mans Series champion in 2009. In the FIA World Endurance Championship, he was a runner-up in the LMP2 class two times, in 2013 and 2014. At 24 hours of Le Mans, his best result is second place in the LMP2 class in 2013.
Two years in the French Formula 3
Olivier was born in October 1981 in Toulouse in southern France. Olivier’s racing career started in 1999 when he won Volant Elf, the competition organized for the young drivers at Circuit Paul Ricard.
The following year, Pla already competed in the French Formula Campus in which he finished 3rd overall, after winning four races and having a total of 8 podiums. The French Formula 3 was the next stop in Olivier’s career. Driving for Saulnier Racing in 2001, he finished 8th in the standings, scoring only one podium finish.
Pla stayed in the series for another year but moved to the more competitive ART Grand Prix team. Olivier won 2 out of 14 races, scored other 6 podiums, and moved up to the 3rd place in the championship. In 2002, the Frenchman also won Korea Super Prix race and finished 2nd in the Masters of Formula 3, behind Brazilian racer Fabio Carbone.
Racing in Formula 3 Euro Series and World Series by Nissan
In 2003, Olivier continued his progress through the ranks of formula racing. It was a pretty interesting season in which Pla failed to win a race but had 8 podiums, which was enough to finish 3rd overall, behind Ryan Briscoe and Christian Klien, but in front of Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica, Markus Winkelhock, Timo Glock, Alexandre Premat and some other well-known names.
A bit surprisingly, Frenchman left Euro Series and entered the World Series in 2004. Driving for Carlin Motorsport and RC Motorsport, Pla won one race, at Estoril, and finished 3rd at Jerez. Despite his solid performance, he was only the 9th at the end of the campaign which was below the expectations.
Move to GP2 Series
In 2005, Pla competed in the inaugural season of GP2 Series. As a member of David Price Racing, he scored two wins, at Silverstone and Hockenheim. He finished 13th overall, mainly because of too many retirements due to the unreliable car.
The Frenchman stayed in the series for another two years, but as a part-time pilot and the results he has scored weren’t notable ones. In the meantime, Pla was left without a sponsorship and the future did not look bright.
Switch to sports cars racing
Olivier’s first experience in another type of racing was in Porsche Carrera Cup Germany. Driving for MRS-Racing in 9 races, he finished the season without a podium finish but collected 34 points and took the 13th position in the overall classification.
In 2008, French racer debuted in Le Mans Series and American Le Mans Series, driving an LMP2 spec Lola car. Driving for the Portuguese team Quifel ASM, Pla scored a podium finish at Silverstone, while on his debut at Le Mans 24h, he finished 4th in the class.
Olivier Pla was 2009 Le Mans Series champion
Pla quickly adjusted to the endurance racing. The season of 2009 was probably the best in his career so far as he won the LMP2 title in Le Mans Series. Driving a Ginetta-Zytek alongside Miguel Amaral, he won the races at Algarve and Nurburgring but failed to finish the race at Le Mans. However, two aforementioned wins were enough for the French-Portuguese pairing to win the LMP2 class trophy at the end of the campaign.
Pla and Amaral have failed in an attempt to defend their title in 2010. They won 1000 km of Spa and that was their only triumph that year. At the end of the season, Pla was 6th overall which was still a solid result.
FIA World Endurance Championship debut
The season of 2011 was relatively quiet for Olivier. He has competed in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, taking the third place overall at Silverstone and fourth at Petit Le Mans in the Oak/Pescarolo Judd LMP. He also did some testing for Peugeot LMP1 because he planned to become a part of the team’s 2012 line-up.
However, that didn't happen and in 2012 Pla continued to drive in ELMS. Driving the OAK racing’s Morgan-Nissan LMP2 he finished the season as a runner-up after winning the race at Donington Park.
The most important moment for Olivier that year was a debut at the FIA World Endurance Championship.With the same car and the same team, Frenchman finished 4th overall after he has scored four podium finishes, together with his compatriots Jacques Nicolet and Matthieu Lahaye.
The season of 2013 was pretty good
Pla stayed with OAK racing for the next season but he was teamed with Alex Brundle and David Heinemeier Hansson. They finished 2nd in 5 out of 8 races that year and had one 3rd place which was enough for the vice-champion title in LMP2 class, only nine points behind the other OAK Racing’s car. That year Olivier was the closest to winning at 24 Hours of Le Mans. He started from pole position but finished 2nd in the race.
Olivier Pla moves to G-Drive Racing
As one of the most accomplished drivers, Pla has become highly appreciated. In 2014, he signed with an ambitious G-Drive Racing team to drive Morgan Ligier-Nissan alongside Roman Rusinov and Julien Canal. They scored four wins (Silverstone, Spa, Fuji, Shanghai) in the WEC LMP2 class but still failed to win the title, mainly because of two retirements, at Le Mans and in the season-closing event in Sao Paulo.
The same year Pla competed in the United SportsCar Championship, driving OAK Racing’s Morgan-Nissan. He also won at Mosport Park.
Next step in his career - Nissan factory team member
In 2015, Pla was named Nissan LMP1 factory driver, as well as the Onroak test and development driver. However, he did not have too many racing duties that year. Driving alongside Jann Mardenborough and Max Chilton, Pla retired on lap 234 at Le Mans 24h.
In the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship, driving a Ligier-Judd of Team Krohn Racing, Pla finished 13th in the class at Daytona 24 Hours and 8th in Sebring 12 Hours where he has started from pole position.
Driving for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing from 2016 to 2019
In 2016, Pla again changed the car. He became a member of Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK to drive in the FIA WEC’s LMGTE Pro class, driving alongside Stefan Mucke and Billy Johnson. They scored two podiums, finishing fourth in the class.
At the same time, Olivier continued to compete in the US, driving Michael Shank Racing’s Ligier-Honda in the Prototype class. He won Petit Le Mans and finished 3rd at Watkins Glen.
In 2017, Pla stayed with Ford in the FIA WEC, continuing to share a car with Stefan Mucke. He also joined IDEC Sport in few races of the European Le Mans Series and PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports in the PC class of the IMSA SportsCar Championship.
Olivier's last full season with Ford was in the 2018-2019 FIA WEC superseason. He won the season-opening race at Spa but it remained his only win and he finished fifth in the GTE Pro standings.