Former Italian racing driver Emanuele Pirro is one of the most successful Le Mans competitors in a history, with five overall victories. Only two drivers (Tom Kristensen and Jacky Ickx) have more Le Mans wins. Pirro scored five wins between 2000 and 2007, his co-driver in all five races was Frank Biela.
Pirro isn't just a Le Mans legend, because he was also successful touring car driver, with championship titles at Italian and German championships. Prior to that, Pirro also competed in Formula One between 1989 and 1991, participating in 37 Grand Prix races with two teams (Benetton and Scuderia Italia).
Championship title in debut season with cars
Emanuele Pirro was born on January 12, 1962, in Rome. He started racing with go-karts and after winning few Italian titles as a teenager, Emanuele switched to the bigger race cars in 1980, entering the Formula Fiat Abarth. He took the title in his debut season, winning four of 15 races.
In 1981, Pirro had a diverse racing program, competing at the European Formula 3 Championship and driving Lancia Beta Montecarlo in the endurance races around the world. In the F3 competition, he finished sixth in the points. In January, he debuted at 24 hours of Daytona, driving the Jolly Club's #24 Lancia together with Martino Finotto and Carlo Facetti to the 5th-place finish.
1981 - Le Mans debut with Lancia
He also debuted in the 24 hours of Le Mans, partnering Beppe Gabbiani in the Martini Racing's Lancia, but they didn't reach the finish. In the Kyalami 9h race, his partner was Michele Alboreto and they nearly missed the podium, finishing fourth.
In 1982 and 1983, Pirro competed only in European Formula 3, finishing as the runner-up in 1982 and third in the points in 1983. In two seasons, he scored five F3 victories. The next step was the 1984 Formula 2 European Championship, in which he finished 6th in the points. Emanuele's journey through the single-seater series continued at the 1985 Formula 3000 International championship. He won two times and finished third in points.
1985 - joining BMW for touring car races
During 1985, Pirro competed for the first time with touring cars, entering the European championship with Team Schnitzer's BMW 635 CSi. His partner in three races was Dieter Quester, but they didn't finish any of these races. In July, at Nurburgring, Pirro's co-driver was Roberto Ravaglia and they finished fourth.
In 1986, Pirro had a similar program – Formula 3000 with Onyx Racing and touring car racing with Team Schnitzer. He finished second in the F3000 championship, behind Ivan Capelli. In the ETCC competition, the highlight of the season was the victory at Nurburgring, together with Roberto Ravaglia. At 24 hours of Spa, Ravaglia and Pirro were partnered by Gerhard Berger and they finished third.
Fourth place in the 1987 WTCC season
In 1987, Pirro completely switched to touring car racing, competing at the World Touring Car Championship with BMW M3. With one victory (at Jarama) in ten races, he finished fourth in the points. His co-drivers were Roberto Ravaglia and Roland Ratzenberger. The trio also participated in the Bathurst 1000 race in Australia, finishing 12th.
The combination of three disciplines followed in 1988. Pirro returned into single-seaters participating in the Japanese Formula 3000 (third place), he continued to drive for BMW in the European Touring Car Championship, but also participated in one sports car race (Suzuka 500 km) with Omron Racing's Porsche 962C. Besides all that, he was also the test driver for McLaren Formula One team.
Formula One debut in 1989 French Grand Prix
In 1989, Pirro started the season in Japanese Formula 3000, winning the fourth round at Suzuka. In July, he received a call to travel from Japan to Europe, to replace Benetton's driver Johnny Herbert at the Formula One French Grand Prix at Circuit Paul Ricard. As a contracted McLaren's driver, Pirro needed a permission to race for another F1 team, but Ron Dennis had no objection to this move.
In the old #20 Benetton B188-Cosworth, Pirro qualified 24th and finished ninth. He had an old car in one more race, at British Grand Prix, and then switched to new B189. After five retirements in seven races, the best result followed in the last race of the season, at the Australian Grand Prix at Adelaide street circuit. Pirro finished fifth and earned two points, and then he finished in 23rd place in his debut F1 season.
Pirro drove for Scuderia Italia in 1990 and 1991
For 1990 F1 season, Pirro signed a deal with the Scuderia Italia to drive their Cosworth-powered Dallara F190 chassis, alongside Andrea de Cesaris. Because of hepatitis, Pirro missed the first two races, with Gianni Morbidelli taking his place. The season was disappointing, as Pirro finished only three races from 14 starts. His best result was 10th place at Hungaroring.
Pirro was much more successful in the touring car racing, competing with Schnitzer's BMW M3 Evolution in the various series, including Italian and German championships. With four wins in 10 races, he was the championship runner-up in Italy, behind his teammate Roberto Ravaglia.
Sixth place at 1991 Monaco Grand Prix
In 1991, one more disappointing Formula One season followed, with four retirements and three DNQ attempts in the Judd-powered Dallara F191. The brightest moment of the season was Monaco Grand Prix, where Pirro finished sixth and took his final F1 point.
Pirro found a comfort by winning the races at the Italian Touring Car Championship, still driving BMW M3. He finished third in the points, with Ravaglia again taking the title.
Five wins with BMW at New Zealand
Since he didn't find any F1 team for 1992, Pirro was completely focused on touring cars, driving for BMW at the Italian and German championships.With four podiums in 24 DTM races, Pirro finished 12th in the points. At the Italian championship, he was sixth.
Between 1988 and 1992, Pirro was the most successful driver in the annual Nissan Mobil 500 Wellington race at New Zealand. He won four times in a row from 1988 and 1991, sharing the BMW M3 with Roberto Ravaglia (1988 and 1989), Johnny Cecotto (1990) and Joachim Winkelhock (1991). In 1992, he failed to finish the race in Wellington, but he won the other New Zealand's race, the Pukehoke 500, together with Joachim Winkelhock.
Two consecutive Italian touring titles with Audi
The season 1993 was the last one with BMW for Pirro. He finished 13th in the Italian championship and then switched to Audi 80 Quattro for the next season. With six wins in 20 races, Pirro won the 1994 Italian Super Touring Car Championship.
With the same car, he was third in the ADAC Tourenwagen Cup. In 1995, Pirro repeated the triumph in the Italian championship, winning eleven races with the new car - Audi A4.
Pirro was the 1996 German touring car champion
After conquering Italy, Pirro moved to the German Supertouring Championship and took the 1996 title with Audi A4, scoring nine wins in 18 races. He stayed in the same series for two more seasons, winning just once.
The milestone year in Pirro's career was 1998, when he returned to Le Mans after 17 years. He joined the Gulf Team Davidoff to drive McLaren F1 GTR, alongside Thomas Bscher and Rinaldo Capello. Pirro's return to Le Mans wasn't successful, as they retired after an accident, but since than he became the regular Le Mans competitor and in the next 11 years he made a historic achievement.
The story about Le Mans success started in 1999
The successful part of Pirro's Le Mans story began in 1999, when he joined Audi Sport Team Joest. His first race was 12 hours of Sebring, together with Frank Biela and Perry McCarthy in the #78 Audi R8R. They finished 8th overall.
Several months later, at 24 hours of Le Mans, Biela and Pirro were partnered by Didier Theys and they finished third overall. It was the first Le Mans podium for the crew Pirro-Biela, which later became one of the most successful crews in the Le Mans history, with a total of five overall wins and two more podiums.
Three consecutive Le Mans wins with Audi R8
The first Le Mans victory followed in June 2000, when Pirro and Biela were joined by Tom Kristensen, who already had one win. The victorious car was the #8 Audi R8, ahead of two more R8 cars for Audi's first 1-2-3 victory. It wasn't the only win for Pirro in 2000 because he competed the full season in the American Le Mans Series and scored three more wins (Sebring, Texas, Las Vegas),to finish third in the points.
The Audi R8 of Audi Sport Team Joest, driven by Pirro, Biela and Kristensen, was unbeatable at Circuit de la Sarthe for two more years. In 2001, Pirro added American Le Mans title to his Le Mans triumph, after he won at Mosport, Laguna Seca and Petit Le Mans. In 2002, he was again victorious three times in America but finished 4th in the points.
Three Le Mans podiums with Champion Racing
In 2003, Audi officially withdrew from endurance racing, but the private teams continued to use Audi R8 cars with the factory support. Pirro joined Champion Racing in two races (Sebring and Le Mans), partnering JJ Lehto and Stefan Johansson. At Sebring, they finished second, at Le Mans they were third overall.
Emanuele was the member of the Champion Racing team for two more seasons, participating at Le Mans with two different crews, finishing third overall in both races. In 2004, his partners were JJ Lehto and Marco Werner, in 2005, Pirro shared the cockpit with Frank Biela and Allan McNish.
Except endurance racing, Pirro competed in the DTM during 2004, driving the #44 Audi A4 for Audi Sport Team Joest. In eleven races, his best result was 5th place at Brno and he finished 11th in the points. In 2005, Pirro was part of the Champion Racing's team in the American Le Mans Series and he won his second ALMS title, scoring four wins in ten races.
2006 - historic Le Mans victory for diesel-powered car
In 2006, Pirro was part of the Audi factory team's fantastic comeback to the endurance racing and Le Mans. Emanuele Pirro, Frank Biela and Marco Werner were the first Le Mans winners with diesel-powered car, in the #8 Audi R10 TDI. With the same car, Pirro competed in the 2006 American Le Mans Series, finishing 4th in the points.
At 2007 24 hours of Le Mans, Pirro, Biela and Werner repeated the victory, this time in the #1 car, ahead of new diesel-powered rival Peugeot 908 HDi. It was the fifth and final Le Mans win for Pirro and Biela, which tied them with Derek Bell on the winners list, behind Tom Kristensen (he had seven until then) and Jacky Ickx.
2008 - the last race with Audi at Le Mans
In the 2007 American Le Mans Series, Pirro finished third in the points of the LMP1 class. In 2008 season, he moved one place up, and finished second in the LMP1 class.
At 2008 Le Mans race, after nine consecutive years of wins and podiums, Emanuele Pirro missed the podium. Partnered by Frank Biela and Marco Werner, he finished sixth overall.
Return to Le Mans in 2010
It was supposed to be his last Le Mans race, as he officially retired from racing at the end of 2008 season. But, he returned to the Circuit de la Sarthe one more time, in 2010, as part of Drayson Racing team, alongside Paul Drayson and Jonny Cocker. Their Lola B09/60-Judd retired after 254 laps and they were not classified in the official results.
In 2011, Pirro traveled to Australia to compete in the two-race Gold Coast 600 event of the V8 Supercars Championship, in the Stone Brothers Racing's Ford FG Falcon, alongside Shane van Gisbergen. They finished 16th in both races.
In 2012, at the age 50, Pirro participated in the 24 hours of Daytona. He was part of the APR Motorsport's crew in the #51 Audi R8 LMS. And it wasn't his last race because in recent years he had many guest appearances in various racing series, for instance in Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup, Volkswagen Scirocco R Cup, Audi Sport TT Cup or 24H Series.
Video : Emanuele Pirro and Derek Bell sharing the stories