As one of the most successful and experienced sports car pilots, the 35-year-old Italian will contest races in the USA from July for Porsche.
The ex-Formula 1 driver (Minardi 2004) celebrated his greatest success at Le Mans as well as in the World Endurance Championship WEC: At the world’s most famous long-distance classic, he clinched the GT victory in 2008, 2012 and 2014.
In the WEC he won the GTE-Pro championship title in 2013 and 2014. On top of these came more successes at long-distance races such as the 12 Hours of Sebring (2010) and the Spa 24 Hours (2015). He also took home the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup in the years 2011 and 2012 as well as title victories in the Le Mans Series (2011) and the GT Open (2012).
After securing victories and titles for Ferrari over the past years, he now joins forces with his Belgium works driver teammate Laurens Vanthoor to tackle North America’s premier sports car championship for Porsche.
Mid-season switch, any hiccups?
It’s a big challenge for me to switch in the middle of the season to such a strongly supported series like the IMSA SportsCar Championship with a new car. There are many things I’ll have to get used to, but I’m very grateful for this chance and I’ll do everything to achieve successes with Porsche as soon as possible.
You’ve only tested the new 911 RSR. How much are you looking forward to your maiden race with Porsche?
I’m very excited of course. Although I’ve never competed on the very demanding Watkins Glen racetrack, I’m very pleased that we finally get to race with Porsche.
You could test the 911 RSR at Road America. What was the main focus of this?
For me it was important to gather as much information as possible and to see how the car responds under different conditions – for example with worn and fresh tyres, in low and high track temperatures. The insights I gained during this short time were very informative.
What was your first impression of the new 911 RSR?
My first encounter with the 911 RSR was very impressive. Even before you climb into the cockpit, you can see just how much potential the car has. However, the handling is completely different to the cars I’ve driven in the past.
In this respect it will take me a while to familiarise myself with the 911 RSR so that I’m really fast. But for a racing driver there’s no better challenge.
Have you been able to settle in to the Porsche GT Team?
The reception was fantastic. When I got into the plane in the USA I didn’t really know what was coming, but my expectations were exceeded. I’ve received a very warm welcome from everyone and I immediately felt at home.
Although I’ve only experienced the team during the short tests at Road America, I was very impressed by the professional way the guys worked there. And my new teammate Laurens and I clicked immediately. So this makes me all the more excited for the first race at Watkins Glen and for the rest of the season.
What are your goals?
It’s been seven years since I contested a full season in the USA. The races there have their own rules, they’re difficult to gauge. The many safety car phases can turn everything upside down at any time. Until you’ve crossed the finish line, you can never know where you’ll end up.
This is completely different to, say, the WEC, but it’s still a wonderful challenge. My goal for the rest of the season is to learn as much as possible about the new 911 RSR so that I can go for the championship title well prepared with Porsche in 2018, regardless of the race series. I’m already looking forward to this!