Born in Rome (you don’t get much more Italian than that!) on 30 May 1981, Gianmaria ‘Gimmi’ Bruni began his racing career at the tender age of just 10 years old. It all kicked off in karting, as it so often does. But already from that tender age, Gianmaria Bruni showed a determination that set him apart from the rest.
Bruni made his way swiftly up the motorsport ladder through the Italian Formula Renault Campus, the European Formula Renault Eurocup 2.0, and then the British Formula 3 Championships. In 2003, he broke into Formula 1 when Minardi approached him to drive for them in 2004. After a difficult year with Minardi, he found a seat in the GP2 series from 2004 to 2006, regarded as a feeder series for Formula 1.
‘Gimmi’ Bruni’s racing career really began to take shape when he switched to GT cars in 2007, where he drove a Ferrari 430 for the AF Corse Motorola team in the FIA GT Championship. 2008 saw the first of his three 24 Hours of Le Mans GT titles, the others coming in 2012 and 2014, all behind the wheel of various Ferraris for the AF Corse team. He also drove for Risi Competizione in the American Le Mans Series but in 2011 Bruni turned his focus towards Europe for his main racing activities. Of course, he did still race in the USA at Daytona and the Petit Le Mans, what world class GT driver wouldn’t?
However, in February 2017, Ferrari and Gianmaria Bruni announced that, by mutual consent, they would be terminating their relationship, one which had started way back in 2007. At the same time, Porsche announced that Bruni would be driving for them in the 911 RSR GTE Pro class in the WEC, and the GTLM IMSA series in the USA. Ferrari though, wasn’t about to let their star driver walk across the paddock and immediately climb into a Porsche, and so Bruni was forbidden from driving competitively for the Stuttgart manufacturer until July 2017. Bruni’s first competitive outing in a Porsche was the IMSA race at Watkins Glen that July, but he could only start to drive in the WEC as from 2018.
And so it was, that Porsche Road & Race caught up with the likeable Italian at the first race of the WEC season, the Spa-Francorchamps 6 Hours, in May 2018.
The first race of the season is always bursting with questions and uncertainties, and the teams and drivers are on the look-out to see what the opposition has done to their car over the winter. With Gianmaria Bruni’s move from Ferrari to Porsche in 2017, the question uppermost in most people’s minds would have been, ‘how would he take to the Porsche’? When asked to comment on the characteristics of driving a Ferrari compared to a Porsche, he replied, “There is a big difference, even with the engine in the middle position. The car is completely different especially in the setup and although it is better for me now, there is still a big difference. Every time I got into the car I would still drive it as I had driven in the past with the Ferrari, but that is not the way to drive this car, so sometimes I need to ‘zero’ my thinking. It doesn’t come naturally (yet) like it was with the Ferrari, but I’m sure it will become easier.”
Some see Bruni’s move to Porsche as a ‘defection’, “You know, in Italy some people think that if you drive for Ferrari you have everything. Yes, it is true, it was good, but it was a good time for myself and for Ferrari. But then sometimes things change in your life and you face new challenges – and especially at my age, I’m not young anymore, I am now 36 – I am always looking to improve and so it is good to have a new challenge. My goal now is doing the world championship with Porsche, that is why I came here, and I will push hard this year.”
With three Le Mans titles and two drivers’ titles to his name, there can be little doubt that Gianmaria Bruni has brought vast experience to the Porsche works squad. What is the secret to his achievements, “There is no real secret. In the past I have had good luck, and this was always very important. Some years I had bad luck and lost, like in 2015 and 2016 when I had lots of breakdowns. But as a driver, you need to get on very well with your partner, especially at Le Mans and in the six-hour races, I think this is key, because you need to share the car for a long time and you need to have the same driving style. You must have the same fuel consumption too, so you have to look out for every detail, because these make up the big things. You don’t only have to look after the car, but also the balance of the car, the team and the other driver, because everything counts. Every race and every point counts towards the championship in the end.”
When asked about the competition, driver (double stinting) and car strategy, Bruni responded in rather general terms, “Well, you know, anything can change during the race, it depends on the car’s behaviour and many things. The Porsche is strong against the competitors, and I think we have very good brake stability. The field is very strong though, and so I would not exclude anyone.”
Bruni’s move to Porsche wasn’t a quick process, where they popped the question and the reply was immediately forthcoming. They first approached him at the end of 2014, and the second time was in 2017, which is when he was ready to face a new challenge. It seems though that the quiet Italian has made a marked difference in the team very quickly, “This is the way that I work, I go either full out or nothing at all. I am the first person at the track and the last to leave with the engineer. I was very clear from the beginning, I do this for the passion, I do it because I love racing, testing and trying to get better. There is still some margin to improve all of our package, myself, the car and the team working with the drivers. I’m sure we will get stronger and stronger.”
Having started his racing career at 10 years of age, Bruni must have had a role model. “Tarquini, Capello and Pirro, they were my idols when I was young,” came the quick reply. “When you are young, you always think about what you will do in life, but now because I’m getting older, I can really enjoy this big new challenge. I really just enjoy every day! I mean, how cool is it driving for the biggest manufacturing families, Ferrari and Porsche? Everybody thinks that I’m crazy, but I had the chance with Porsche and I have to say, that it was like a dream come true.”
The answer might have been rather obvious, but I asked the question anyway – what car does he drive today, “A 911 Turbo S.” So, after years of driving a Ferrari, does he like his first Porsche, “Love it (big smile) and my daughter loves it too!”
Watch the Porsches at Le Mans this year, there is a new energy in the team…I can’t wait.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale & John Mountney