We met up with Patrick Pilet recently at the Carrera Cup prize giving ceremony and were able to have a word with him…
Patrick, the 2019 season started one month ago at Daytona 24 Hours. How was that first race of the year for you and for the works team?
It was a difficult race, due to the weather conditions. For us, it was a good debut that weekend, we were on top of the standings during all the free sessions and in pole position for the start. Moreover, we were leading the race with no faults for almost 16 hours. Unfortunately, the rain arrived and despite the fact that the Porsche RSRs are pretty good in the wet and we (the drivers) are quite comfortable, this wasn’t simple. The car was really difficult to drive. I think this was due to the extreme setups we had chosen for the dry conditions but also particularly for the Daytona racetrack with long straits where the top speeds are very important.
Despite your fifth place, for Porsche the final result was good, with the other car on the podium in the category.
Obviously, for the Porsche brand the final result was alright, and in the Constructors’ standings we scored some good points, but the championship is long. We don’t have a big gap between ourselves and the BMWs in the points standings, therefore it will be very important to be regular and consistent in the coming races. I am quite confident about Sebring because it is a race that we won last year.
How did you feel seeing your teammate going off after 16 hours of racing? Was it frustrating?
Honestly, I have spoken with Fréd (Makowiecki) after his off, this is something that happens in racing, especially under damp conditions, and nobody in the team blamed him for that. We know that if you want to win you need to go 100% all the time. You may have red flags or even have the race shortened, that’s why you push all the time. We have no regret now, no bitterness, we are a team, we are winning together, and we are losing together. I prefer losing while battling rather than losing without having tried…
Having been an official works driver for many years, do you feel any kind of pressure from the brand, and do you put pressure on yourself?
No, we have no pressure from our bosses or from the brand. We have some pressure, this is for sure, but inside the Porsche team there is no pressure at all. The only pressure for us is to represent one of the most famous sports car brands in the world and one that wins almost everywhere they go. We put on ourselves a positive pressure to always perform better and to go faster.
Which Championship do you prefer, IMSA or WEC?
I love racing in the US and the IMSA Championship. You can see the different kind of race formats: you start the season with a 24-hour race, then we go to Sebring for the 12 Hours and next you have a 1-hour 40-minute race, so the races are very different. There, in the US, we are always ‘on’ (meaning that the drivers are awake all the time). The race directors don’t hesitate to deploy safety cars and that makes the race exciting especially with the restarts (there are no big gaps between the cars, and the restart is like a new start of the race), and this is more exciting for the spectators. The teams participate to win, and with good race strategies, good choices and decisions by the engineers, this will have an impact on the final result. The race tracks are very different also, in terms of layout or surface.
For myself, as a French driver, the Le Mans 24hours is a very special race, but there are plenty of races around the globe, like Nürburgring, Bathurst etc. My goal is to win races, no matter where these races are held, but I prefer the US, and I have been driving there for quite a few years now.
How do you set your race calendar at the beginning of the season? Does Porsche call you and give you the schedule, or do you discuss it together? How does that process unfold?
Well, the Porsche team gives us a provisional racing calendar, but we can still openly discuss some races that we would like to do. For example, at the end of 2018, we said to our management that there is a race like the Spa 24 Hours that we have not won overall (I won this in Pro-AM, but neither Nick Tandy or Frédéric Makowiecki have won it). Therefore, we told them that we had won almost all of the most prestigious races in the world, except Spa. There is now a new-spec 911 GT3 car for 2019, and this was good timing with the arrival of a new privateer team (ROWE Racing). They will be entering two Porsche cars, and one of the cars will be for Nick, Fred and myself. This is very exciting project, and I can’t wait to get there!
The Blancpain GT Series is a very strong championship, maybe that would be giving you a taste of a full season in 2020?
It would be nice to do some occasional races (like VLN, Spa 24 Hours, etc), but I love the Porsche RSR and the GTE category. I am not a big fan of the 911 GT3 and the ABS braking and the other electronic controls that the car is equipped with. The Championship is great, but I am very attached to the ‘old spec’ cars like the RSR, which still perform very well with the tyres in its specific environment. Also, I know the teams I drive for very well, and I have built good friendships with all the people around me, and that makes me feel good here.
How do you train physically? Being an official Porsche works driver, do you have a specific training programme?
We travel a lot, and therefore we train in the fitness or gym saloons at the hotels where we are staying. As for myself, I am a sportsman, I have always participated in sport on a daily basis: jogging, cycling, bodybuilding and boxing. I am also a golfer, and I play golf to relax after a race. I am a hyperactive person, even on holidays, I am not the kind of person who can stop and do nothing. Other than my personal training, before Sebring, Porsche organises a team training camp in Tenerife, where we do different sports altogether. Porsche also organises medical tests twice a year, in order to verify that we are at peak physical condition.
You are travelling a lot and especially in the US. Aren’t you tired of being far from home all the time?
I am now doing more races in the WEC and therefore I am in Europe more. But I have found a good balance for myself, I love travelling and I deal easily with jet lag. In total, I spend between 200-250 days away from my home. I love the US, and I love travelling, therefore I have no problem with that.
Do you sometimes speak to yourself and say: I am one of the best Porsche drivers in the world? How do you feel in this position?
For me 2019 is my eleventh season as a Porsche driver. Honestly, I don’t think about my position and my achievements so far. I do what I love, I am passionate about my job, and all I want is to win races. I have had the chance to meet some of my heroes during events like Rennsport, such as Derek Bell, Vic Elford, Gérard Larrousse. These drivers made me dream about racing when I was a child. They are not from my generation, but that of my parents, and I grew up with these names in my head and hearing about their successes and wins around the world. I had the chance to meet them and they tell me, “You are the legends and the stars of today.” When I see, for example, our overall win at Petit Le Mans (in 2015) and being the only Porsche team ever to win Petit Le Mans overall, I realise that I played a part in that great achievement and I have written, together with my teammates, a page in the history of the brand. So, I am not thinking about it now, but one day when I retire, I will look back at the results and say, “Wow nice, I did all that!”
How are the racing cars in 2019 compared with ten years ago? Are they more physical to drive, in terms of handling?
Everything is different, if you compare them with ten years ago. There is more and more technology on-board the cars today.
Are they more comfortable to drive?
In certain aspects yes, but on the other hand they generate more G-forces today, because the cars are faster, the cornering speed is higher, everything is quicker thanks to the tyres and the aerodynamics. But I have a lot of respect for the ‘older’ generation of drivers where some teams used only two drivers for Le Mans, the cars had no power-steering, H-type mechanical gearbox, and heel and toe driving. I started my career driving the old generation of Porsches with H-shifting gearboxes, with heel and toe. The younger drivers today don’t know how it was, they have never driven cars like that.
Do you regret not driving in that period of time?
No, because you need to live in your time and the actual generation of cars. The technology evolves, I don’t regret not having the old technology, but I have a lot of respect for and I love the old cars. I would have loved driving in the old times – like 20, 30 or 40 years ago – for the pleasure of driving that generation of cars. Obviously, I prefer today in terms of security and safety aspects. But I would have loved driving some generations ago because a good driver was a good driver, and he was capable of driving in numerous classes including F1, F2, rally, GT, Le Mans, and sports cars. A good driver then was a good driver in any class. Today that would be impossible because the classes are so specific. We are now only known for driving in one class and we stay in that ‘box’. Before, the drivers were free to drive in other classes and the paddocks were more user-friendly, without the marketing and advertising aspects we have today.
What is your everyday car?
I have a Cayenne Turbo, I love this car. I have had almost all the road cars from Porsche because we get the chance to choose the car we like. I love the Cayenne Turbo because I travel quite a lot and I like having room inside the car, so when I go off playing golf I can easily put all my kit inside. It is an SUV with a top speed of 300 km/h, so this is top!
Which is your favourite Porsche model (road & race) – any period of time?
The answer is very simple: I love the 911 2.4 S. This is for me the dream car, the purity and the sports car at its most basic. It is a small car, simple, it’s not about the performance, but this is the 911 that I dream of.
Written by: Lucian Sonea
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale and Porsche Werkfoto