After successfully claiming the European Le Mans Series title in his maiden year with the German marque, Porsche Motorsport Asia Pacific Selected Driver Alessio Picariello’s second season sees him tackle two of the biggest GT endurance events in the world.
The Belgian racer took part in his first Nürburgring 24 Hours earlier this year with Falken Motorsports and although he now speaks highly of the legendary Green Hell, Alessio recalls not having the easiest start to his time on the circuit.
“Back in 2016 when I was getting my Nordschleife permit, I had to do two races in a Porsche Cayman in the V5 category,” he said. “For the first two or three laps I was thinking ‘What am I doing here?! This isn’t for me.’ It wasn’t until the race when I had to fight that it came together.
“There were a lot of pro drivers doing the permit, I remember fighting Daniel Juncadella for the whole stint. I basically switched off my brain and had so much fun like never before. That’s where I really started to enjoy the Nordschleife.”
Upon his return at the start of 2021, Alessio would not only have to re-learn the 25-kilometre track but do so in a new car – the Porsche 911 GT3 R having raced the 911 RSR GTE car last year. He had a two-day test in the 911 GT3 R in early 2020 with Absolute Racing, preparing for his original programme before the global pandemic prompted a switch to a season in Europe.
Like many teams and drivers preparing for the 24 Hours, he would also contest the first three rounds of the Nürburgring Langstrecken Serie (NLS). But an added complication was that both the pre-season test and curtain raiser were called off due to adverse weather conditions, leaving only two four-hour races before the ADAC Qualification Race.
“What I’ve realised is that no matter how long it’s been, it will always take those two or three laps to get back into the rhythm.”
“Learning a new class of car last year came a bit more naturally to me because it was on tracks I was familiar with, but on the Nordschleife this is completely different. The 911 GT3 R is rear-engined unlike the RSR so it was all very new to me.
“Stepping up from V5 to the SP9 class was already a huge step, but what I’ve realised is that no matter how long it’s been, a week or a month or whatever, it will always take those two or three laps to get back into the rhythm and build the confidence at the Nordschleife. It’s not always easy because at the 24 Hours, for example, we had four drivers in the car so you don’t necessarily get a lot of driving time before the race.”
Alessio was in good hands, however. The Falken Motorsports team is as synonymous with racing at the Nordschleife as Manthey Racing’s ‘Grello’ car, with success across multiple categories over two decades of competition, and this year fielded such talent as Porsche works drivers Sven Müller, Dirk Werner and Thomas Preining, as well as Klaus Bachler and Martin Ragginger.
“You drive a lot on instinct, that’s what I love about it.”
Former factory driver Sascha Maassen has also been ever-present in Alessio’s development, as a benefit of being part of the Porsche development programme.
“Sascha helps me in working with the team and how we can get the best out of each other, he offers a lot of advice for outside of the car.
“My team-mates were also very experienced, so I asked them as much as possible. Because the track is so long, you don’t really have time to go through specific points on the data. It means you drive a lot on instinct, that’s what I love about it.”
After a race that was mired by dense fog, the #44 Falken Porsche came home fourth. Although they missed out on the podium, Alessio was delighted with the result.
“For sure at that moment it was disappointing to lose a podium position but looking back on it, I think we can only be proud. We were starting far away, the race was very difficult and we knew our only chance was to push as hard as we could without making any mistakes.
“We were very much on the limit the whole time and we extracted the maximum that we could. I think not being happy with fourth would be arrogant, especially as it was my first 24 Hours – the toughest race in the whole world. So I was quite happy actually.”
Now the second half of Alessio’s season begins, with the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the end of August fast approaching.
In a twist of fate, he will be reunited with the Absolute Racing team he has known well since joining them in 2015 and with who has completed multiple seasons in various categories. Both will be making their Le Mans debuts with the #18 machine in GTE-Am.
“For as long as we’ve known each other, they told me their dream was to go to Le Mans. I was in single seaters at the time but when I switched to GTs, it became my dream too. We always joked about going for the first time together, and now it’s actually happening.
“It hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I’m sure it only will when we’re there at the start of the race. It’s a very nice story for us.”
“The new car is quite different to the previous version I drove in ELMS last year. It has more downforce and is a bit more sensitive to set-up changes.”
The Chinese team has partnered with Proton Competition for two World Endurance Championship rounds to give their drivers some seat time ahead of the 24 Hours. Alessio and his team-mates Andrew Haryanto and Marco Seefried got their first taste of the 911 RSR-19 at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in May.
“The new car is quite different to the previous version I drove in ELMS last year. It has more downforce and is a bit more sensitive to set-up changes. It’s quite a challenge to adapt to, for both driver and team, but Proton is very experienced and we’ll be ready for Le Mans.
“We didn’t have many expectations going into Spa, we just went for experience and it went better than we hoped. It was a new car for everyone, especially for Andrew as it was his first time in GTE. Right away, we saw we had something to fight for. We would have been third were it not for a small penalty and at Monza we will get some more driving time. For Andrew in particular this is important as he is not used to driving with traffic from the LMPs and so on.
“I think Monza is the best practice for Le Mans, it’s the closest track in terms of set-up so that’s what we’ll be focusing on.”
Alessio’s campaign continues with the 6 Hours of Monza on 18 July, the final WEC round before the 24 Hours of Le Mans on 21-22 August.
Source. Pole/Photo. Porsche