Back in 2018, British racing driver David Pittard arrived in Germany with a determination to make a name for himself in the world of motorsport. With experience in the British GT Championship and various historic series, Pittard aimed to catch the attention of the prestigious German manufacturers. Little did he know that, five years later, he would be celebrating a remarkable victory at the Nürburgring 24 Hours race, behind the wheel of a Ferrari.
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Upon arriving in Germany, Pittard teamed up with Walkenhorst Motorsport and their BMW M6 GT3. His talent behind the wheel became evident, notably securing pole position in the VLN Nürburgring Endurance Series (NLS) with a sub-8-minute lap. Pittard’s remarkable performances made a lasting impression and positioned him as a rising star in the motorsport community.
“This is my new home race,” joked Pittard. “I live an hour down the road and I’ve done a bit of everything here since coming here five years ago. I remember getting my first pole in NLS, my first win in NLS, my first fastest lap in NLS, the championship in 2020, winning the Qualifying Race, so it’s kind of ticking everything off. This is the crown jewel, this is where everything leads to. Yeah, five years of trying, effectively.”
Pittard steadily built his résumé in the world of endurance racing. The Nürburgring 24 Hours was the ultimate test that capped his five years of tireless effort and dedication. Although he initially set his sights on impressing the ‘big three’ German manufacturers, fate had a different plan for him. Winning the ‘N24’ in a Ferrari was probably not what he had envisioned when he first arrived in Germany.
Pittard’s journey took an unexpected twist, leading him to join forces with Frikadelli Racing and their Ferrari 296 GT3. This unlikely partnership set the stage for an extraordinary achievement at the renowned endurance race. Having entered last year’s race in a factory-backed Aston Martin, the Englishman had to look for a different drive in 2023 as a result of Aston Martin’s decision not to compete this year and Klaus Abbelen at Frikadelli Racing was the first person he thought to speak to.
“I initially thought that Klaus would be doing a Pro-Am car but the legend that Klaus is he’s like, ‘No, we’re gonna do a Pro car.’ So when he mentioned the guys he’d got signed up already I was like I want a piece of this but initially it didn’t come together.
“We spoke at the beginning of December and then that didn’t work out and then I’d just done Daytona and then he called me and said things have changed – are you still available?”
Pittard expressed his appreciation for the Ferrari 296 GT3, a car that had faced challenges during its development. He acknowledged the efforts of Ferrari and Rinaldi Racing – the latter have been taking care of the operational side – in overcoming those hurdles.
“It’s pretty crazy because the 296 had maybe a slightly troubled birth, especially with IMSA and in the way the regulations have worked out for them. It was good to see the car was quick at the GT World Challenge at Brands Hatch for example. It was nice because we could fly the flag for the new car effectively and Ferrari and Rinaldi in particular. We must give thanks to Michele [Rinaldi, team-owner] because he’s had a big input in getting us started in the technical support from the team.
“He’s taken all his Ferrari knowledge over the years and brought it into the new car. And yeah, it’s all come together.
“I was in Sebring when NLS1 happened and we’re getting feedback from the guys and it looked pretty good. It’s a good starting place. We kind of tweaked it and tweaked it and it took a little while because of the Eifel weather. Once we had a couple of races under our belt, I think NLS3 we were quick, Qualifiers race we were quicker again and we knew we were riding the wave into the big one.
During the race, Pittard and his teammates encountered a rear stability issue with the car yet despite this setback, the team’s exceptional performance during the night allowed them to establish a significant advantage.
“My second-to-last stint was half past seven to half past nine this morning, something like that, and you can feel it’s on its way out. It was like the damping was coming less and less so it was just pogoing around at the rear and it really became apparent in Nicky’s stint. With some three, four hours to go and even the TV picked it up, the rear was like bouncing around and it particularly made it tricky off curb, so we had to avoid that and manage it accordingly.
However, with only a few hours remaining, Pittard had to adapt his driving style to compensate for the rear instability. The team’s expertise in managing the issue ultimately secured their victory.
“It definitely affected the performance because especially in the high-speed the rear stability was completely gone, which I think is a strength of the Ferrari. So we would have had one hand tied behind our back for the final three hours and manage it but the car was lightning fast through the night. That’s where we built the advantage. And that’s the cushion we had to bring her home to the end.”
The last hour of the race was characterised by strategic manoeuvring and unpredictable moments. With differing pit stop strategies, Pittard found himself engaged in a back and forth battle with their rivals. The presence of Code 60 zones added further complexity, with each team benefiting from different sections of the track.
“That final hour because of the pit stop difference and things like that it was really cat-and-mouse and in fact we were on different parts of the circuit, we’d catch one Code 60 but not the other and vice versa. That was the most inconsistent part because from our perspective we had more to lose and they had more to gain but as long as it was fair, as long as we got the same Code 60s, then I was happy with it but obviously that’s just the way the N24 is.
Relying on the guidance of their engineer providing crucial information, Pittard maintained his composure, ensuring a safe lead that brought the car triumphantly across the finish line.
“I was very nervous going into it but Andy, our engineer, was fantastic on the radio, he’s been fantastic in the whole programme just keeping us informed with all the necessary information and by the end he was saying we could drive 20 seconds off the pace and we’ll still win with 2 laps to go and that’s basically what I did.
“My dream is to win the big four 24-hour races so this is a life tick for me today.”
Reflecting on the experience, Pittard is modest and quick to praise the team.
“Klaus is a stalwart of the NLS and the N24, I think he’s probably been doing NLS maybe longer then I’ve been alive and I know how much it means to him. It’s literally on his doorstep and he’s a person who will only do things fully and not by halves at all which is clear by the programme he’s put together.
“I’m hugely grateful to get the ask and be a part of it. I’m working hard to even be on the same grid as the guys like Catsburg and Bamber. These are guys I’ve looked up to for years so to be in the same car as them is like wow and Felipe as well as he has such amazing pedigree. When Klaus mentioned what he was going to put together I was like wow, this is special so I’m glad we maximised it and made the most of it.”
Looking ahead, Pittard is unsure of future place for racing ‘Bella’ but he will be competing in IMSA’s Petit Le Mans at the end of the year. While opportunities for this year may be limited, he remains optimistic about securing a drive for Spa. Despite the uncertainty, his focus is already shifting towards building for the upcoming year, ensuring his continued presence in the world of endurance racing.
“I’m pretty sure we were all psyched up for this event, we were all gearing up for this event. I’m not sure what the plans for the car is going forward.”
“For the moment I know that this could be my last round in Bella so I made sure I enjoyed it but I’ll love to be back.
“I have IMSA at the end of the year, Petit Le Mans, but I’m quite quiet this year, unfortunately. I’m still trying to piece together Spa so I’ve got to go to Spa on Tuesday and Wednesday to try and work a drive for there but I think that will be about it and I need to start building for next year already.
David Pittard’s journey to victory at the Nürburgring 24 Hours serves as a testament to his unwavering dedication and passion for motorsport. From his early days in Britcar and the British GT Championship to his unexpected triumph with Ferrari, Pittard has consistently pushed boundaries and achieved remarkable milestones. His win at the iconic endurance race cements his place among the sport’s elite drivers. As he continues to pursue his dreams, Pittard’s journey reminds us of the extraordinary rewards that await those who persist and seize every opportunity that comes their way.
Interview by Miguel Bosch.
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