Giancarlo Fisichella:
how to win a GT race

Giancarlo Fisichella: how to win a GT race

The Italian started driving when he was very small. By eight years old he was already driving a go-kart at the Pista d’oro in Rome because his dad, a big F1 fan, was keen to take him out on track. The youngster paid him back by eventually becoming a well-known Formula 1 driver, and then GT champion with Ferrari.

How do you drive a GT car?

You’ve got to be fast yet tactical at the same time, trying to find an instant feeling with the car. A GT car has got less grip than a Formula 1 car, it moves around a lot, and you have to brake much sooner coming into a corner, because it weighs about double. You’ve got to think ahead and choose your lines for the corners carefully in advance, although you’ve got the advantage of being able to ride the kerbs. In Formula 1, the idea instead is to avoid the kerbs.

Which characteristics does a GT driver need to have?

It depends on what type of race it is: a sprint race – which lasts for about an hour – or an endurance race, which lasts more than three hours. In an endurance race, you have to be a bit conservative and make sure that the car is in good condition for the last two hours of the race, which on the whole are the decisive ones: avoiding, for example, jumping on the kerbs too much. In a sprint race, by contrast, you need to be a bit more aggressive because you often go door-to-door with your rivals and there’s a little bit more jeopardy. In both types of race you’ve still got to push to the maximum, because even in a 24-hour race, every lap is like a qualifying lap.

How do you train for these races?

You need to have a good physical and mental preparation. Basically, you need to be fit by the time you get to the race. The main problem is the heat inside the car, where you sweat a lot. So it’s important to be well-hydrated before and during the race in order not to become affected by cramps. It’s not quite as physical as a Formula 1 race can be; in GT the main difficulty is fatigue, which can creep up on you during endurance races, when you’re driving at night as well. I train at the gym, by playing football, and by riding my bike.

What’s the most difficult moment in a GT race?

When you switch on the headlights and night is about to fall. Everything becomes more difficult, because the track isn’t lit up. You need a lot of concentration, making sure that you divide your attention between the track ahead and your mirrors. You also have to take care of the start and get through all the corners properly. At the start, the main priority is to avoid contact with other cars. When cornering you just need to make sure you hit the right lines.

What was it like to win Le Mans?

Le Mans is a unique race. When you cross the finish line first at the end of the 24 hours, it’s a crazy emotion, which you share with the other drivers in the team, your mechanics, and everyone else who made the win possible. To understand what a team game it is, it’s enough to know that you make around 24 pit stops throughout the race.

What do you remember about that race?

In 2012, it was only when I drove out of the double esses at the end of the final lap in the lead that I realised it was actually happening and we were going to win. I was talking to the pits on the radio and I began to shout: ‘we’ve done it guys!’ That’s exactly how it was: it’s such an emotional feeling that it makes you want to cry.

What’s been the best memory of your driving career?

Over the course of 35 years I’ve had very many good memories, but the one that I remember most of all was probably my first time in Formula 1. My first test was with the 1995 Ferrari and it was a prize test for four drivers with myself, Pierluigi Martini, Luca Badoer and Gianni Morbidelli at the wheel. That test was a prize for winning the 1994 Italian Formula 3 championship; my actual Formula 1 debut was at Albert Park in Australia in 1996 with Minardi. Then another unforgettable memory was driving in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza with Ferrari in 2009. It was only there that I realised what driving for Ferrari actually meant.

Where does your passion for racing come from?

The passion for racing comes from my dad, who had a car workshop and knew everything about cars and engines. On top of that he was a very big Formula 1 fan, and we used to watch all the grands prix together on TV. Then, when I was eight years old, he took me out to the Pista d’oro in Rome and I got into a kart for the first time. In the end, you could say that I never really got out: it became my life.

What would your advice be to anyone who wants to become a racing driver?

First of all, start off with the school that we’ve all been through: karting. And really believe in what you are doing: try and try again to achieve your dream. It’s true that you need some degree of financial support, but that’s not the only thing. I came from a normal family and I got there through my own efforts.

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