Antonio “Tony” Cairoli is a Motocross legend. The nine-time FIM world champion – who uses Pirelli tyres – has established his name among the greats of his discipline and is only one title short of the all-time record set by Belgian Stefan Everts.
But last month, Cairoli opted for a different kind of challenge and switched two wheels for four at the Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Finals in Jerez de la Frontera.
It’s not the first time Cairoli has competed with a roof over his head; the Sicilian previously competed in – and won – the Rally di Monza at the famous grand prix circuit. But this time, it was a baptism of fire in GT machinery, alongside a fellow legend: five-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner and ex-Formula 1 driver Emanuele Pirro.
“This weekend was the first time ever to drive these cars on a circuit, especially in something like a GT car,” Cairoli said. “So, it was very nice and very difficult on one hand, because if you don’t have enough experience, and you are immediately going onto the same piece of track as the others who have raced for a long time, it’s can be hard. But I have learned quickly and was comfortable with how it went.”
Cairoli admitted to feeling a little bit ‘in at the deep end’ after accepting the offer from the Squadra Corse organisation – the customer racing arm of Automobili Lamborghini. But one thing was guaranteed: Cairoli would be giving it his best effort, because competition runs firmly through his veins.
He explained: “I’ve driven some rally cars in the past but nothing quite like these Super Trofeo cars. It’s a different approach between rallying and racing. I love the one-on-one battles with other drivers, especially on the first lap of the race: I actually felt quite comfortable. The most difficult thing for me to get used to was keeping the speed up through the corners and the braking points. You need to be so precise, which is not really the case in the Motocross world. We always switch lines every lap and we invent new things every time. There is always something happening. In GT racing, it is something really strict, you need to brake here, open the gas here, all the time so it is quite hard to be consistent. You need to have a lot of experience on track.”
Cairoli adapted himself well throughout testing and the opening day of practice in Spain, before he and Pirro qualified seventh out of 16 cars for the second race of the weekend. It was a remarkable achievement, given the fact that the rest of the field had race a full-season campaign behind them.
The races however did not go the way Cairoli wanted, with he and Pirro managing a best finish of 16th out of the weekend’s four encounters. Cairoli ended the weekend with a rookie error as well, hitting the back of Alex Au early in the race before retiring.
Despite this, Cairoli had with him another keen fan and possibly the youngest supporter throughout the weekend: his one-month-old son Chase.
So as well as adapting to a new discipline, Cairoli was also adapting himself to fatherhood. “It’s very difficult to switch from being free and doing your own plans,” he said. “Now you have to focus your own schedule on him but I was really happy that I was able to bring him to Jerez. It made it very enjoyable.”
Fellow two-wheel star – multiple Supercross champion Chad Reed – also racing the Lamborghini Super Trofeo in the North American championship. It just goes to show that even the top bike riders enjoy the occasional shot at cars. Just ask Valentino Rossi.
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