Sao Paulo’s
street racer

Sao Paulo’s street racer 01

From Le Mans to Macau
Lucas di Grassi, from Brazil, is a driver who’s not afraid of a challenge. His next one comes just next week, when he takes part in the FIA GT World Cup through the streets of Macau.
The 33-year-old’s participation in the event will be the latest milestone in his increasingly successful relationship with Audi. His shared history with the German marque began in 2012 when he joined its all-conquering sportscar squad for a World Endurance Championship race in his home city of Sao Paulo, on the famed Interlagos track that is also the venue for this weekend’s Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix.
Sharing a car with two endurance racing icons in Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish (which they drove to third place) gave di Grassi a flying start in the discipline, and after finishing on the podium again at the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours in 2013, he became a full-time member of Audi’s world championship driving force.
A busy schedule saw him combine that with representing the brand in Formula E: an initiative he was behind from the start thanks to his relationship with series founder Alejandro Agag. Di Grassi raced for Agag’s team in the GP2 Series in 2008, finishing third in the standings despite missing six races. A similar result the next year with a rival squad led to him earning his break as an F1 driver…and it was through F1 that he first became associated with Pirelli.

Learning the hard way
Life with the brand-new Virgin Racing team (which later became Marussia and then Manor) wasn’t easy, but he was able to use the experience gained from that and his years beforehand as a test driver for Renault to take on a testing role with Pirelli. Then, he remembers: “Alejandro came with this crazy idea and said: ‘I’m going to do an electric racing series, do you want to join and help me to build this championship?’”
Di Grassi won the title at the third attempt earlier this year for a team that enjoys increasing involvement from Audi. His passion for the future of motoring has now developed to the point that he has become the CEO of Roborace: a racing driver in charge of a series that will have no drivers. But di Grassi is an astute businessman as well as a fierce competitor. The automotive world is heading only in one way, towards possibly the most overused phrase in the motoring lexicon: ‘sustainable mobility’. But whether we like it or not, it's happening.

Sao Paulo’s street racer 02

Back to his roots
Di Grassi began his racing career on the karting track next to the F1 circuit at Interlagos, and although his only grand prix start on home soil was blighted by a mechanical issue with his car, he did enjoy success in Formula Renault and Formula 3 in his homeland before making the journey to Europe to further his career. Today, there is only a handful of young Brazilians in the ranks below F1, like Formula 2 race-winner Sergio Sette Camara.
“I’d like to push it more,” says di Grassi. “I’d like to make motorsport in Brazil more relevant. It’s a great sport for kids, it’s a great sport for the teenagers to learn discipline, concentration and self-control. Even after I retire, I want to push it massively to make Brazil a key country in motorsport.”
For now, he still has ambitions as a driver, including more traditional forms of motorsport: “There’s still some races I want to do. I want to do Daytona, I want to win Le Mans. I always wanted to be the first Brazilian ever to win Le Mans. Then I love racing in Macau.”
Taking part in the FIA GT World Cup will take di Grassi back to the scene of one of his biggest achievements. In 2005, he won the F3 race at the Macau Grand Prix: finishing just behind him in second was Robert Kubica, and third was Sebastian Vettel. 
The notorious street circuit, with its blend of long straights and a twisting mountain section, will be a tough place for di Grassi to make his debut in the Audi R8 LMS, up against a top-quality field of GT3 cars all equipped with the same Pirelli tyres. But it’s just the latest in a long line of challenges taken on by this highly ambitious Brazilian: one of the most versatile racers that his illustrious country has ever produced.

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