Emanuele Pirro on Andrea de Angelis: My Greatest Rival

For future Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro Italian karting in the 1970s was a breeding ground for talent - none better than Elio’s brother

Emanuele Pirro leads Andrea de Angelis in a 1976 kart race

Pirro leads Andrea de Angelis on a Rome kart track, 1976; their teenage battles were ruthless

Emanuele Pirro Archive

My toughest rival has always been myself. I was very rarely satisfied with my performance so the person I had to deal with throughout my whole career was myself. It was not always about beating other people, it was more about constantly trying to improve my own performance in all the cars that I raced.

If I have to choose one rival I want to go back to my karting days when I was fighting Andrea de Angelis, Elio’s brother, for the championship. We were good friends but he was my ‘sporting nightmare’, the rival who kept me awake at night. We all grew up together in Rome. There was Eddie Cheever, Andrea de Cesaris, Elio de Angelis, but they were older than me so it was Andrea who became my main rival. His family had big resources, the best equipment. We did not have this, and I won both my national championships in 1976 and ’79 at the very last race. This taught me never to give up, winning in the last laps of the last race.

There were always three races in one day. In the first one we collided at the first corner and I was out with a bent rear axle. So in the second one he started first, I started last, my dad and I fixing the kart at the last minute. Andrea was quick, the battle was on, and we won the next two races to take the championship. It was incredible, like a fairy tale, the sweetest way to take my first title.

Emanuele Pirro Tom Kristensen and Frank Biela on the Le Mans podium

After honing his skills in karts Pirro, left, went on to win Le Mans five times between 2000-2007


We were teenagers, there was no mercy on the track. We had this inner confidence of youth, but we stayed friends. It was a healthy rivalry. Later on racers get polluted by pressures, the camaraderie is not there. You can learn so much from a great rival, how to improve yourself, how to honestly address your weak points. When Andrea beat me it was easy to tell myself he had better equipment – but no, that must never be an excuse. Rather it was extra motivation for me to do better.

Later on the de Angelis family decided to support Elio all the way to Formula 1 so, despite his talent, Andrea never progressed to racing cars. This was sad for me because he could have been my friend and rival for many years when I started to race cars in 1980. Of course I had many other rivals, but in sports cars, in Le Mans, it’s different because to win this is very much a team effort, not so much a rivalry.”