Audi treated media guests at the Johannesburg International Motor Show to the presence of an international motorsport icon.
Now an Audi brand ambassador, Emanuele Pirro was one of the trio that won the Le Mans 24 Hour race five times for Audi - driving the R8 and R10 TDI competition cars.
The Italian has enjoyed a long and illustrious motorsport career, having won the Italian Go-Kart Championship twice early in his career before achieving victory in the 24 Hours of Daytona and podium places in the European Formula 3 and World Touring Car Championship during the '80s.
He also tried his hand at Formula One, as a test driver for McLaren-Honda in 1988 and a driver for Benetton-Ford in 1989 and Scuderia Italia in 1990 and 1991.
After returning to touring cars thereafter, Pirro entered Le Mans in 1999 and clinched his first win with Audi in 2000.
IOL caught up with the charming yet humble champion ahead of his appearance at the Joburg show.
IOL: You have competed in various motorsport fields, starting off in karting, then touring cars, F1 and endurance racing - do you have any favourites?
Pirro: I really consider myself blessed, born with an incredible passion for cars; as a kid I was dreaming about making it to F1. My F1 career has not been the most important phase, but I had huge satisfaction in other fields - touring and sports cars - and always had the good fortune to drive incredible cars that would allow me to win.
IOL: If you had to give a few pearls of wisdom to aspiring racing drivers - what would they be?
Pirro: Unfortunately, money is required in motorsport, but not all of the big champs come from wealth - if you really have it and really want it you can do it, but you have to work for it. That applies to anything in life.
Once you do end up in a race car, you should always look at what you can do to improve your situation rather than blaming the car or team.
Driving a race car is a blessing, never forget that, and always appreciate what you're doing.
IOL: What is your favourite circuit in the world?
Pirro: Macau - I really like street circuits and situations that are not forgiving; where if you make a mistake, you pay for it. Macau is extremely challenging. Street circuits require extreme precision, which I like.
IOL: Is Macau as scary as they say it is?
Pirro: A little bit, but when I think of the riders, I don't complain.
IOL: What's the most rewarding race car that you've driven?
Pirro: The (Le Mans) Audi R8, the most successful ever. It's really nice to drive and an unbelievable race car.
IOL: You've won Le Mans five times with Audi - what were the highlights from that era?
Pirro: Every win has been special for different reasons. When you win, it's just giving sense to a huge amount of effort to many people involved; it's not really an egotistical feeling, sometimes you wish you could share that last lap with the whole team.
IOL: How do you keep your concentration during an endurance race like Le Mans?
Pirro: When I'm driving and I know there's a long stint ahead, I always stake it step by step. Don't look at the bigger picture, look at the small frames of picture and don't add them up.
IOL: What's the best car you've ever owned?
Pirro: They say your first love is never forgotten, so it's my first car - a 1980 first-generation VW Polo. Mine had a GTI engine, low profile tyres, Bilstein suspension etc. It felt like it couldn't get any better…
(IOL ponders whether he's receiving royalties for inventing the Polo GTI.)
IOL: If you could do things over again, would you focus more on F1 or endurance sports cars?
Pirro: I'm ambitious, but appreciate what I have. The enjoyment I had and people I've met have been beyond expectation. I don't like to look back, unless it's to improve.
IOL: What stands out the most for you when looking back at your Formula One career?
Pirro: My days as a McLaren test driver, where I worked with Prost and Senna. Being with them really taught me such a lot; the intensity and commitment they had was very, very special. I learned from this approach and became a better driver myself after that.