Joshua Pierson, 16 and already in the big leagues

Joshua Pierson, 16 and already in the big leagues

“Getting ahead of the future. » The motto of the 24 Hours of Le Mans seems written for him. Saturday June 11, at 4 p.m., when the 90e edition of the Sarthe race counting for the third round of the World Endurance Championship (WEC), Joshua Pierson will become the youngest driver in history to set off. By entering the category of vehicles known as “LMP2” (for “Le Mans prototype 2”, the second category), the 16-year-old and 117-day-old American will dethrone his compatriot Matt McMurry, record holder since 2014 (16 years and 202 days).

” It’s not nothingensures the World Joshua Pierson, who will be in 11e position on the starting grid on Saturday. It’s pretty cool to be connected, however, to the history of this incredible race. I watched the event growing up, it means a lot to me. »

“It’s amazing to think that someone is going to start one of the biggest races in the world at such a young age.admires his teammate at United Autosports USA, Oliver Jarvis (38). When I started, you couldn’t even drive at 16. »

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At such a young age, the choice of endurance has nothing to do with the classic course, most drivers preferring to get their teeth into single-seaters, in pursuit of the dream of Formula 1 or IndyCar, the pinnacle of the motorsport in the United States. For the native of Wilsonville, near Portland (Oregon), the idea germinated in 2021, thanks to Stephen Simpson, his South African coach, met a year earlier during a single-seater race in the State of New Jersey. . “It didn’t take me long to realize there was something special about him.says the latter, by videoconference from Le Mans. I’ve never seen a driver as talented as him, but above all he listens, with his feet on the ground. »

Karting from the age of 2 and a half

Joshua Pierson during the 12 Hours of Sebring, in Florida (United States), in March 2022.

His talent, the little boy with short, well-groomed red hair, developed it from a very young age, since he got into a karting for the first time at only 2 and a half years old. “My father might remember it better than melaughs the teenager, guitarist in his spare time. I don’t remember, but apparently I was pushing to drive. I was never forced, it’s something I wanted. My first memory in a karting goes back to when I was 7 or 8 years old, during a national race in Arizona. »

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The riding style and connections of his mentor, Stephen Simpson, will do the rest to steer him towards endurance. “He is very smooth at the wheel, always looking ahead, which is very important with endurance traffic.analyzes his trainer. Then he told me: “Doing the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a dream.” This is how the seed was planted. »

Stephen Simpson then contacted his friend Richard Dean, co-owner with Zak Brown (also boss of McLaren in F1) of the United Autosports USA team. “I have to admit, I thought he was too young to drive in LMP2”, recognizes Mr. Dean today. But, after a test organized on the Red Bull Ring circuit, the Spielberg circuit in Austria, the Briton is reviewing his judgment.

Richard Dean, Stephen Simpson and Joshua Pierson (left to right), at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, in 2021.

“When I saw him in the car and was able to spend time with him, I realized that he was not your usual 15-year-old boy. In many sports they say, “If you are good enough, then you are old enough.” This is the case with Josh. »

In August 2021, the American officially signed up for a year with United Autosports USA during the 24 Hours of Le Mans (postponed due to Covid-19), where he spent the weekend with his future team to soak up the the event.

Three victories in his first three races

His start to the 2022 season has since exceeded all expectations. He won his first three races in LMP2, first the 1,000 miles of Sebring (Florida), becoming the youngest winner in WEC history, then two four-hour races in Abu Dhabi, in the Asian Le Mans Series (a parallel competition).

“It was a dream start, I don’t think you could ask for more, it was just incredible”savors Joshua Pierson. “I was positively shocked by the race at Sebring, marvels his teammate Oliver Jarvis, winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the LMP2 category in 2017. The job he did in racing… He was calm and had everything under control when he was behind the wheel. »

After an 8e place at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium), crew number 23 advanced to second place in the world endurance championship in the LMP2 category. A confidence that allows them to approach Le Mans with long teeth. “Having the youngest participant doesn’t mean much to me, it would mean a lot more to win with the youngest driver”, assumes the boss Richard Dean. Oliver Jarvis is on the same wavelength: “I hope that in a few days we won’t be talking about the youngest driver at the start but about the youngest winner! »

Despite the ambition, Joshua Pierson does not seem crushed by the event. “I don’t put any pressure on myself. The victories gave me confidence. It is together, with the team, that we are here to win.”, specifies this well-made head, with an already well-honed speech. If he crosses the line as the winner, at 4 p.m. Sunday, Joshua Pierson will have won his bet. The opportunities, they will be even more numerous to offer themselves to him. “He has a great future ahead of him”says Oliver Jarvis. “Nothing is impossible for him”concludes Stephen Simpson.

On Friday, his team announced the extension of his contract for another year. Le Mans will see Joshua Pierson again in 2023 for the centenary of the legendary race.

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