“Get ahead of the future. The motto of the 24 Hours of Le Mans seems written for him. Saturday June 11, at 4 p.m., at the start of the 90th edition of the Sarthoise 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 American, 117 days old, will dethrone his compatriot Matt McMurry, record holder since 2014 (16 years and 202 days).
“It’s not nothing, assures World Joshua Pierson, who will be in 11th position on the starting grid on Saturday. It’s kind of cool to be attached, however, to the history of this incredible race. I watched the ordeal 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 United Autosports USA teammate Oliver Jarvis (38). When I started, you couldn’t even drive at 16. »
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, whom he met a year earlier during a single-seater race in the state of New Jersey. . “It didn’t take me long to realize that there was something special about him, says the latter, by videoconference from Le Mans. I have never seen a driver as talented as him, but he is above all attentive, with his feet on the ground. »
Karting from the age of 2 and a half
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 could remember it better than me, laughs the teenager, guitarist in his spare time. I don’t remember, but apparently I was pushing to drive. I was never forced, it was something I wanted. My first memory in a go-kart was when I was 7 or 8 years old, at a national race in Arizona. »
The riding style and connections of his mentor, Stephen Simpson, will do the rest to steer him towards endurance. “He’s very gentle at the wheel, always looking ahead, which is very important with endurance traffic,” analyzes his trainer. Then he said to 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,” Mr Dean now admits. But, after a test organized on the Red Bull Ring circuit, the Spielberg circuit in Austria, the Briton is reviewing his judgment.
“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’re good enough, then you’re old enough.” Such 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 1000 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 amazing,” savored 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 work he did in the race… He was calm and had everything under control when driving. »
After an 8th place at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium), crew number 23 advanced to second place in the LMP2 class endurance world championship. A confidence that allows them to approach Le Mans with long teeth. “Having the youngest entrant doesn’t mean much to me, it would mean a whole lot more to win with the youngest driver,” assumes boss Richard Dean. Oliver Jarvis is on the same wavelength: “I hope that in a few days we will not 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 pressure myself. The victories gave me confidence. It is together, with the team, that we are here to win, “says 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 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.