WEC’s upcoming youngest driver, Josh Pierson, spoke to Last Lap about his preparations for the LMP2 car, his impressions of United Autosports, and more.

Endurance racing itself includes a threshold of talent and experience, with most having established lengthy motorsport careers, racing across the globe’s most iconic race circuits on repeated occasions.

It has also given chance to those seeking a refreshing and unique discipline to compete in, bringing day-night racing, multi-class management, and a strong emphasis on teamwork.

In recent years, however, sportscar racing has openly welcomed young and arguably less experienced talent, with the appeal drawn from the promises of the Hypercar category.

The record of being the youngest Le Mans/World Endurance Championship competitor is set to be broken by Josh Pierson – from Matt McMurray set in 2014.

The teenager from Portland, Oregon, will be driving for United Autosports’ #23 Oreca 07 Gibson LMP2 entry with teammates Olly Jarvis and Alex Lynn, taking on another LMP2 campaign in IMSA with PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports.

Di Resta
United Autosports at the Le Mans 24 Hours, 2020 – Credit: © ADRENALMEDIA.COM / Harry Parvin

The Anglo-American team are no strangers to winning championships and rising young drivers for seats in their endurance prototypes.

Such names include LMP2 European Le Mans Series (ELMS) and WEC Champion Phil Hanson who debuted at the Daytona 24 in 2018, and Tom Gamble who won in LMP3 and was a recent runner-up in LMP2 at the ELMS.

Having tested around the Yas Marina Circuit ahead of his notable Asian LMS debut a week later, he partnered with Paul Di Resta – the Scotsman who will replace Lynn at the WEC opener – to secure his maiden race wins.

Three days before he turned 16, we had the opportunity to speak to him about his new pathway in motorsport.

So Josh, why did you decide to make the move from U.S. single-seaters to international sportscars and prototype racing now?

“From my side, especially coming from America, trying to get into European motorsport as an American is very difficult.

“I think in general, most American drivers end up staying in motorsport nationally in the US, and don’t end up going internationally. And it’s not a matter of talent, because there’s a lot of talent in America.

“It’s a money factor and a travel-time factor, because it’s just such a long, long trip over here.”

And the formation of the Hypercar class with the LMH and LMDh formula under that new umbrella. How does it appeal?

“We’re looking at it from the outside as a way to get into being paid and driving professionally, at a high level.

“It’s very appealing because you’re going to have a lot of manufacturers suddenly coming into the WEC and IMSA.

“So you’ll have essentially one whole series throughout the year, as almost a traveling circus together.

“You’re looking at a lot of seats opening up and a lot of options, and so it was really a perfect time to get into sportscar racing.

“And it’s a good time to be a young driver.”

Credit: LAT Images / © 2022 Chris duMond

Could you describe the go-ahead process for you to drive an LMP2 car?

“Getting into it was almost just sheer coincidence. My driver coach is Stephen Simpson, who drove for JDC (Miller Motorsports) in IMSA and LMP2 – which was combined with DPi at the time because they were just so similar in speed.

“At St. Petersburg in 2020 (the U.S. F2000 weekend) – after working with me for a little bit – he kind of proposed this idea that I tried driving prototype cars because he said my driving style matched these cars almost perfectly.

“So he organised the test with PR1 in the States.

“Everybody’s going to be a little bit skeptical at first when you propose a 15-year-old to drive your 200 mile-an-hour racecar, but they got me up to speed and that resulted in an IMSA contract.

“From there, Stephen also brought me in contact with Richard Dean and United. And then obviously Zak [Brown – the other Co-Owner] talked to me at Barber [Motorsports Park],” eventually leading to the United Autosports drive.

So how long was the process of getting the IMSA seat, and entering the 24 Hours of Daytona at 15-years-old?

“It was actually a year-long process to do. We had to be there a year ahead of time”, he says as a spectator in 2021.

“Funny enough, one of the (three) officials they sent to watch one of my tests is actually who I’m driving with, which is Jonathan Bomarito”, his teammate at PR1.

“We had three different tests where all three cleared me to do Daytona.

“And then we got special permission from John Doonan and IMSA as an organisation.

“The hardest part was that I did Daytona, basically, without a license.

“They had to give me a licence ahead of time, which I didn’t have the physical license because they weren’t allowed to give me it yet.

“So all I have, and I still don’t have it, because I’m not 16 yet (at the time of this interview) is a picture of the licence on my phone, which says that it’s in effect of my birthday, but it’s not my birthday yet.”

Credit: LAT Images / © Jake Halstad

What were your first impressions of the Oreca 07 LMP2?

“My first impressions of the car were just very interesting, what the brain actually takes in. Because when you’re learning something new, you tend to focus on one thing at a time.

“And so the more I drive the car, the more pieces of information kind of fall into place.”

“I told Stephen, when I got out of the car from the first session, ‘This has so much power’ and that he was crazy trying to put me in this car. But by the end of the day, it felt normal.

“Now, after doing lots of time in the car, I was at Daytona doing triple stunts and whatnot.

“So now I’m able to give a lot of information about the car to my engineer, and what it’s doing and what I feel.”

Between IMSA and WEC, the LMP2 packages are significantly different with the former benefiting from the higher downforce aerodynamics and 40 more horsepower.

This year, the LMP2 WEC package will have its maximum fuel capacity reduced from 75 to 65 litres, as well as a further 10 horsepower reduction.

What challenges have you faced with the switch from single-seaters to racing endurance prototypes?

“It was so different than what I was used to.

“You’ve got a roof over your head, you’ve got posts/pillars that now block your vision, which you don’t have in the single seater.

You don’t have the feeling of wind on your helmet, which is a big one… It affects a lot more than you think when you’re used to having this air pressure on your helmet.

“So you still have the sense of speed from everything around you passing by, but you lose the pressure on your helmet.

He continues: “Just being in an enclosed space in general, you think about how much noise that blocks out when you’re inside of something compared to being exposed to the open air. It blocks a lot of noise.”

“I think that was really my first impressions[…] I’m more relaxed in the car now.”

Several other differences he mentioned about the car was the longer turning radius compared to the U.S. F2000.

Additionally, how the driver sits off-centre to the left in the Oreca 07 whereas in single-seaters, the driving position is traditionally in the middle.

Other challenges includes those part of the motorsport such as performing driver changes, and taking on day-night conditions, and driving on cold tyres as both the temperatures and frequent caution periods made a difficulty with the lack of tyre warmers.

Credit: LAT Images / © Chris duMond

Were there any doubts on you taking on the Daytona 24?

“Your first concern as a team, when you hire someone like me that’s very young, is the fitness level.

“Pit Fit [Training] at Indianapolis has put together a programme for me and I have a trainer that comes to my house three-times-a-week when I’m home, and works with me.

“Before Daytona, we did two-weeks-straight of just non-stop training.

“So the biggest thing is, it’s not physical in the way people expect. My arms don’t have to be necessarily the strongest, because turning the wheel in these cars isn’t very difficult – they have power steering.

“Where your issue comes in, is these cars make more downforce than the car weighs.”

His LMP2 debut with Bomarito, Harry Tincknell and Steven Thomas ended in retirement after starting on the front row.
Despite this unfortunate conclusion, Josh has taken much in the form of experience and understanding from the wider situation of a 24-hour endurance race, sharing the car with other drivers, and gaining knowledge from the challenges they faced.

So what was the Daytona 24 like for yourself and PR1?

“I slept for about five hours during the race”, in between his two main stints at sunset and sunrise.

“I think Harry had most of the dirty work”, he admits.

“It’s important to get rest, because if you’re in the car and you’re tired, it’s brutal, especially this year [when] there was so much traffic [and] it was so cold.

“The other thing with with 24 hours is that things are gonna go wrong. You can’t expect everything to go right like I know we had a starter failure and eventually had to retire the car because of this.

He explains how the challenges the team faced, and how they worked around them.

“So you come in, you leave the car in-gear and you kill the car and you jump out, but now you’ve created a bigger issue because you have to get the car into neutral… if you stop the car and in first gear, you’re not gonna be able to restarted at all.

“You’re leaving the car on, leaving it in neutral. So now you’re taking more wear on the motor.

“And then our clutch was slowly failing. So throughout the race, the clutch was dropping when you’re on track, and then you’d have to pump (bleed) it up in the pit lane. But now you’re trying to pump the clutch without stalling the car on the way in.”

Alluding back to United Autosports, how has the atmosphere been like there?

“United is really good group of people.

“I think when you’re working with any team, you get to know the people really well, very quickly.

“Richard Dean is just a fantastic personality. He’s a great businessman and he’s just nice to talk to.

“He’s very supportive. He loves motorsport as everyone on the team does.

“And then working with the people within the team, like my engineer Will McKelvie (for the #23) is a super-nice guy.

“And you can tell that everyone here wants to win.

“I love that as a driver – everyone’s pushing each other.”

Only a few weeks ago this year, Josh has already competed in a United Autosports LMP2 entry at the 4 Hours of Abu Dhabi.

He asserted dominance with Paul Di Resta, whilst putting out the quickest lap-times throughout the race. Josh navigated the multi-class traffic at Yas Marina whilst making the moves on his competitors.

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Last year, you attended the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time. How was that for you?

“The idea with me being a spectator there to get the formalities out of the way first, so that you’re not seeing everything for the first time.

“So then when I’m there now all I have to focus on and be nervous about is driving the car.

“It’s very smart from Richard and United’s side.”

“Meeting some of the drivers that were there driving, like Alex and Paul, was good because it was giving Richard and I more potential options to see who I communicated well with when I was there.

“Not in terms of not actually working with them in the car, but just talking to them and who I seemed to connect with.”

Credit: United Autosports

He grew up watching Alex Lynn in GP3, and Olly Jarvis in various endurance racers from his illustrious career, as now Josh finds himself partnered with them for the WEC.

Furthermore, he describes it as a “friendly teacher-student relationship” who offer their support to a rookie like him.

And he jokingly talked about not describing the pair as drivers he grew up on, in his best attempt not to make them feel older.

As the upcoming youngest WEC driver at 16-years and -32 days old at the Sebring opener, he wants to showcase that young drivers have their place in the sportscar discipline, as much as other world championships such as WRC and Formula 1 have warmed themselves to young talent.

He will fulfill his duties at the IMSA 12 Hours of Sebring – that same weekend – whilst partnering with Paul Di Resta instead of Alex Lynn due to his own 12H Sebring commitment, and Olly Jarvis.

Despite the WEC’s differences to IMSA, he expects the Le Mans preparation to be the same if not similar to the Daytona 24 with a week to familiarise himself with the Circuit de la Sarthe.
Josh is keen to establish his name within the pool of competition and talent within LMP2, in both of his endurance programmes and especially at the highlight races such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I think in the past, young drivers were kind-of frowned on,” he says.

“People thought that there was a point where it’s too young, and I do believe that there is a point where it’s too young, because obviously the rules don’t allow you to be under 16.

“I do think that most people have been really positive about my age, and are looking forward to seeing me race, which I’m happy about.

“Coming into each race, it’s kind-of a no pressure scenario for me.

“I can really just get on track, and work up my speed, and work at my pace.”

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