Piti Bhirombhakdi made his Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup debut this year. At the eve of the final sprint round of the season, the driver of the #39 Kessel Racing TP12 Ferrari is still in contention for the Pro-Am title. At the Nürburgring we caught up with the 38-year-old Thai.
Piti, did you expect to perform so well in your first season in the Blancpain GT Series?
“No, not at all. In fact, we had no expectations. It’s my debut in the series, my first season with the Ferrari 488 as well, I had never driven on any of the circuits… So it was quite a challenge for me. I never thought we would be up there, still in contention for the championship."
It’s been a great season for you, indeed. Is there one particular highlight that you are fond of?
“The qualifying race in Zolder, when we took our first win. Like in most of the races up until then we were in second place, but I managed to get in some good laps at the end of my stint, took the lead in the penultimate lap and hold on to it until the chequered flag. For me personally, that certainly was the biggest moment.”
You are also a successful businessman, how do combine that with your racing career?
“My first priority would be my work, otherwise I would not have the money to race! (smiles) I try to manage both, by dividing my time between business and racing. However, you need a strict schedule to do so. When I leave for five days to go racing, I make sure that everything on the business side can continue while I am away.”
You also have a huge fanbase in Asia, how do you interact with them?
“We have our own webpages and social media, with over 100.000 people following us. We tell them what we’re doing, where we’re going, how the races went, nothing fancy. But those people are part of my life. I’ve been racing in Thailand for 24 years now. I started karting when I was 13, and at 15 I did my first car race. I had my racing licence before I had a driving licence! Many people know me since I was a kid, and they have been following me ever since.”
How did you get into racing?
“My father was racing karts and when I saw one of his trophies, I asked him how I could win one myself. He has supported me ever since. Even now, he still calls me after practice, qualifying and the races to ask how it went. He is my biggest fan. But I have more trophies now!” (grins)
Your car has one of the most beautiful liveries of the series. Did you have your input in the design?
“First of all, we used the blue and yellow colours as a hommage to the greatest Thai driver ever, Prince Bira. Back in the fifties, he drove in Formula One, and his car had a livery in those colours. We even named our car – Hanuman of Siam – after his, which was called Hanuman. We have added some things to the design obviously, but we take care that our livery follows the lines and the shape of the Ferrari.”
And where does your team-name TP12 come from?
“TP stands for “Todd” Piti, my nickname. And 12 was the number that I raced when I was a kid.”
You have done plenty of racing in Asia, is there a fundamental difference with racing in Europe?
“This year has started a new chapter in my racing career! There is nothing similar, a part from the fact that there is a car and a track. The whole environment, the level of racing, everything is different and brand new for me. It’s fun though! I am here to improve my racing and this is the best way to learn, to develop my skills and to become a better racing driver.”
What are your plans for next year?
“We will probably do the Intercontinental GT Challenge round in Sepang again in December, and in 2018 we will definitely be back in the Blancpain GT Series. Whether it will be in endurance or sprint, we do not know yet. If I had time, I would love to do both!” (grins)