Nelson’s Column: I turned 30, so it’s time to look back

Motorsport.com's Nelson Piquet Jr recently turned 30-years old, so to celebrate the landmark we asked him to look back at his favourite career highlights.

Hey guys, I’m now having a short break after the last Global Rallycross race in Detroit before we begin the August testing period for Formula E.

I turned 30 in Detroit and, although I would have loved a win to celebrate, unfortunately we had a failure on the car and we couldn’t finish the race. 

Turning 30, I thought this could be a good time to reflect on my career so far and tell you guys my highlights. It was a tricky job to rank them, but I think I’ve got my top 10 here! 

So, counting down from 10… 

10. Silverstone F3 race in 2003

In 2002 I had won the South American F3 Championship, winning 13 of the 17 races, but for 2003 we took a huge step. I took my small Piquet Sports team from Brazil to England, just two mechanics and an engineer.

We rented a house together in Oxford, none of us knowing the British culture, really finding it hard to adjust to the weather and put a race team together to go up against established junior formula teams with championship-winning form!

Silverstone, a track I have always loved, was the seventh race of the year out of 23 and we took our first win there. It was a really proud moment, and the start of a lifelong love affair with British racetracks and the European racing scene.

Although I still can’t get used to the weather 12 years later!

9. Winning inaugural A1GP race

When A1GP started, I found it a really interesting concept. As a proud Brazilian, the idea of racing for my country was really appealing and it was a series that raced over the winter, so was a dream as it meant I could go racing on weekends when usually we would be out of season.

Brands Hatch, the track I had won the British F3 Championship on earlier in the year, was the inaugural event in 2004 and Team Brazil and I took both pole positions and race victories for both the Sprint and Feature races.

It was fantastic to stand on the podium with the Brazilian flag and to do it under the eye of our Team Principal, the great Emerson Fittipaldi. 

8. Le Mans 24 Hours

In 2006 I was given the opportunity to race with Team Modena in the Le Mans 24 Hours. I had done a few sports car races but this was a huge opportunity that I was really happy to take.

I was in a team with David Brabham and Antonio Garcia, driving an Aston Martin DBR9. We qualified 32nd overall but had a fantastic race, finishing 9th overall and 4th in the GT1 class.

It’s truly one of the best races in the world and I really hope to have the opportunity to do it again. 

7. The 2006 GP2 Series

The 2006 GP2 Series was probably one of the hardest fought championship battles I’ve ever been involved in. I had started racing in the championship in 2005 and had some good results but 2006 was the year I would fight for the championship, again with my Piquet Sports team.

It was a season-long battle with Lewis Hamilton. We won four races and got four other podiums. One race we ran out of fuel and had some technical issues in a few other races.

At the end of it Lewis took the championship by just 12 points. I was definitely disappointed not to win, but overall it was a fantastic season and we showed the strength again of our team against bigger, more established teams. 

6. Long Beach Formula E race win

As I’ve said before in this column, probably nobody really knew how close it was to me not competing in Formula E. I really wanted to do it from the start, but my deal only came together days before the start of the season, and my initial contract was only for a few races.

If you had told me in the pre-season test we would win races, let alone a championship, I wouldn’t have believed you as we were so far behind as a team. But that win at Long Beach made everything possible and was such an incredible feeling.

My father had won his first-ever F1 race at Long Beach 35 years previously, and so it almost felt like that race was meant to be for us.

A sweet, sweet weekend. 

5. Scoring the perfect weekend at the Hungaroring in the GP2 Series

The race at the Hungaroring in 2006 in GP2 was something special. That track is a tricky one as overtaking is difficult and it’s very technical but that weekend in August everything clicked to make it perfect.

We got the pole position, both victories in the Feature and Sprint races and fastest laps in both races to get a perfect maximum score. Nobody had done it before and I believe nobody has done it since! [Quite true Nelson, the five other double race weekend winners all missed fastest laps in both races – Ed]

My father was there that weekend as well, so it was great that he could be there for the celebrations. 

4. Fourth place in Japan racing in Formula 1

I had scored my first podium a few months earlier in Hockenheim, which was incredible, but this fourth place finish in Fuji 2008 was almost a better result.

We had qualified in 12th, a pretty good qualifying for the car we had that season. As a team we’d had a decent pace all weekend and in the race I was able to fight through up to fourth, probably our best team performance all year. 

3. Taking the title in the 2004 British F3 Championship

As I mentioned earlier, rather than join an established team, I had chosen to bring my Brazilian team Piquet Sports over to England in 2003.

After a pretty good first year, I was gunning for the championship in 2004 and, after a really hard fought battle we picked up the title at the last weekend in Brands Hatch. I had so much fun that year, competition was tough, the championship was full of amazing drivers and we did it, a team with really not much experience at that level.

I became the youngest driver to win that championship and also my father and I became the first father-son pairing to both win it.

It was an amazing final day at Brands Hatch.

2. Becoming the first Brazilian to visit Victory Lane in the top-tiers of NASCAR 

It was probably my hugest challenge to date when I went to America at the end of 2009 to start a career in NASCAR.

It hadn’t been done by a Brazilian before – it’s traditionally a very American sport – and I wanted to try to do what no other Brazilian had done before. It’s extremely hard to succeed in NASCAR, these boys have been doing this kind of racing since they were kids and I had to learn a new sport in an industry where sponsorship dollars makes a lot of the different between winning and losing.

So the moment at Road America on 23 June 2012, when I took victory in the NASCAR Nationwide (now XFINITY) Series was very, very special. We managed to follow it up with two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins in Michigan and Las Vegas later that year, proving we could win in two of the three top tiers. 

1. Winning the inaugural FIA Formula E Championship in 2015

What can I say – what a final weekend we had in Battersea!

It seems like the odds were stacking against us with what happened during the weekend but we never gave up. The TV commentator had to tell me I had won and I couldn’t believe it.

It took probably half the in-lap for me to understand we had done it.

It was the culmination of so much hard work and I really wanted that championship – as a driver that’s what we do – we race for wins and championships.

I’ll be back fighting for it again next year.

Be part of something big

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About this article
Series Formula E , A1GP , Formula 1 , GP2 , NASCAR XFINITY , Global Rallycross
Drivers Nelson Piquet Jr.
Article type Special feature