Pickup the Pieces
"Profit? I'd have to look that word up in the dictionary!" Mike Pickup says that
although his PK Sport Porsche team has yet to turn the corner, he will embark on
his most ambitious programme yet in 2004 contesting the full American Le Mans
Series, the 24-Hours of Le Mans and, almost certainly, the Le Mans Endurance
Series as well.
Including the Le Mans test day, that adds up to a total of 15 appearances next
season, nine in North America and six in Europe. The logistics will include three
Porsche GT3s, one of them a new RSR, up to a dozen crew members who will
clock up an awful lot of air miles, and a driver line-up which - subject to
agreements - could include Robin Liddell, Alex Caffi and Jean-Philippe Belloc.
Pickup, who is 46, is fairly typical of the British team owners who set their goals
high, then work flat-out on the means to pay for it all. Millionaire team owners are
few and far between in Europe, unfortunately.
He counts himself exceptionally lucky to have backing from Pirelli, the Italian
company having supported him in various campaigns since 1987 when he was
contesting the Porsche Club Great Britain championship in a 911T. He won the
'baby class' 21 times in 24 outings that year, but still failed to clinch the
After years of contesting the Porsche Club and British GT championships, Pickup
went international in 2000 when he took delivery of a 911 GT3 from the factory in
time to contest the Rolex 24 at Daytona. His driver line-up included Paul Fuller,
Marcus Fothergill, Pete Chambers, Adam Simmons and Mike Youles, and
although their engine failed at lunchtime on Sunday they had done enough to be
classified 29th, and 14th in GTU.
PK Sport was launched on the international arena, but continued to contest the
British GT Championship with a second GT3 from the factory, winning the teams
Pickup and his partner, Caroline Lucas, a former Porsche Champion (in 1996,
driving a 924S prepared by PK Sport) gave up driving at the same time, Pickup to
concentrate on race management, Caroline to have their baby daughter who was
christened Jo. He had raced a GT2 in 1998 and 1999, but has never so much as
sat in a GT3.
"Our entry for Le Mans was accepted, and then we really got the bug for long
distance racing" says Pickup. His first appearance was at the wet, wet race in
2001 and the outing included a heavy aquaplaning accident by Mike Youles, which
tested to the limit the strength of the Ricardo prepared bodyshell. PK Sport was
classified 16th and 7th in N-GT, more than happy to reach the flag after a series of
2002 Woes, 2003 Goes
PK Sport's return to Le Mans in 2002 was thoroughly disappointing as a cylinder
liner failed in the engine before nightfall on Saturday. Robin Liddell, Dave Warnock
and Piers Masarati were the drivers. "The last thing you think about with a Porsche
is that the heart of the car, the engine, might go wrong, but these things happen"
says Pickup. "The realisation that you are not going to get to the end is such a
powerful emotion, almost as great as actually finishing the race, but in a negative
sense. It was dreadful!"
This year's sorties (plural) to Le Mans have been more successful. A broken
alternator belt spoiled a fine run in the 24-Hours, dropping the same three drivers
- Liddell, Warnock and Masarati - to sixth in the LM-GT class, but it was a decent
finish and produced the sort of euphoria that rewards the best.
So Near, So Far
PK Sport returned in November for the 1,000 Kilometres, and Pirelli provided
exactly the right tyres for the wet/drying conditions. Liddell and Jean-Philippe
Belloc fairly commanded the LM-GT class and looked likely winners until 16
minutes from the end, when the amiable Frenchman limped to the pits with a
flailing rear tyre. An unassailable 30 second lead was dashed, dropping the
distinctive yellow car to third in class.
"If you had said to me in the morning that we would finish third in class and get a
guaranteed entry to next year's 24-Hours, I'd have been over the moon" reflected
Pickup on the Sunday night, putting a brave face on the misfortune.
"But if you really want the truth, the disappointment of not winning is very great
indeed. We felt we deserved it, after leading for five hours. Jean-Philippe was
mortified, but it wasn't his fault, he did nothing wrong.
"I've got such a good team, such quality people around me, I think they were more
disappointed than I was. They saw only what they had lost, I saw that we had a
podium and a guarantee for 2004. We share this great ambition to win, it's what
we have in common, and let's face it, that's why we go racing."
The whole team had a test of character when lead driver Liddell crashed heavily
during qualifying at Sears Point in July. The Porsche looked a wreck when it was
trucked back to the team, but when all the "nasty bits" had been stripped off the
chassis was declared sound and true.
"We had some truly fantastic help from the other teams, everything we needed,
everything we wanted, they were there to help. It was a feeling that carried on
through the whole year, we really felt the organisers wanted us to be there, and the
other teams conducted the whole championship in a spirit of friendship."
The PK Sport team covered 14,000 road miles between the Atlanta race in June
and the Petit Le Mans in October, while based at Franz Blam's workshop in
Atlanta. Between Sears Point, California, and the Trois Rivieres race a week later,
the entire team had to undertake a 50 hour driving marathon from California to
"Cooped up in two vehicles for that length of time, we could have finished up
wanting to kill each other, but the spirit was fantastic, there was an affinity that
made the trip very memorable. We will all remember it in 25 years time as one of
the highlights of our time in America."
Despite his fear of flying ("I suffer blind terror from the moment I get on the
aeroplane") Pickup is firmly wedded to the American Le Mans Series, "the
pinnacle of endurance racing" as he calls it. The prize money helps, too, rewards
that are simply not available in Europe.
Uwe Brettel, Porsche's new motorsport director in North America, and his
predecessor Alwyn Springer have been helpful in many ways, says Pickup,
although Alex Job's team is the one favoured with the latest bits, factory drivers
and so on. "I understand that Porsche has to develop new parts and keep on
developing the cars, and Alex runs a fantastic team."
Mike Pickup is serving his apprenticeship in America, hoping that sometime in the
not too distant future there will be rewards to be enjoyed. It's all hard graft at the
moment, taking the losses and remembering to smile for the cameras, waiting for
the all-important class wins that remain a dream. Le Mans 1,000 Kms was one
that got away, but there should be another chance around the next corner.