Less than six months ago, Pierre Kaffer wasn’t sure if he’d have a full-time ride anywhere the sports car racing world.
Yet the German driver is fresh off a whirlwind month of June that included a last-minute drive, two 24-hour races and a return to racing in North America.
In the matter of a few months, Kaffer has turned into one of the busiest drivers in the business, with programs in the European Le Mans Series and TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, plus testing and race duties in select FIA World Endurance Championship rounds.
“I’m really, really happy to have all of these nice opportunities for the rest of the season,” Kaffer told Sportscar365. “It’s nice to feel the trust of all the teams. For me, it was very, very difficult at the beginning of the season.
“More or less, it was handicapped by the driver classification system. When you’re Platinum [rated] and you don’t have a factory contract, it makes it even harder to find a place.
“Motorsport is what I’ve done forever and it gives me the opportunity to [make a living from it]. So it was hard to [understand] that you are too good [of a driver] for some cockpits.”
At the center of the 37-year-old’s new focus is with Risi Competizione in the TUDOR Championship, having been brought on board to replace Matteo Malucelli for the balance of the season in the competitive GT Le Mans class.
Kaffer, who last drove for the iconic Houston-based squad in select rounds of the American Le Mans Series in 2010, made his return at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca round in May and immediately felt at home.
“That’s the nice thing. It’s more or less the same crew,” he said. “I know everybody here. That gives me the possibility to fit in much more quicker if you join the team that’s new.
“Rick Mayer [technical director] knows what I need. The mechanics know what they have to do to give us a nice car. The combination of all of this makes us so strong.”
While a lot has changed in four years, with the Ferrari F458 Italia replacing the venerable F430 GT, as well as a new co-driver in Giancarlo Fisichella, Kaffer shares a similar bond to the F1 veteran as a previous teammate that he enjoyed success with.
“The good thing is that I feel like a bit like 2009 with Jamie [Melo],” Kaffer said. “Giancarlo and myself have the same height, we have the same seat and position.
“It’s not very often you have this in your career. That’s one of the things I really appreciate.
“We have the same driving style and work together in the same direction. We share so many things together and that’s just a nice feeling. It’s nice to be in this position.”
Expectations were high for the Kaffer and Fisichella pairing heading into last month’s Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, but alternator issues dashed hopes of a podium finish in factory-driven class.
Yet, the disappointment hasn’t derailed the team or Kaffer’s motivation to get the Rosso Red Ferrari into victory lane before the end of the year.
“Giuseppe [Risi] is a very passionate guy and for me, he has one of the best cars in the field,” Kaffer said. “There’s no doubt about this. The crew members are some of the best, to see how they prepare the car, is just awesome to be part of this team.
“We are privateers and we drive against the Porsche, BMW and Corvettes, which are factory teams. I think that they need to have us on the list for the rest of the season.”
Despite having come off the 24 Hours of Le Mans with AF Corse as a late substitute for the injured James Calado, and claiming a top-10 finish in the Nurburgring 24 in an Audi R8 LMS ultra, Kaffer still has a busy summer stretch of races ahead.
It includes the final three ELMS rounds in an AT Racing Ferrari, as well as development of the new Lotus P1/01 AER, which is expected to debut in the next FIA WEC race at Circuit of The Americas in September.
Yet, after the disappointments of the start of the year, Kaffer wouldn’t have it any better, in what’s been a reversal of fortunes for one of sports car racing’s top drivers.
“It makes me really appreciate how things turned out,” he said. “I’m really enjoying each race as it would be my last race.”