While many Americans have worked their way up the motorsports ladder within the U.S., Connor De Phillippi has taken the relatively less traveled route through Europe, as the Porsche Junior driver looks to make a name for himself in the sports car racing world.
The 22-year old Californian enters his third season of Porsche Cup-based competition in Europe, a crucial time for the open-wheel turned sports car rising star to perform in the highly competitive Mobil 1 Porsche Supercup.
“It’s been two years of really building,” De Phillippi told Sportscar365. “The tracks over here, the style and the mentality and the level is so incredibly high.
“When I came over here, as far as qualifying, that’s the big important thing. I needed to learn how to go out there, when you hadn’t driven the track in how many ever months, put new tires on the car, and after one lap be directly on point.
“There’s guys like that at this level who have enough experience that have been racing in these championships for five or six years and are able to do that.
“You quickly have to learn how to achieve this in qualifying. Otherwise when you qualify in 10th position, it does you no good for the races because everything is so close.
“There’s no room for error and it definitely has raised my game as a driver to very high levels.”
While having competed in Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland for the last two years, with partial seasons of Supercup, De Phillippi’s primary focus is on the prestigious Formula One support series this year.
He’s switched teams to the VERVA Lechner Racing squad for 2015, and although De Phillippi went through a challenging season-opener at Barcelona, which saw him get taken out of the race on the first lap after qualifying third, he’s upbeat about the remainder of the season.
“Every year is important but the third year is the big year, especially in the Junior program,” he said. “History has proven that. Once you’re in your third year, you’re expected to be a top runner.
“I just have to go out there an do my job. I know that I have the experience and the team around me to do what it takes. Now it’s just a matter of having a little bit of luck.”
In addition to his Supercup focus, De Phillippi has also dipped his toes into endurance racing, having previously contested the Rolex 24 at Daytona and 24 Hours of Dubai, while making his Nürburgring 24 debut last weekend.
“All of [the endurance races] have been very different in their own ways,” he said. “I thought I had driven at night until I experienced the ‘Green Hell’ at night!
“At first, I thought there was fog on parts of the track but then I realized it was just smoke from the barbecues. That was pretty interesting smelling the hot dogs being cooked after coming over the hill after Karrousell! It’s a whole new experience.”
De Phillippi has quickly adapted to the discipline, and particularly the challenges of the Nordschleife, having led Frikadelli Racing’s Porsche 911 GT America to a second place finish in the SP7 class.
“Every single time I get to do an endurance race, I fall more and more in love with it,” he said. “At the end of the day, driving a race car I what I like to do. When you get to do double stints and drive, drive, drive, drive drive, it’s just so great to be able to do that.
“Sprint racing is also good and fun in a different way. But every time I get to come and do an endurance race, it’s a really nice experience.”
With his eyes set on being a championship contender in the Supercup ranks this year, De Phillippi is hoping his hard work and perseveration will soon pay off, although he’s not taking anything for granted.
“Obviously being a factory driver is the goal,” he said. “First off, you have to win races and you have to perform. That’s the most important. Earl Bamber proved that and Porsche cares about the whole package for sure.
“That’s the great thing about Porsche. They’re one big family and when you do a good job, they give you another chance to prove yourself. That’s all I can ask for.
“I have the support from them to get the results, which means me getting behind the wheel and doing that.”