In a true testament to its passion and professionalism, 8Star Motorsports continues to attract world-class driving talent, and Mexico’s Luis Diaz is the latest hotshot to join the team’s ranks in the newly-amalgamated TUDOR United SportsCar Championship’s Prototype Challenge (LMPC) division.
Diaz had a prolific Karting career before racing extensively in open-wheeled competition and then building solid foundations in America’s highest-profile prototype and sportscar contests.
The 36-year old enjoyed a positive upbringing with his parents among Mexico City’s sprawling suburbs, and discovered his passion for motor racing early through his father’s own long-term enthusiasm for the sport.
“I had a great childhood in Mexico City and it was heavily influenced by the Spanish culture, as my Mum originates from Spain,” said Diaz. “My dad has always been a great supporter and started taking me Karting from a young age. As things started going pretty well, we decided to continue racing full-time.”
Starting Karting in 1989, Luis ‘Chapulin’ Diaz went on to be crowned the National A Karting Champion and take a brace of 100cc titles, before graduating to car racing.
“I had a very successful Karting career and racing came very naturally to me,” said Diaz. “I was always very nervous and never understood how I was able to go so fast! Competing on the American and world stages seemed distant back then, because it was always very tough to make it out of Mexico, where there were very limited opportunities to race. Having said that, I always believed I would reach the highest levels of motorsport.”
He added: “My nickname, ‘El Chapulin’, is something I’ve carried through from the very beginning of my motorsport career in Karting and it comes from ‘El Chapulin Colorado’ – a famous Mexican TV character from the Seventies and Eighties, who was sort of a joke ‘superhero’ who always wore red boots. Because I wore red racing shoes, my Dad started calling me ‘El Chapulin’ and it has stuck with me ever since!”
A season in Formula Reynard in 1996 preceded a Formula Mexico championship win, as well as strong campaigns in International Formula 3, Formula Atlantic and Indy Lights, where he was crowned ‘Rookie of the Year’ and became the series’ first ever Mexican race winner.
However, the results only tell half the story. By all accounts, ‘El Chapulin’ had to make several tough compromises on his rise through the ranks, but says his Indy Lights victory was instrumental in raising his profile and moving him to the fore.
“Entering International Formula 3 and Indy Lights as a young Mexican was very tough because there weren’t many of out of there and support was low, although this pushed me to focus more,” said Diaz. “It’s difficult leaving your country and pursuing a career in international sport, as you spend long periods of time away from your family, your home, culture and food, but I knew these were all necessary compromises and the only way of making it into the big leagues.
“Now I’m proud to be representing Mexico in world motorsport. Mexicans are very nationalistic and to act for your home country is always a special feeling, although it does bring a lot of responsibility too. This is why it was such an honour to become the first ever Mexican race winner and ‘Rookie of the Year’ in Indy Lights. Of course, this also demonstrated what I was capable of and helped put me on the world stage.
Diaz achieved race wins and podium finishes aplenty in single-seaters but, after making two Champ Car starts at his home Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City, made an inspired decision to switch to sportscar racing in 2004.
Initially teamed with Jimmy Morales in a Chip Ganassi Racing-prepared Lexus-Riley Daytona Prototype (DP) in the Rolex Sports Car Series, the Mexican earned a place in the team’s number one entry alongside Scott Pruett in 2005.
It proved to be a formidable pairing, as together they accumulated three race wins, eight podium finishes and four pole positions en-route to the runner-up spot in the final DP classification, before repeating the feat again and leading Chip Ganassi Racing to the coveted Teams’ trophy in 2006.
“There weren’t many opportunities to step up into Champ Car (CART) at the time so, when I had the chance to go into sportcar racing with a top team, I had to take it,” said Diaz. “Looking back, it was definitely the right decision to switch from single-seaters to sportscars as I’ve had a lot of success. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
The Takis-backed Diaz made his American Le Mans Series (ALMS) debut in Lowe’s Fernandez Racing colours in 2007. He enjoyed a successful three-year stint with the team that culminated with the 2009 LMP2 Drivers’ title for him and team owner Adrian Fernandez, having dominantly won nine of the ten races that season.
But after a stint with Level 5 Motorsport, Diaz has joined Enzo Potolicchio’s flourishing 8Star Motorsports team for the remaining TUDOR Championship sprints, beginning with last month’s Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix Powered by Mazda at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (3-4 May).
“Winning the 2009 ALMS title is definitely the highlight of my career,” said Diaz. “It was a dream come true! Adrian (Fernandez) and I had an amazing season and dominated that year, so it was incredible to win the championship and enter the history books with him and his team.
“However, I’m delighted to have joined 8Star Motorsports and I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen. It is without a doubt one of the top teams out there and Enzo (Potolicchio) has done a great job building a highly professional outfit with the very best people and facilities. This is demonstrated by the results it has achieved, including the second place we took at Laguna Seca.”
8Star is renowned for attracting world-class driving talent, including multiple Le Mans winner Allan McNish, 2012 FIA World Touring Car Champion Rob Huff and renowned French racer Stephane Sarrazin, and the team’s vision is to create a lasting legacy by nurturing aspiring racers through a newly-established academy in its IMSA Cooper Tires Prototype Lites programme.
The Enzo Potolicchio-led team has designed a multi-step competition ladder to help prospective endurance racers progress in their careers and its entry in the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship provides young hopefuls with an opportunity to hone their skills in entry-level high-downforce machinery, before graduating to the headlining TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
Well aware of the challenges that face young drivers wanting to compete in the highest echelons of motorsport, Diaz truly appreciates the importance of creating a solid platform for prospective pro drivers to maximise their potential and has belief in 8Star’s ‘academy’ programme.
“8Star’s ‘stairway of talent’ is great,” said Diaz. “My teammate, Sean Rayhall, is the perfect example of why it’s important for teams to have a programme in place to develop young talent and prove drivers with opportunities to move up the ranks. Having big teams like 8Star supporting the lower categories gives these young racers more experience, improves their competitiveness and gives them a real shot at the big time. Unfortunately, sourcing sponsorship is becoming increasingly difficult and is crucial when finding a drive, but there’s a lot of talent out there that deserves a chance.
“I’m very fortunate to have a fantastic sponsor like Takis behind me. Takis is a big brand and a household name in Mexico, and it’s truly an honour to have them on-board. It’s important to have good sponsors, not only to keep you on track, but more importantly to help us engage the fans and Takis is perfect for this. I hope to reward my sponsors for their support by going on to achieve race wins and grow 8Star’s TUDOR Championship LMPC programme this year, with the aim of coming back and winning the title in 2015.”