Andre Lotterer can happily reflect on a “very meaningful” career in motorsport, something he credits his late father, Henri, for. It was Henri who told Andre when he was just seven, after buying a first go-kart, that it was the first step on the road to Formula One.
As with most kids who grew up around engines and fascinated with motor racing, Lotterer dreamed big. Henri, of German-Peruvian descent, moved the family to Belgium when Andre was three, where Lotterer Senior started his own racing team, RAS Sport. They competed in both racing and rallying and were renowned in the 1980s for preparing Volvos for the European Touring Car Championship.
What started on the karting tracks of Belgium has since taken Lotterer Junior across the globe – from Formula BMW Junior to a decade in Japan’s Super Formula and now Formula E.
In between there was a brief dalliance with F1 – Lotterer, barely out of his teens, spent 2001 and 2002 as a test driver for Jaguar. He then achieved his dream when he replaced Kamui Kobayashi at Caterham for one race during the 2014 season – fittingly at the Belgium Grand Prix.
He is also a three-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, his 2012 triumph also coming as part of Audi’s FIA World Endurance Championship title.
Now, aged 38, he is undertaking a new challenge with TAG Heuer Porsche – a name synonymous with motorsport, and success, but one who are entering new territory in their first foray into electric car racing.
Having not been blessed with the deep pockets like many leading drivers in motor racing – F1 drivers Sergio Perez, Daniil Kvyat and Lance Stroll have all built their careers via generous financial backing – Lotterer puts his success down to his determination, talent and the influence of his father.
“He showed me the way and set the bar really high,” said the Duisburg-born driver, who competes on a Belgian licence.
“He was a team manager and engineer and part-time team owner in Belgium and I grew up around that. All I ever remember was I wanted to become a racer. He took me to the go-kart track and he saw that I was quick, doing good lines and apexes and asked if I wanted to do this.
“We bought a go-kart and he asked if I really want this and I said “yes, yes”. He said ‘If we do this, this is serious, you can’t get bored of it, you can’t change and play soccer or tennis. It’s expensive so if we do this it’s from here all the way to Formula One’.
“I thought ‘wow’, I was seven-years-old. I was good and that’s how I started.
“I knew it was really important for my life to succeed at this. I don’t come from a rich background at all, we struggled to keep up with the money and just barely made it so it was worth sticking to.”
The glamorous career in F1, considered motor racing’s pinnacle, didn’t quite materialise, but Lotterer is happy with his lot.
“I’m really happy with my career overall,” Lotterer tells Sport360 in Saudi Arabia on the eve of the 2019/20 Formula E Championship – the sixth season of the innovative series which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and introduce hybrid and electric systems.
“Winning Le Mans three times, racing a bit in F1, I’ve raced in Japan, so it’s been very meaningful. And it’s awesome to be here. I couldn’t wish to be in a better place right now.
“The championship is super competitive, great drivers, great teams, great locations and a meaningful message we’re sending out to inspire people with more sustainable racing. I think it was important for motorsport for Formula E to be created and it’s gaining traction every year.”
Lotterer, team-mate Neel Jani and everyone associated with TAG Heuer and Porsche had been playing down expectations ahead of the championship’s opening weekend – as well as for the season ahead.
That’s difficult to do considering the banners underneath which they compete – both TAG Heuer and Porsche are steeped in excellence.
But Lotterer proved in the first of two races on opening weekend at Riyadh’s Diriyah ePrix that this could prove to be a smokescreen when he took second place on Friday, finishing 1.319 seconds behind race winner Sam Bird – and ahead of 22 others.
“We don’t know, honestly,” said Lotterer when asked about expectations. Unlike Swiss colleague Jani, Lotterer has plenty of Formula E experience – he finished on the championship-winning side last season at DS Techeetah, with Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne champion the past two years.
“We’ve worked as much as possible. We’ve covered everything but we’re new. We will need to learn more and more to catch up with the others and hopefully our start will be on a good level.
“I think I can bring experience in this championship, which is different to other forms of racing. The experience of knowing my team already, being with Porsche at Le Mans and having Neel as a team-mate in different championships. It’s already a good starting base, it’s not from zero.
“Obviously we’re the newest team on the grid but on the other hand we all have the same cars, same batteries, same power. You make the difference on small settings and this is what we need to improve to become the best.”
Jani finished a disappointing 17th on Friday. There was no further joy on Saturday with Andretti-BMW i’s Alexander Sims topping the charts and team-mate Maximilian Gunther second.
Lotterer finished 14th – sixth overall in the championship – with Jani improving to finish one place higher in 13th.