First Drive

A Determined Brazilian Traded Uber For Racing

A Determined Brazilian Traded Uber For Racing

His career threatened to strike the buffers on no less than three occasions. But the tale of Nicolas Costa’s voyage to the World Endurance Championship grid is an unconventional one that has taken in racing on four continents – and a spell working for Uber too has occasionally traveled in an Uber with a driver who believed they had missed their vocation as a racing driver. But it’s not often that the individuals in question had a valid case. Rewind back to 2015 however, and that was the scenario confronting Nicolas Costa, now competing for McLaren partner team United Autosports in the World Endurance Championship.

The Brazilian was – for a second time – confronting the prospect of his racing ambitions striking a dead end. He’d rebounded from losing his largest sponsor after winning the 2012 Formula Abarth championship to get back in a single-seater and in 2014 won a race in Pro Mazdas (now called USF Pro 2000) one rung below Indy Lights on the Road To Indy hierarchy. But prospects of capitalizing on that momentum in a second full season came to waste.

“I had a seat [for 2015] but I lost it because a driver with a lot of budget came in,” Costa tells in United’s clever hospitality facility. “The deal I had went down the toilet and I found myself not racing again. I was an Uber driver in Brazil, because I didn’t want to work with my parents. I wished to do something myself.”

He’d already had a period working for his father, a window and door salesman, in 2012. Costa recalls: “It was really tough for me especially because I was quite young, I went into depression”. But deliverance was to come in the guise of Vincenzo Sospiri, whose Euronova team had run him in 2012 on what Costa believes was a fourth of the budget.

How a determined Brazilian traded Uber for racing in the WEC

The 1988 Formula Ford Festival winner was forming up a Japanese Formula 4 team for 2015 and wanted to get the ensemble back together. Costa duly followed him out East and so began a chapter of his career that was just starting to acquire momentum towards Super GT when the COVID pandemic forced him to return home, once again confronting a crossroads. His is a story full of pauses and starts.

But drivers don’t continue to get opportunities unless they can prove their mettle. And Costa earned his transfer to the WEC, at a period when competition for seats is at a premium amid its current manufacturer growth, following a title-winning season in Brazil’s Porsche Carrera Cup in 2023 that validated his conviction not to give up despite considerable odds.

An impressive test for United at Estoril ultimately secured his position on its driver roster and means the silver-graded 32-year-old will be on the grid in July for his country’s first WEC round since 2014. It’s little surprise that he characterizes attaining the pinnacle of sportscar racing as “a dream come true”.

“It’s an opportunity that I’m really cherishing every day,” says Costa. “For me to be able to represent my country in a world championship, having a home race, it’s a very rare opportunity. For certainly that was one of the arguments that made it a little bit simpler to locate sponsorship. It’s an honour to be representing McLaren.”

Costa’s car racing narrative begins with a one-off Formula Ford venture at Snetterton in July 2009, at the age of 17, which he notes out “for today’s standards is quite old for starting in racing cars”. He characterizes the triple-header encounter in the “experimental” Danish-built Aquila chassis as “one of those unforgettable moments in your life”.

“I was supposed to just test,” he remembers. “We were the only [Aquila] car on the grid. We conducted a two-day test at Snetterton and then the team was like ‘why don’t you race?’

“We used probably 500-kilometre tyres. I had £80 in my pocket for collision damage, so I was stressing out about colliding. But it was so much joy. We had a lovely race for what we could do.”

How a determined Brazilian traded Uber for racing in the WEC

It was a world removed from the success he enjoyed when he came back to Europe truly in 2011, before overcoming recent IndyCar debutant Luca Ghiotto to the 2012 Abarth title. While the Italian was with the elite Prema squad, Costa believes he and Euronova managed just two test days all season, which made their eventual success all the more special. Ghiotto’s tally of seven victories was one more than his rival’s six, but Costa notes out that he finished in the points at every race bar one.

“We were always there,” he beams. “It was really special and honestly up to this point winning a European title with Vincenzo I think is the most special moment of my life so far.”

Costa emphasizes that his career would surely not have progressed as far as it has without Sospiri’s willing assistance when the financing wasn’t in place.

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“Sometimes two days before the start of practice, he would call me in Brazil and say ‘just come and race, let’s see what happens’ and we would go and win,” he says. “Me and Vincenzo, we bonded right away. The first race I did with him was in 2010, the Formula Abarth Winter Trophy in Varano, which we won, so we started off with the proper foot.

“He gave me so many opportunities in motorsport. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have the experience I have today. He made me a part of his family and he helped me to race most importantly. He taught me so much. He’s very harsh on the drivers and I feel like he was very difficult with me especially, but that made me so much better as an athlete.”

Costa characterizes his US chapter as “an unbelievable experience for me”. Third on his début on the difficult Toronto street course midway through 2013, his limited programme also took in Mosport, Mid-Ohio and Houston, taking a best result of second at the latter. He returned for a full season in 2014, which included a first exposure of ovals at Indianapolis Raceway Park and the Milwaukee Mile, but only began contending for results after a mid-year transition from M1 Racing to the Team Pelfrey outfit he’d begun out with in 2013.

Racing on ovals was “a blast” for Costa and his exposure to various experiences was only enhanced by his transfer to Japan, fulfilling a long-held ambition for a driver whose passion for Japanese culture was nurtured by playing Gran Turismo in his childhood. At Sospiri’s invitation, he finished fourth in the first round of Japanese F4 and contested the first four rounds before racing with his team in Italian GT, Lamborghini Super Trofeo, Blancpain Asia and GT Open over the next three seasons.

By 2019, Costa was just starting to get established on the Japanese scene in Super Taikyu with a Nissan GT-R GT3 and had an eye on Super GT when the pandemic derailed his momentum.

“I stopped racing completely,” he says. “When COVID struck, all the foreign drivers basically lost their seats. I came back to Brazil and since I had done so much international racing, not many people knew me in Brazil, so I just focused on business. I didn’t even go to a track for two solid years.”