In some ways, Pierson has been preparing his entire life for his Le Mans debut.
“In all of my first memories growing up, I was behind the wheel of something,” he says. In fact, he can’t remember a time when he didn’t know how to drive.
He has the requisite superhero origin story. Years ago, Greg Pierson, Josh’s dad and a Portland-based entrepreneur, took up amateur sportscar racing as a hobby. One weekend he brought a then two-year-old Josh to the track and noticed his son’s intense fascination with the mini go-karts. He decided to let Josh try a few laps.
“I look back and think, ‘What nutjob would let their kid get on track like that?’” Greg recalls, laughing about it now. “He was literally still in diapers, but he somehow figured out the pedals, how to turn, and was doing laps on day one.”
With time the karts got bigger, the horsepower increased, and Pierson began competing in national karting competitions against kids many years older than him. He was on the same path as most prospective IndyCar or Formula 1 drivers, the most elite of whom jump from karting into the big leagues. But a casual conversation with his coach, Stephen Simpson, dramatically changed his trajectory.
“Josh and I were just hanging out, and he said, ‘My dream one day is to race the Le Mans 24,” Simpson says. “You don’t often get a teenaged driver who even knows what Le Mans is, let alone wants to race it so badly, so that planted the seed in me.”
Pierson admits that his analytical approach to driving is well suited to endurance racing. “I’m a bit of a thinker in the car,” he says. In shorter races, this can be a detriment: shutting off your brain and making an instinctual pass is sometimes necessary. Pierson, on the other hand, is always thinking three laps ahead. “If a sprint race is checkers, endurance racing is chess,” he says.
Simpson recognized that Josh could handle the intricacies of endurance racing, which requires drivers to juggle plenty of tasks, like passing lapped traffic, managing tires, and handling fatigue. Simpson arranged for a test of a Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) car—a technologically advanced beast capable of hitting more than 200 miles per hour, or nearly double the speed of any car he had previously driven. Pierson set blistering lap times from go. “He took to it like a duck to water,” Simpsons says. “I didn’t expect him to be that fast, that quick. He surprised everybody.”
In the world of motorsports, word travels fast, and soon enough Josh attracted the attention of Zak Brown, the chief executive of McLaren’s Formula 1 team and co-owner of United Autosports, which competes in LMP2 cars in the World Endurance Championship. He texted Greg out of the blue one day: “Hey, this is Zak. I want to meet your kid.”
A second test soon followed at Austria’s Red Bull Ring, where Josh once again turned heads, hitting faster times than experienced drivers in only his second session. Just a few months later, in August 2021, Josh would sign with United Autosports and, domestically, with the PR 1/Mathiasen team. This year he began competing across the U.S. and in foreign locations like Belgium and Abu Dhabi. He’s racked up three victories already.