At 16 years of age, Mateo Llarena Rosenthal is the youngest racing driver in Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup history. And what is more: Mateo is an enthusiastic member of the Porsche Club Guatemala.
Porsche Community Management’s Mathias Menner welcomed the Club member from Guatemala to the nucleus of Porsche’s world. On this occasion, Menner, who is also Club management specialist for Latin American Clubs, made a very special wish come true for the young racing driver: a personal tour of the museum and a visit to Porsche Collection’s non-public vehicle storage facility.
It was Mateo Llarena’s and coach John Paul Hazbun’s first ever visit to Stuttgart, the city they have chosen as their base to prepare for Supercup races. Mateo was delighted about the rare opportunity to see the vast collection acting as the museum's backbone, saying “standing here in the casino knowing that we will be heading to Porsche Museum and Porsche’s vehicle storage facility later is like a dream come true”. Club management specialist Mathias Menner really did pull out all the stops for his Latin American Club friends. Welcome to the Porsche family from Zuffenhausen!
Young talent at the very top: Mateo Llarena and coach John Paul Hazbun at the nucleus of Porsche’s world
“I have actually been active in motorsport for quite a while. And Porsche has accompanied me for ages,” Mateo tells us about his young but active career in motorsport during his visit to Zuffenhausen. “I started karting when I was four years old. When I was twelve, I sat in my first real race car on a race track.” This not only slowly developed into a racing career, but also into an intense passion for Porsche racing cars. The youngster had his first race in a GT3 Cup car in the 2018 season in Argentina – only 14 years old back then. “A fantastic experience,” he reports. “And then an amazing year in 2019 with races in the USA and in Brasil.” He could have participated in the last Supercup event on the Hermanos Rodriguez Racetrack that same year. But Mateo had to withdraw from the race at the last minute because of regulations: he was too young. Instead Oliver Schwab, the Supercup Project Manager, invited him to Weissach, placed him in the rookie programme for the 2020 season, where Mateo found the right partner with the MRS Racing Team. “What an opportunity: at just 16 years old, I would be the youngest driver in the history of the Supercup.”
Learning from the greats: Mateo Llarena with legends at Porsche Museum
His passion for Porsche cars is no coincidence. His father Rinaldo Llarena was one of the first members of the Porsche Club Guatemala. He bought his first Porsche, a 1990 964 Carrera 4, in the same year that Mateo was born. “I can remember that car very well: especially the smell of a classic 911,” reports the young Porsche fan. “As a child, my father would take me along to the Club meetings. Those are my first memories: the Porsche, the smell, the meetings, the cars and the Club members.”
Mateo can also remember how the Club changed and grew. The Club has been officially recognised since 2002 and became a force in the Latin American market under Club President, Carlos Pinelo Sisniega. “Even though I was only small back then, I can still remember how more and more Porsche enthusiasts joined. I know a lot of people in the Club, and they knew me already when I was only one year old and still greet me saying, ‘Hey, I knew you when you were still in nappies!’”
And as the entire Club naturally closely follows their rookie member’s racing activities, President Pinelo Sisniega suggested to his protégé that he put the Club logo on the car. “Mateo, our Club members would love it,” the Club President explained. “And we included advertising for ‘visitguatemala.com’ at the same time. That is a good advert for our country and our Porsche Club,” adds Mateo. “And I like driving with the Porsche Club logo on the bonnet.” It is his Club. And it is important to him. “Most of the Club members are my friends. They follow what I am doing over here in Europe on Instagram and Facebook, check how I am doing, share the excitement of the races,” Mateo says. “We are in constant contact. They offer me support. They are my family.”
John Paul Hazbun accompanies Mateo’s European tour as his coach. John Paul is a racing driver himself and built the first two Cup cars for Mateo along with his brother. “Our goal is for Mateo to gain a lot of knowledge and experience in a very short period of time.”
Because experience is, of course, essential in motorsport, as Hazbun knows very well, not least from his time as a trained and licensed Porsche racing instructor. “You have to understand the suspension setup, know your engine and the gearshift. If you can smell a fluid, you have to know: is this oil, does it smell like plastic, metal, brakes, the cables? Many racing drivers are just very fast, but have no clue when it comes to the car,” says the experienced driver and trainer. “But that is not how we want to do it with Mateo. On the one hand, we would like him to learn a lot about stints in a short space of time, but at the same time how to coordinate, diagnose and make changes.”
This means that Mateo’s mentors are not mainly focussing on his racing times, but more on how the gaps to the leading drivers change. “Mateo does not know the race tracks, it is all new for him,” explains John Paul. They had two test days before the start of the series in Austria. Mateo got faster with each lap. But there will be races in the Supercup where the race track is completely unfamiliar to him. His “first practice” will actually be the first laps on the race track.
Mateo is aware of the challenge himself: “Of course, you can get prepared for race tracks using videos and simulators. But it is a different story when you are at the race track for the first time,” reports the 16-year-old. “You discover many new details, see the actual variations in height for the first time. Only then can you learn when to brake or determine your speed for uphill and downhill gradients.”
Backstage: After having toured Porsche Museum, Llarena and Hazbun also visited Alexander Klein at the Porsche Collection
35 drivers take part in the Supercup. Anything in the top 15 is a top result. “It is hard work to get into that category,” Mateo openly admits. “But we tackle each race as a new experience. I just try to do my best.”
Nerves are not a problem for him. “I have just swapped nerves for anticipation. I like to pass on the nervousness to the others,” says Mateo. “All I want to do is race.” Especially since he can enter the race as a rookie without the pressure of expectations on his shoulders. No-one is comparing him to his successes from the previous year. Of course, he is enjoying the attention at the moment. Mateo combines several “firsts”: first 16-year-old in the Supercup, first racing driver from Guatemala, first season in the 991, special rookie programme at Porsche. The professionals and experts are keeping their eye on Mateo. As are his friends in the Club.
Mateo is driving for Karsten Molitor’s MRS team. The team has three drivers and cars in the Supercup: Mateo Llarena (starting number 14), Jukka Honkavuori (15) and Laurin Heinrich (16). Having Mateo in the car is a challenge for the team as well. “Actually, I could understand that: who wants to put a 16-year-old in a Cup car? But the people responsible have been watching me for a while now and they know that I will not do anything stupid with the car on the race track.”
John Paul nods his head in agreement when he hears him say this. “I always say: Mateo, you do not have to be the fastest one out there,” adds the coach. “Stay on the track. Everything else will come with time. Even the fast lap times. And make damn sure that you don’t damage the car. Look after your car.”
Mateo Llarena (second from the left) and John Paul Hazbun with Alexander Klein as well as Porsche Community Management’s Mathias Menner (on the left)
What is actually the big difference between a GT3 road car and a Cup car? Or are they comparable? “I was able to drive a GT3 road car on the race track and it really is true, they both have the same DNA. At the end of the day, at Porsche you try to put into a road car what you used on the race track. That is the real connection between the two cars. They behave very similar on the race track.”
Of course, there are differences, even if the same four-litre engine is used. “In the Supercup, we have a different gearbox and exhaust system. And of course the slicks have a great impact. Also, there is only one seat. The GT3 RS incorporates traction management, ABS, rear-axle steering and several electronic systems. In the Supercup and Carrera Cup Germany on the other hand, there is no traction control or ABS in the Cup car.” The upshot of it is: same DNA, same performance, but no back-up systems. Just pure racing.
Mateo likes to remember the first time he sat in a Cup car. “That was indescribable,” he says. “The enormous grip, the way the car brakes, the sound. As a Porsche enthusiast, you can immediately identify a Cup car as a Porsche, just by its sound. You can just feel that it is something special. Not just a car. You sense decades of motorsport tradition in every detail, throughout the whole car. Porsche has always been a pioneer in motorsport and, to this day, you can see that in these cars.”
Mateo has driven every generation of the Cup 911 cars in his short career. He was at the wheel of a Type 996 in Guatemala. It was then a Type 997 in Argentina, and now he is driving a Type 991 here in Europe. “That means you can see how the cars have developed. You see what Porsche has kept and what they have changed for the better.” He likes the performance of the Type 991, of course, but if you are being totally honest, Mateo, which is the best one? “My favourite is the 997. It is simply puristic.”
It was time for the first Supercup races after the test laps in Hockenheim and Austria: a double-header with race 1 and race 2 in Spielberg, then the Hungaroring; followed now by Silverstone, Barcelona, Spa and Monza. A very tight timetable: Mateo and John Paul are staying in Europe throughout the whole season.
The young racer never feels homesick. There is no time for that in the fast lane. “You only get homesick when you have nothing else to think about. I have so many things to take care of, so many things to do. There is something new every day.”
He keeps in touch with his family via WhatsApp, friends from Guatemala follow him online – Mateo reports live using his Instagram account and Facebook. In Porsche works driver Matteo Cairoli, he has not only found someone to help him read the tracks, but a good friend as well.
“The most amazing moment up to now was definitively that first lap: you are here, in Europe. You are on a race track. Sitting in a Cup car. All the other drivers and cars are all around you. Then you get it - you are here in the Supercup. It all came true. That first lap is the one you will always remember.”
Everything else is just waiting for the next green flag.
In 2009, he took third place in the karting category of the Pan American Championship when he was just five years old. A few races on, including the “Easykart World Champion” finals and several national titles, the young Latin American won the FIA Award in the “Sport Junior” category in 2014. His father, Rinaldo Llarena, a manager at the Guatemalan Porsche importer, played his part in his offspring’s love of racing, and threw the youngster “into the lions’ den” that very same year: Mateo Llarena Rosenthal was on the podium twice at the Toyota Yaris Cup, took part in the Formula 4 Nacam in Mexico, won the national GTR championship, participated in the GT3 Cup Trophy in Argentina and in the GT3 Cup Carrera Brasil, and also raced in Miami and Daytona. Shortly afterwards, he competed at the Three Hours of Costa Rica, won the GT2 category of “Sport Car Club of America”, and took fourth place at the “Trans Am Super GT” class in Daytona. He was awarded an FIA award again in 2019: this time in the “Motorsport” category as Sportsman of the Year.