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Getting to Know: Mateo Llarena

8 March 2024

Mateo Llarena is a proud Guatemalan, but he feels equally at home in Italy where he is based, and the country he now represents on the global GT3 scene with Lamborghini Squadra Corse.

At just 20 years of age, Llarena has already competed in some of the world’s most prestigious endurance races and has rapidly ascended the motorsport ladder.

Raised some distance away from racing’s traditional hotbed in Europe, Llarena is not afraid of relocating, having spent time in the US before moving to Italy before most kids his age had even left school.

“I lived in Guatemala until I was 17 years-old,” Llarena begins. “So, it is the place where I was born and where I am from, even though I have only ever raced outside of Guatemala.
“Until 2023, I used the Guatemalan flag before I changed to represent Italy. I have Italian citizenship and Italian family so everything made sense to take the decision to use the Italian licence and flag, given I had so many opportunities and so much support for my racing in Italy.
“The doors have been opened to me in Italy and by Lamborghini during my career. My family comes from Como in the north so I would say it was a good decision I took in this regard.
“For me, Italy feels like home.”

To be based in Europe for Llarena is an important step in his quest to reach the top of the GT3 pyramid, and he’ll be a lot busier in 2024 as he embarks on a maiden assault in the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe series with renowned outfit Grasser Racing Team.

“I am really happy about this, and I am looking forward to testing myself out in the Silver Cup category, which is really competitive.
“It’s a championship I have always wanted to enter and to do it with Grasser is a big honour for me, especially as they were the champions last year. I had a test, and it went really well, I was up to speed quite well at Misano, which is like a home track for me.
“This season is already looking good for me, and I am feeling really confident,” Llarena adds. “I have a lot of experience in the Huracán GT3, so for me it is the next step for me, especially the Endurance Cup which has a lot of amazing tracks.”

Llarena’s season in Endurance Cup will take him to some of Europe’s most iconic venues, such as Spa-Francorchamps for the jewel-in-the-crown event of the year, the Spa 24 Hours, Nürburgring, Barcelona and Paul Ricard, while also adding a new venue on the streets of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

“I have always followed the Spa 24 Hours, on the TV and speaking to other drivers, Spa is definitely one of my favourite tracks to, so I am looking forward to racing there this year,” Llarena says.
“To know that I will be there is really exciting, and we have a good team and team-mates alongside me to try and to do a good job.
“GTWC is the top level for GT3 racing worldwide so I hope to gain a lot of experience and do my best.”

Llarena’s climb up through the ranks has been as rapid as it has been impressive. And to say he grew up around motor racing is something of an understatement, too.

He started go-karting at the tender age of four and quickly won multiple national championships in Guatemala before taking his skills to South America (where he competed in the Rotax MAX Challenge Argentina in 2015), to Europe and the US and México.

Spurred on by the early success, Llarena continued to turn heads by becoming the youngest National Motorsport champion in history at the age of just 15. A year later, he was racing on the Formula One support bill in the Porsche Supercup.

But perhaps the biggest honour came in 2022, when he returned to his karting days in Florida to represent Guatemala at the 24 Hours at Daytona, in doing so becoming the youngest driver at the time to take part in the race.

“It was a special race because we were the only ones to finish,” reflects Llarena. “This was a highlight in my career, I must say because I was still really young and to be at the finish of the 24 Hours was pretty special.
“I think I was also the first Guatemalan driver to have finished the race too, so that was quite cool.”

Since then, Llarena has plied his trade in the Campionato Grand Turismo Italiano (Italian GT Championship), with another pillar of Lamborghini GT3 racing, VS Racing.

Headed up by former F1 and Indy Racing League driver Vincenzo Sospiri, Llarena used the past three seasons to gain more valuable experience at the wheel, before securing what he labels as ‘the most important win of my career’ at the season finale at Imola last season.

“I drove the last stint and we were in a good position throughout,” Llarena explains. “I took over in P1 and we stayed P1 despite a late safety car.
“It was a dream come true, especially with it being at Imola which is my favourite track and the final weekend of the year, it was good to finish the year like that.
“This overall win was probably the most important I have ever achieved in my career, because it was my first overall win in Europe. It’s a race I really cherish and remember, and it was a big step for the future.”

Llarena is also a product of the traditional 2022 Lamborghini Young Driver shootout programme, taking part at Portimão.

It is all part of the learning process for emerging talents such as Llarena, to prepare the next generation of Lamborghini drivers set to take on the immensely competitive world of GT racing.

“I have learned so much from Lamborghini over the years and I am very thankful to Lamborghini for all the support they have given me,” Llarena says.
“The shootout is so intense, it demands a lot from your body and your mind, and it is the perfect way to prepare you for the future. The physical test you do is so hard! Then on the track, you do a practice and qualifying simulation and then a race simulation and you need to find the balance between pushing hard but not being the one who finds the gravel.
“For me, it was a good experience. You find your rhythm and references and learn the track and the car. You are also surrounded by the best engineers, on a great track and against a lot of very talented drivers, so it definitely helped me grow as a driver.”

A professional attitude on and off the track, Llarena is set to take on his biggest challenge to date in 2024. And, if history is anything to go by, yet more heads will be turned across the upcoming GTWC Europe campaign this year.

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