The Heavyweight RoundThe Circuit de la Sarthe was braced this year for a showdown between two of the world's great manufacturers, Audi and Peugeot, for a bid for supremacy in the brave new world of high-performance diesel technology. The Peugeot 908 coupe was dominating the round of the European-based Le Mans Series (LMS), but everyone knows that it is the 24 hours that matters to all concerned.
Peugeot dominated the early stages with the No. 2 Audi of Tom Kristensen, Dindo Capello, and Allan McNish keeping up the pressure and waiting for the first mishap. Between the Audi trio of a Dane, an Italian, and a Scot, there were no less than 10 victories at Le Mans with Kristensen as the record holder with seven. Would they make it 13 by the final tick of the clock? They did and most impressively. Audi pilots McNish, Capello, and Kristensen reflect on this battle for the ages.
Time Loves A Hero:Allan McNish
EC: One of the great comments of the race came after your first quadruple stint, something about a "conservative" pace? You need to go back to the start of the '99 race when I think it was Schneider in the Mercedes taking a run at your teammate Mr. Brundle in the Toyota. You made it stick but it just as easily could've been the goat, what say ye?AM: I prefer the "ass" instead of the goat; goats are useful! It was a safe move with Nic's Peugeot. I knew he didn't want to end his race on the first lap either and just wanted to see how quick they actually were. In fact, when we got to the first chicane I had a small chance to out brake him again because he left me just enough room, but my experience got the better of my racing instinct just.
EC: Qualifying was shocking enough, with regards to their outright speed. Did you expect all three of the lions to open up such a gap in those opening laps?AM: Yes, but I hoped they wouldn't. For me it was a case of pushing hard, taking no major risks in traffic, getting the 12-lap stints before pit stops, and thinking about where the race might be at midnight.
EC: The pace of the No. 2 R10 was noticeably quicker over the race than that of the other two Audis. Was this a case of you being the rabbit or was it left to each team to determine its own pace and attack?AM: We all have the same equipment and engineering support. We chose four stints and our pace was our pace, as it was in Le Mans 2007 or to date in the LMS in 2008.
EC: Compared to last year's R10 it seemed that the car was considerably looser in the setup. At times you seemed like a WRC driver on the tarmac.AM: It actually wasn't much different to drive, just faster, except for slightly less traction. But that could've been because we had a little more power!
EC: Throughout this decade, your prime competition at la Sarthe has come mainly from other VAG products. This was a return to 1997-1999 where it was also a battle between manufacturers. How did this race compare to those earlier efforts for you on a personal scale?AM: More exciting, more of an edge, more on the absolute limits of every aspect of the race, in and out of the car, and much more like 1998/1999. It was cool.
EC: Every driver has some kind of moment during the 24 hours, what was yours this time?AM: The second stint coming out of the Porsche curves where I overtook an LMP that, at the same time, decided to overtake a GT three wide with me two wheels on the grass passing the big Audi hospitality flat in Fifth, hmm ... That was my closest but ask Tom, I seem to remember him having a closer shave!
EC: Now one of those questions for the fans. Compare the R10 at Le Mans to your other rides from the past: the R8, Porsche GT1, and of course the Toyota GT-One.AM: All different but all top of that year. The Porsche GT1 was solid and consistent in every condition, it drove itself, but Norbert Singer was behind that one so that was no surprise. The Toyota GT-One was very fast (354 km/h) but much more on the edge, only a few drivers really got on top of it through the Porsche curves. The R8 was initially in-between but became sedated after a few years of rule changes and development. The R10 was harder to drive than the R8 but when you're on it, you know you're traveling very fast.
EC: So it's been 10 years between wins, what does this mean and what effect does this have on you from a business perspective?AM: Unlike last time, I'm sure no F1 opportunities will arise, and I would not want them to, but it certainly is good for my current sponsors and also certain ones we are talking to for 2009. Maybe more euros in my wee Scottish pocket, tee hee.
EC: A while back you mentioned that after retiring from driving you would bring Finlay to Le Mans and show him where you used to race with Uncle Tom and Uncle Dindo. It took awhile longer than you wanted but it finally happened.AM: Yep and I will definitely take him there to experience Le Mans, but I will also show him a picture of his dad on the podium to prove his old man could hack it once upon a time!