Tag Archives: Allan McNish

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The Legend…………Prologue Part Two

The Audi R8C was far too new to stand a chance at Le Mans even if the field had not been as packed with contenders for victory as it proved to be in 1999. There is one certainty when running in the 24 Hours at La Sarthe, if there is a weakness it will be found out. The intense test programme post Pre-Qualifying did not reap much in the way of lap time improvements and the transmission still gave much cause for concern. The project needed months not weeks of development to realise its obvious potential, the speed was good on the Mulsanne at 217mph but handling issues elsewhere meant that time was lost.

One area that Audi had employed lateral thinking to get an advantage over their competitors was the ability to change the entire transmission in next to no time on the R8R. Dry-break couplings were fitted to engine, clutch and gearbox oil cooler fluid pipes. Special tools were made to facilitate removal of the bellhousing, all of which was possible because the R8R’s rear wing was part of the tail section rather than being attached to the gearbox. During the run up to the race a practice run was undertaken and the whole rear end of transmission and rear suspension was replaced ready to get back on track in around five minutes!

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of this arrangement was that the press almost completely missed it. Even the doyens of the Le Mans’ Media Tribe, Paul Frère and Jean-Marc Teissedre, only noted the speed of the R8R transmission changes during the race but did not enquire as to how this was achieved. Perhaps they did and were fobbed off with bullshit. To be fair there was plenty of excitement going on with flying Mercs and crashing Toyotas and the BMWs. My source for this and other technical information is the excellent autobiography from Tony Southgate and he would know.

Another improvement to the transmission came with the adoption of the Mega Line pneumatic gearshift for the R8R. This system allowed the drivers to keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times, helping with cornering, and there was a dramatic reduction on the wear on the dog-rings in the gearbox, greatly improving reliability over a long distance race.

 

The 1999 edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours was something of a high water mark for the participation of manufacturer backed teams in pursuit of outright glory. No fewer than four other factories joined Audi in the hunt for victory, 15 cars in total. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Toyota were all serious contenders for victory, only Porsche was missing and they would not be back for a generation.

 

Pole position was grabbed by Martin Brundle in the Toyota GT-ONE, scorching round in 3:29.930, meanwhile the R8Cs were struggling, the best that #10 could manage was 20th and 3:42.155, #9 was timed at 3:45.202 which meant a further three places back on grid.

No matter what problems the Audi Sport UK were enduring they were not as bad as some others were experiencing. Eric van de Poele destroyed his Nissan early on Wednesday injuring his back seriously. The following evening Mark Webber became airborne in his Mercedes-Benz CLR, a feat he repeated during Saturday’s Warm Up, scratch two contenders from the race.

The situation on the other side of the Audi pit boxes was far more promising. The R8R pair got on quietly during Practice and Qualifying with Capello’s 3:34.891 being good enough for 9th place, Biela just half a second behind. A good result seemed within the team’s grasp, though the message came down from the Board, a podium was the minimum that would be accepted or else…………………….

I have worked for teams at Le Mans that have had problems with the car right from the start, it is a nightmare situation that can only end in pain, with no prospect of redemption or salvation, so I can sympathise with the hard working crew of Audi Sport UK. #9 was in after half an hour to have the suspension checked, then, just before 20.00, the car stopped at the entry to Les Hunaudièrs, the differential had broken, the car was the third retirement.

#10 lasted but 20 minutes before stopping to change the gearbox, a process repeated around midnight. The agony continued till 8.20 on Sunday morning when the gearbox failed again stranding Perry McCarthy out on track, ending the Le Mans’ career of the Audi R8C.

The Audi R8C was never seen again in competition, all resources were focused on developing the new 2000-spec car, the R8. However, the R8C did contribute substantially to the next Volkswagen Group endurance coupé, the Bentley Speed 8. Also designed by Peter Elleray and built at RTN, the Bentley beat the rest, including the legendary Audi R8s, to win Le Mans outright in 2003.

The other side of the Audi operation ran much more smoothly with only minor niggles afflicting #8 R8R. All the misfortune seemed to flow towards #7 which had no less than four transmission replacements but with the quick change system paid off, with each new gearbox being fitted in around five to ten minutes rather than the 50 minutes taken each time by the R8C. #8 ran strongly in the top five for most of the race, things were going to plan.

Both Audis benefited from the retirements of other contenders, the two top Toyotas each had a big accident during the night and  engine failure accounted for the Nissan. As to Mercedes-Benz, the catastrophe forecast by many happened just before 21.00 when, watched by the world on television and endlessly replayed, Peter Dumbreck’s CLR somersaulted into the trees at almost the same point where Webber had crashed on the Thursday. Mercedes-Benz has not been seen near Le Mans since nor are they expected back anytime soon.

The race had one final twist in the tale. The BMW of Lehto, Müller and Kristensen had led from almost the first hour and the trio had a cushion of three laps over their sister car. Then the roll bar broke and jammed open the throttle pitching JJ into the barriers at the Porsche Curves and out of the race. This misfortune elevated the #8 Audi to 3rd and the #7 to 4th, which, considering the situation Mercedes were enduring, was a good performance. Could they hang on?

 

The answer was yes, to the relief of the Boss Dr. Ullrich. Third place went to #8 driven by Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Didier Theys, they were five laps down on the winning BMW. Fourth, some 14 laps adrift of their sister car, was #7 with Michele Alboreto, Dindo Capello and Laurent Aïello on driving duties. The result was enough to get the green light for a new car in 2000, the Audi era was about to commence.

Third and fourth places at Le Mans was not quite the end of the story for the R8R. While a completely new car would be unveiled for the 2000 season, the R8R would act as a test bed during the rest of 1999 for proving the components such as engines and transmission plus work on aerodynamics. The engine had performed faultlessly during the race, as we have come to expect from the work of Ulrich Baretzky’s department. Detailed improvements in power and weight reduction would lead to a major development in 2001 with the introduction of FSI direct injection technology.

There would be two more races for the R8R in 2000 in the American Le Mans Series rounds at Charlotte and Silverstone, while the new R8 was kept in reserve for the Le Mans 24 Hours. A podium place in the UK for Allan McNish and Dindo Capello was an appropriate way to mark the end of the road for the R8R.

Audi’s course was set for the next 17 seasons, racking up titles and victories no matter who was the opposition. The pit lanes and paddocks of the endurance world will feel strange in 2017 with the Four Rings.

John Brooks, December 2016 

Going Round and Round – Part Two

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The landscape of the American Le Mans Series had changed significantly for the 2000 season with the arrival of Audi and their second endurance sports car, the R8. This would blossom over the next six seasons to become one of the all time great race cars. The lessons of the shortcomings of the R8R had been absorbed so the R8 handled well, had good downforce and was quick in a straight line.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

However it would not be a push over for the newcomers as both BMW and Panoz had well proven teams and cars. In reality both were at a disadvantage with compromises that they had to make to conform to the new aerodynamic regulations introduced in the wake of the Mercedes-Benz’ flying accidents at Le Mans in 1999. In addition to that BMW stopped development on the V12 LMR before the season commenced and began focusing their attention on their upcoming return to Formula One.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

When the calendar was announced it contained three more visits to Oval Land……. the stadiums at Charlotte and Texas would join Las Vegas on the trail.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The first of these races was to be Charlotte in the heartland of NASCAR territory. The second round of the ALMS would be a tough event to sell to the Good ‘Ole Boys but the circuit itself was pretty good, a quick infield section with elevation changes, up to Daytona International Speedway standards other than the section taking the infield track back onto the banking at turn one and a silly chicane on the back straight.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The transition from infield to the banking caught out a few during the weekend, one of the first being Allan McNish in the Audi R8R, in the penultimate appearance of that car. The new R8 had crushed the opposition in the first round at Sebring but it was being kept in reserve for the Le Mans 24 Hours, so McNish had to push to the limit in the old car which he shared with Dindo Capello and Michele Alboreto. Spinning the Audi was bad enough but then seeing a grinning photographer with his 500mm lens lined up to record the indiscretion made things seem even worse.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Once we were all back in the paddock the Wee Scot forced a rueful smile when he confirmed that the wanker he had spotted with the camera was indeed yours truly, his description, not mine.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Charlotte marked the low point the Audi campaign in 2000, the R8R was just about able to run with the Rafanelli Lola but not BMW or Panoz. These two teams would battle along in the race with the #42 BMW V12 LMR just shading the #1 Panoz LMP-1 Roadster S.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Charly Lamm’s boys just about out fumbled the Panoz guys in the pits and in traffic but the result could have gone either way. JJ was pleased though…………….

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Brabham and Magnussen were just eight seconds down on the BMW lead car when the flag dropped with the Rafanelli Lola picking up the final spot on the podium.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The Audi of Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela could only manage sixth place, the return of the R8 to the ALMS could not come soon enough.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

GTS was reduced to a Viper parade, as Corvette kept their powder dry in anticipation of their first trip to Le Mans for the Test Day later that month.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The only opposition was a pair of venerable GT2 Porsches which were a long way off the pace, though troubles for #92 Viper meant that Zak Brown and Vic Rice Roock Racing 911 bagged runner up spot to Olivier Beretta and Karl Wendlinger.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The GT class had been invaded in 2000 by a horde of the new 911 GT3-Rs , nine examples of which were at Charlotte. Their début earlier in the season at the Rolex 24 had been marred by a series of engine failures, I looked at that race earlier HERE

2000 ALMS Charlotte

They were opposed by two PTG BMWs, the E36 version almost pulling off a shock win after the Dick Barbour Racing ‘werks’ 911’s both hit problems early in the race.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

Eventually the Bob Wollek/Sascha Maassen 911 recovered to take victory for Stuttgart rather than Munich.

2000 ALMS Charlotte

The crowd numbered in the hundreds rather than Nevada’s tens but in the confines of the huge auditorium designed to take the huddled masses of NASCAR fans this looked pathetic, a problem experienced at all of the Ovals visited. Signs warning “NO THROWING, You will be Removed” stencilled onto the wall were not required………apparently it is a local sport to lob fast food and the like at passing cops, photographers etc., during quiet periods on the track……..a sort of Agincourt Experience with half chewed wings ‘n B-B-Q sauce rather than arrows……..no one much cared about the few clueless photographers like myself stumbling around in search of inspiration, we remained largely safe, a danger only to ourselves.

2000 ALMS Texas

If Charlotte had been pleasant enough on April Fools’ Day then the furnace conditions encountered at Texas Motor Speedway in early September were not. Whoever signed up the circus to perform in this part of the world at the beginning of September kept a low profile during the weekend, if discovered he, she or it would have been lynched.

2000 ALMS Texas

Those of us compelled to work outside in temperatures of 110F looked like extras from Lawrence of Arabia and as for the poor sods driving front-engined, closed cockpit crucibles such as the Viper and Corvette, words fail to describe the heroics required of the drivers just to last the race.

2000 ALMS Texas

In recognition of the insanity of trying to run in the noon sunshine the race was timed to start at dusk…….about 2 degrees cooler………naturally not all Texans are mad despite what you may read and they stayed away in droves…….the rest of us were not so fortunate.

2000 ALMS Texas

The grid lined up for what seemed forever, certain drivers getting dehydrated as the various pre-race ceremonies dragged on. One problem for the photographers was actually finding anywhere accessible during the race to shoot the cars, hence taking to the stadium’s roof.

2000 ALMS Texas

The Audi R8 duo had the rest of the pack under control with McNish and Capello in search of a third win on the trot in the second part of the ALMS season.

2000 ALMS Texas

BMW had managed to paper over the cracks in their operation but Texas would see their first failure to grab a podium place since their appearance in North America at the 1999 Sebring 12 Hours.

2000 ALMS Texas

Even Jörg’s new hair style could not improve things.

2000 ALMS Texas

The challenge to the Audis was led by the #1 Panoz crew who were a lap down by the end of the race, a podium was their reward. No one had an answer to the R8.

2000 ALMS Texas

Lehto and Müller’s title aspirations were given a slight boost when the Schnitzer team ordered their sister car to crawl to the finish, letting #42 into a distant fourth.

2000 ALMS Texas

There were celebrations in the Pratt & Miller pit as the Corvette of Ron Fellows and Andy Pilgrim took the first win in the ALMS against the Vipers. One of the ORECA cars ran out of fuel, the other had a malfunctioning cooling system which cooked Wendlinger in the first stint.

2000 ALMS Texas

Similar stories were found in the GT class, I recall Rohan Skea staggering out of his Porsche after a single stint in a very bad way and being taken straight to Medical Centre. Most teams had personnel in and out of the doctors’ care, it was an extremely unpleasant place to be working at.

2000 ALMS Texas

The race went to Pirro/Biela in spite of the superior pace of the McNish/Capello R8. Two yellow flag periods taking over a minute’s lead from the #77 car, then a problem with the radio meant a mix up with the final pit stop, it was that kind of a race. Most of us could not get away from the place quick enough and there were no spectators to impede our exit.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Two months and three races later we returned to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to continue the lacklustre pattern of holding ALMS events at this kind of venue………..as usual the on track stuff was OK but there was little or no interest locally and few in the way of spectators to be seen. Even the promise of the Steve Soper Experience could not tempt the punters away from the tables and slots.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Actually some off track action WAS exciting as nearby Nellis Air Force Base played host to all kinds of foreign exotic warplanes on some sort of Top Gun event. The pilots, being gearheads, would circle low over the stadium on their final approach to the base, giving us something new to argue about. Those who had been to Vegas before had scant enthusiasm for the place, a little of that town goes a long way.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Even Morse getting me the loan of a Lincoln TownCar – Cartier Edition of course, with white-walled tires, gold stripes and blacked out windows could not lift the mood that we were all in the wrong place.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

It did however piss off David Price, who wondered how a low life like me got to ride around like a Rap Star or Vegas pimp, and he had to put up with some anonymous Camry, he grumbled to anyone who would listen………… P. Diddy Brooks anyone?

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

The event was the penultimate round of the series in 2000, there being a race scheduled in Adelaide on 31st December but Las Vegas still had an end of term feel with a few new entries joining in and some familiar faces about to leave. Tom Coronel impressing in Carsport Holland Viper he shared with Mike Hezemans.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

The BMW V12 LMR was making its final appearance as there was no desire from Munich to go Down Under. The car, a collaboration with Williams Grand Prix, had a great racing record over two seasons, victory at Le Mans and six ALMS wins, including Sebring. Quality. Regrettably it also brought down the curtain on the sonorous BMW V12 engine which aurally entertained those track-side since 1995. For 2001 BMW would be running M3s in the GT class.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Another great combination that was making its final ALMS appearance in North America was ORECA and the Dodge Viper GTS-R. After five seasons the French team was headed into the ranks of prototype racing with a Dallara chassis and MOPAR power. The list of the Viper’s successes is almost to long to contemplate.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Reflecting the improvement in the Panoz’ performance as the season progressed Magnussen jumped McNish and Biela at the start of what would be a chaotic and incident packed race.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

McNish restored the normal order of things but then the bumping and boring began…………..

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

Both Panoz entries were in the wars as was Müller’s BMW and Capello in the #77 R8, there were several incidents.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

The upshot was a fortunate victory for #78 who had been largely off the pace, especially Biela, but you take the wins as they come.

2000 ALMS Las Vegas

As was the custom that year GTS honours went to the Viper of Beretta and Wendlinger with the GT class win going to the Dick Barbour Racing Porsche 911 GT3-R of Bob Wollek and Sascha Maassen. It was their fifth win of the year and would be Wollek’s final victory of his career, as he would be killed in a pointless road accident the following March while out cycling near Sebring. I have written about the mercurial Frenchman HERE HERE and HERE .

Another Roval, another failure to bring in the spectators, even someone with Don Panoz’ deep pockets would have to consider how long this strategy would be tried.

2001 would provide the answer and that is the topic for Part Three.

John Brooks, December 2014

 

Rage Into the Night

2010 Petit Le Mans

Another shot from the McNish era, this time from 2010 Petit Le Mans, vainly chasing the Peugeot pair a lap ahead up the road. Why? Dindo Capello made an unexpected pit stop after a slow lap because his balaclava slipped over his eyes while behind the wheel. That was one excuse I had not heard before, it happened when a piece of protective foam within the helmet became detached as I recall. Races are won and lost on such tiny margins.

John Brooks, February 2014

Making a Sears Point

Every once in a while, if you are lucky, you witness a performance on the track that takes your breath away. For example, I look back to Sonoma County in July 2000. Allan McNish, still smarting from not being allowed to fight for the top step at La Sarthe, put on a display that crushed the rest of the field. By the time the Wee Scot handed over his Audi R8 to co-driver Dindo Capello, he had lapped the opposition. That list included two factory BMW V12 LMRs and two works Panoz LMP-1 Roadster S entries, oh and Emanuele Pirro in an identical R8. I struggle to remember such a dominant display.

Here is Allan on lap two already pulling away from the other Audi, with the Panoz pair shadows in the distance and who knows where the BMWs were?

Days in the Sunshine…………………California Dreaming.

John Brooks, December 2012

Full of Eastern Promise

The attention of the endurance sportscar world  has been rightly focused out East this weekend, to the majestic Fuji Speedway, nestling in the shadow of Mount Fuji. My mind drifts back to the last century and the previous FIA sportscar race in Japan, the enticingly titled Pokka Sweat 1000 Kilometres.

Sweat was indeed much in evidence during that event, run in baking hot conditions with nasty August in Japan humidity, a photographer’s lot was not a happy one. Another whose lot was less than joyous during that era was Porsche AG, as the AMG Mercedes steamroller beat them like a gong for the whole of the 1998 FIA GT Championship. Suzuka was no exception and the lead CLK LM, with favoured son Bernd Schneider and his side kick Mark Webber in the cockpit, won easily by two laps.

The AMG pair were aided in this convincing victory by the blunder in the early part of the race by one of their team mates, Ricardo Zonta. Zonta was duelling for second spot with the Porsche 911 GT1 98 of Allan McNish (who else?) and used one of the GT2 Porsches driven by Claudia Hürtgen to assist with late braking, the result when the dust cleared was that all three cars were beached in the gravel trap. To add insult to injury the marshals got Zonta on his way first, leaving an incandescent McNish to wait his turn. The race was over as a contest, barring misfortunes for #1 AMG.

The incident cost the Porsches a couple of laps and Zonta later received a drive through penalty for his misjudgement, though this did nothing to restore the time lost by McNish.

While the Wee Scot was matching Schneider’s lap times before the incident it required something of a leap of faith to imagine that this could be maintained by Yannick Dalmas and Stéphane Ortelli over the 1000 kilometres. In the end the lead Porsche finished a lap down on the #2 Merc to grab the final step on the podium.

The second entry from Weissach suffered a number of misfortunes that first blunted, then eventually ended their challenge for the podium. Mid-race Bob Wollek had contact with a slower car in the chicane and drove the short distance into the pits against the flow of traffic to check the damage. As I wrote at the time, this eccentric piece of driving incurred the ire of the Stewards who awarded him a three minute Stop and Go penalty. That observation incurred the ire of “Brilliant Bob” when he later read it and he threatened the magazine with legal action, even by his standards he was especially touchy that summer.
Jörg Müller finished the day for #8, when once again there was contact with another car in the final chicane. This time it was Geoff Lees in Thomas Bscher’s McLaren F1 GTR who was hit by the Porsche, both crews enjoyed an early bath, Nul Points Reykjavik.

The rest of the GT1 field had a pretty nondescript afternoon, the Persson Mercedes CLK GTR pair showing their 1997 pedigree, finished 4th and 7th, while the singleton DAMS Panoz thundered round to 5th. The Zakspeed Porsche 911 GT1 98 duo could only manage 6th and 8th.

The GT1 category had a fin de siècle feel in the heat and humidity of Japan that year, exaggerated by the rumours that the FIA GT Championship, 1999 style, would be for GT2 cars only. Having invested heavily in this form of competition, Mercedes Benz were keen to go racing somewhere other than Le Mans in the following season. A month or two later we were all dragooned into a press conference in beautiful downtown Miami-Homestead Speedway. Stéphane Ratel was at his charismatic and visionary best, revealing the proposed FIA International Prototype Championship that would pit Mercedes against Porsche and possibly Toyota, Nissan and Audi. The factory contingent would be padded out by a motley crew of GT1/GT2 survivors and prototype inductees who would be press ganged in from the newly formed International Sports Racing Series. The problem was that there were not enough of the true believers, heretics and cynics were found at every turn.

Mango’s Barmy Army in the ISRS may have earned their title many times over, but even daft as they were, they would not fancy a regular drubbing from the Silver Arrows, no matter how good or guaranteed the start money was. Look at how AMG annhilated the Porsche Werks effort in ’98, the score ended up at 10-0 in Stuttgart’s favour. Porsche’s Le Mans prototype project was about to be  killed off by Dr. Wendelin Wiedeking, the CEO, who preferred to invest the cash in Porsche’s new light truck range, the Cayenne. Those of us with true grit gave him the raspberry at the time but he had the last laugh when the multitudes with questionable taste queued round the block to pay full price for this odd vision of a Porsche. PT Barnum really knew what he was talking about. Toyota had another cunning plan in mind in their quest to spend riches of Croesus on mediocre motorsport, go to Formula One. Nissan fired TWR after Le Mans 1998 and then realised that they were bust in all but name, so motorsport went out the window. Audi were in no hurry to tangle with their German rivals, reasoning that they had much to learn about the sport of driving long distances fast. So the IPC was a dead duck almost from the start and then the newly formed ALMS became the potential target for AMG and Mercedes. The aviation disasters at La Sarthe the following June extinguished that dream.

All of which meant that the GT2 battle was under increased scrutiny, as this was our probable future. The contest, such as it was, had three elements Chrysler Vipers versus the factory blessed Roock Porsche 911 GT2 and Cor Euser in his fierce Marcos LM 600.

The reality was that the 911 GT2 was beyond any further significant development, the Marcos was quick with the fearless Euser at the wheel, less so when the money men were in the hot seat and the Oreca run Chryslers were an absolutely better package than anything else.

At the start Cor did his usual thing jumped into the lead, irritating the Viper pair, but it was just a matter of time and so it proved with #51 just edging out #52 to give Chrysler a 1-2. Zonta’s indiscretion stuffed the lead Roock 911’s race and behind that it was just a gaggle of GT2 Porsches making up the numbers.

A few locals had rocked up to excite those who enjoy diversity on the entry list. The Kunimitsu Takahashi Honda NSX-S was actually faster than the Vipers in Qualifying, a result, no doubt, of a collaboration with Dome, but the engine blew early in the race.

The other respectable performance, speed-wise, from the Japanese contingent was the Toyota Supra LM that was also quicker over one lap than the Oreca entries, but it struggled to make an impact during the race.

In the end home grown honours were taken by a rather plodding Nissan Sylvia.

From the adrenaline climb that GT Racing had enjoyed from 1995 to 1997, the 1998 season was flat and rather expensive. It could not continue, especially as no one was keen to take on AMG Mercedes, and the North American market was about to offer exciting opportunities, the first Petit Le Mans was just round the corner. But that, as they say, is a story for another day.

John Brooks, October 2012

 

 

 

 

Grazie, Dindo

Yesterday, the news came down the Mojo wire, Dindo Capello has retired from driving prototypes, no more would he be teamed up with Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish for Audi. A bittersweet moment, as the charming Italian is rightly one the most popular guys in the paddock and as his record shows a driver of genuine talent and accomplishment. Anyone who witnessed his final stints at Laguna Seca or Road Atlanta in 2007 would attest to that fact.

A couple of years back I interviewed Dindo, along with his fellow Musketeers, TK and Nishy. The results were published elsewhere, but I think the piece is worth re-running as a tribute to an all round Good Bloke.

John Brooks July 2012
Sometimes, on a day like today, I look back and reflect, that all things considered, I have had a fortunate life. Auditing, Accounting, Advertising, Design and Motorsport have paid the bills somehow. They have largely kept me out of mischief and taken me to some far flung places and events that I would otherwise have missed.

More importantly these occupations have introduced me to some pretty strange and interesting people along the way, some were scoundrels and wastrels but there was never a dull moment in their company. Others were in the genius class, Fangio and Senna, for instance, though I was never more than a passing face in the crowd to them.

My final career change to photography and writing took place back in the middle of 1997. That year Le Mans was supposed to be dominated by the ranks of the FIA GT Championship, the GT1 supercars. Indeed the factory Porsche 911 GT1 could, and should, have won the race but an accident caused by mechanical failure robbed Bob Wollek of a chance to triumph at the event he prized above all others. Then while cruising towards the Chequered Flag the other 911 GT1, with Ralf Kelleners at the wheel, caught fire. That left the Joest prototype to grab a second win. It was crewed by veterans Michele Alboreto and Stefan Johansson, plus a young guy who I had barely heard of and did not pay much attention to. Big Mistake.

Over the intervening period Tom Kristensen would become “Mr. Le Mans” and take seven more victories to hold the all time winners record at La Sarthe. I have been lucky enough to get to know Tom and when a chance to interview him arose I jumped at the prospect. Not only would TK be available but also Allan McNish, so this was a really special opportunity. I arrived at the Audi Hospitality Unit on time to be given the good news that not only would the dynamic duo be on parade but that their charming Italian colleague, Dindo Capello, would also join in. So here we go

JB: What first sparked your interest in motorsport?

TK: I was born in a gas station and my Dad was a racing driver, so I think it came quite naturally.

AM: My father was involved with David Leslie, who was racing in Formula Ford at the time and he was from Dumfries. So as a six year old I went along with my Dad who was his mechanic. I went to a very cold, wet Oulton Park and places like that. I suppose that’s where it all kicked off.

DC: For me, more or less the same like Tom, the only difference is that my Father was not a racing driver but he had a really great passion for motorsport. On the wall of his office there were pictures of Jackie Stewart….

TK: Allan McNish?

DC: François Cevert and all those guys from the 60’s and 70’s

TK: Emanuele Pirro?

DC: Yes, for sure Pirro.

JB: How did you get started in racing?

AM: I had a motorbike, because as much as my Dad liked four wheels, two wheels was probably his real passion and I had a little motor-cross bike. I not very big now, I was very, very, very small then. When I went to the ATCC class my feet didn’t even touch the pegs, never mind the ground so Mum put a stop to that, so then four wheels took over from two.

TK: It started at my Father’s gas station, I was travelling with my Father to the race tracks but I got a go- kart when I was 9. I drove it around the gas station between the cars coming in for fuel, so it was a bit dangerous. Then I was taken to a little go-kart track in Northern Jutland, it all started from there. Nice summer evenings.

AM: You’re lucky, you had summer evenings, I was in Scotland.

DC: I started by chance, it was my birthday, it was my 11th Birthday and as a present my parents took me to the go-kart track which was opened just a few weeks, near to my home town. From that day, for the next 5 or 6 years, every weekend I was at that place.

AM: Was that your 21st?

TK: There were go-karts back then?

JB: Did you ambitions to become a professional, to be a star?

AM: Not really for me. I didn’t. OK I watched television and saw Grand Prix and was interested in racing but I never had any thoughts that it could turn out to be what it actually turned out to be. It was a happy coincidence more than anything else.

TK: I think there was a love of being in racing. I absolutely loved the karting scene and the people I raced against in those days, like Mika Hakkinen, went on to race in single seaters at that time and I followed a few years after. Financially, coming from Denmark, it was always an uphill struggle. It was more the thing that you just developed over the years but always from the perspective of passion, of loving being on the track and being part of a nice, respected friendship, especially at the karting track. It has developed into something that I am very, very grateful for.

DC: For me I was 6, 7 or 8, it was a dream, like when you ask a little child what would you like to do? They say a doctor or football player, I would have said car driver but at that time I didn’t know anything about that. I was already reading Autosprint. What I remember, and I still have it at home, was that there was an article about Ricardo Patrese, Elio de Angelis and another driver, they were still in Formula Italia or Formula Three. There was a big article, the title was “Is there a future in Formula One for these guys” and I remember I took this paper and put my picture on the article and I stuck it on my wall. I was 8 or 9 years old. It was really just a dream. I didn’t even know about go-karts.

JB: Any advice for Youngster who wants to go into racing or some sort of motorised competition?

AM: Enjoy it! That is the principal thing is enjoy what you are doing. The one thing I have noticed here about the answers to that last question was that pretty much every one of us did not say that they had a career plan to be a racing driver. It was something that came from enjoying what they were doing. That is a definite key, Too many young drivers try to have this big career plan from the age of 10.

TK: Listen to your stomach and never say no. Take all the experience you can get, if you get a chance to drive in whatever sort of car do, take it in and it gives you experience. It will help you develop as a driver.

DC: All I can say is the remember that there more than just Formula One. That is one of the biggest mistakes that a young driver can make, to try to reach Formula One and forget all the rest. In Formula One there are 20 places and it means if you want to be a professional and if you love this kind of sport you have to think of other categories. Formula One is the dream of everybody but just very few can reach it. Some drivers, I know of so many Italian drivers who were very, very good in Formula Three or even in F3000, only try and reach Formula One. Suddenly they could not make it and they disappear from our world. That is very sad, I think.

JB: During your developing years any particular heroes and why they mattered to you?AM: You…………..

JB: That’s a disturbing answer…………

AM: For me the person I followed when I was young, he and his Father started me in karting and then again started me in Formula Ford, was David Leslie. So on that side of things, I suppose he was a bit of a hero because I followed what he was doing all the time. Of course you want to spray the Champagne like Senna did, when he won Monaco so many times, and the World Championships against Prost, which was our era. But in the real world my hero would be David.

TK: I remember my Dad was a racing driver and I was pretty proud of him to be honest. I remember that I liked the versatility of guys like Mario Andretti and Jacky Ickx who have done different things successfully, I like that. Mario Andretti, I took a picture of him when I was 9 years old at Anderstorp, the first time I was at Formula One race and he came back into the paddock after retiring, with Colin Chapman, who had his arm around his shoulder. He had retired from the lead which gave the victory to this Brabham, the Fan Car. That picture I took, I shot it myself, probably I could have been a very good photographer. It is the greatest picture that I ever took, Mario looked like my Dad when he was young. There is a lot of these things that go into the mind of a young boy of that age. Mario has since signed that picture.

DC: For me I had respect for so many drivers but I never really had a hero. The only one I really remember was Ronnie Peterson because he had a driving style that I liked a lot. Then after it was Michele (Alboreto) because I remember his career. Just before I jumped into a Formula Fiat Abarth I was in Milano talking with a guy who gave me some advice as I did not know much about motorsport. Then Michele was just walking up to the same office, coming from his first test in Formula One. I remember I met him on the stairs and for me he was like a hero. I knew he had no money, nothing but he reached Formula One. At that moment Michele was the driver to follow, what he had achieved was just due to his talent, not due to other factors. Later, many years later, we were team mates and that was really something special for me.

JB: When I was planning this interview I did not realise that I would also have the pleasure of Dindo’s company, an unexpected treat, so I wanted to ask a couple of questions about Formula One for Tom and Allan. TK, I know that you were a test driver for Tyrrell and Michelin. How do you feel about the fact that you never actually raced in Formula One? Do you think you missed something?

TK: As we mentioned before it is the dream and becomes an ambition along the way, it is not how it starts out, but Formula One is the place where you want to go. That is for sure, but without that ambition the rest cannot follow but I think, today, I have been privileged to have the career that I have had, which has been open to every form of racing.

In a way I can say I am also thankful that I didn’t get the chance to get into Formula One at some stages because it has meant that I have been able to, first of all stay with sportscars for many years, particularly being with Audi. The right situation (in F1) probably would not have arisen for me. I have had tests with Williams, Minardi, BAR-Tyrrell and then the Michelin test driving a Jaguar. The tests were a great experience, I am sure I would have been happy to have been in Formula One if it had happened but obviously then I would not have had the career as long in sportscars as I have had. As Dindo said, the racing in sportscars is better and it is what I ultimately enjoy, it is probably not marketed as well as it should be but it is a community I love to be in. I have tried other series along in my career but you notice and benefit from the sharing with other drivers, that is really great. Sharing a race car at the highest levels, is quite special.

JB: Allan, you had two bites of the cherry. You were a test driver for Benetton.

TK: Also McLaren

AM: McLaren for three years and then Benetton.

JB: Yes, and then you broke from convention. You went from single seaters to sportscars and then back to Formula One. You got a ride with Toyota in their first year. How did you feel about that? I found a quote from Martin Brundle saying “replacing Salo and McNish with Panis and AN Other was not in my view, a step forward.” when it was announced that you were not going to be retained for a second season by Toyota.

AM: Martin is a genius. He knows everything. The first time around as a young driver coming through I had a lot of miles with McLaren and also with Benetton, so I suppose it formed me to be what I became. The sportscar route was taken for a very simple reason, there was no F1 seat available to me at that time. You realise that you have to do something, you can’t sit at home. The oddity is that it led me back to Formula One in a situation I did not think could arise or would arise. That was quite a fortunate situation but it was also unfortunate. It was Toyota’s first year, it was my chance and you’ve got to grab it, but it didn’t quite work out the way that everybody hoped it would. It was not really a surprise, a new team in Formula One struggles to find success that they want or wish for.

It was a clear cut case from my point of view when I went to Renault the following year as a test driver. My first lap in the Renault was quicker than my qualifying lap in the Toyota at Barcelona. My first ever lap was better, there was a world apart between the front of the grid and the back. So that was where I realised if you are going to be in it, you have to be able to win it. If you can’t be in it to win it, why are you there? I am a racing driver who wants to win races, so that was my reason to look at what ultimately is a better option for me. Having the chance to spray the Champagne at races like this or Le Mans with Audi.

JB: OK, you guys have been rated as being at the top of the business of racing sportscars in endurance racing in the past 10 or 15 years.

AM: Very politically correct!

JB: It’s also true. Any one race or stint that stands out for you. Anything you think Wow!, that was great, I performed to the maximum today?

AM: From my point of view, there’s a few that stand out. The one which, I suppose, was key was at Laguna Seca back in 1997 with the factory Porsche. They had not won a race that year, so I was in the third car with Ralf Kelleners. We had a problem in Qualifying, so I only got one lap in Qualifying and was fourth. I managed to grab the lead by the second corner and led for the first stint. I think that opened up a lot of peoples’ eyes to the fact that I could still drive. I think that was key.

TK: It is always difficult to pick one but…………the first Le Mans I joined Michele as a team mate. I arrived after the deal was done, just three days before Qualifying. That whole experience of having an ambition that I would love to race at Le Mans once, then doing it a few days after with Michele and Stefan (Johansson). Then after the race we, I have won and I have a lap record too. This over one week was too much to take in, so that stands out in many ways.

There have been a lot of things and every year you have highlights and things that really worked well. With Allan the race for me was 2005 at Sebring, where the two Champion cars were battling it out all race and finished a few seconds apart. This was also one to remember. 2001 in the rain at Le Mans. There is a lot of things that you can remember, you can go on and on. There was the race that we talked about just the other day, Mid Ohio. We only stopped once for refuelling in our Audi, it was fantastic. It was not necessarily planned, we were forced to do it but we managed to stop only once in the race of two hours 45 minutes. For the FSI engine that was amazing.

DC: For me it is difficult to pick out some stints. I think every time we get in the car we give our best, there are stints where you look better than other stints. Because sometimes there are circumstances that makes you look better or worse than the stint before or after but every time you are in the car you give everything that you have, especially when you have to catch up or pull away from your competitors. If I have to remember than the end of 2007 when we won by 3/10s in front of the Porsche, once at Laguna Seca, once was here at Atlanta. That was, for sure, for the spectators something great. The first Le Mans win, with Bentley. For the first time Tom and I drove four stints in a row, that was some achievement.

TK: It was also key to winning, which few people would have focussed on. No one believed we could do that on the narrow tyres, that would have more chance of overheating.

DC: For me as well I also remember the pole position at Mosport in 2008. It has the highest average lap speed in the ALMS season.

JB: You are all just over 40, just? What is the secret of your durability and in particular when you have a season like 2009 or 2010 where you have a reduced programme of races? How do you keep sharp, in regards to race craft and traffic management?

TK: Botox, Viagra and TDi!

AM: Speak for yourself, I never use Botox.

JB: I doubt that will get past the auto-censor.

DC: For me and I think it is the same for my team mates. Even though we have had a long career and I think the results we have achieved in our career are not too bad. I think all of us work like it is our first season. We still have to show our performance and we are not resting on out laurels. That is the key, so always being in a very good shape, working hard not to lose fitness through age. If you consider our average age, our speed, our performance is uncommon. It is not easy to achieve this. There are older drivers than us, but they are not fighting to win and are not producing the same performance. The only word I can say is, work. It is hard to keep the level.

TK: I agree.

AM: The only thing I would add is that it is easy to see after a race weekend that has not gone well, the faces in the de-brief show that we still have got the big desire to win. That produces everything else.

JB: I was chewing the fat last night with my Californian counterpart, Kerry Morse, he’s like Felix Leiter and I am a bit like James Bond really. (Much laughter from the trio!) When I told him about this interview one of the questions that occurred to us was to ask Tom and Allan how they are going to support Dindo’s title challenge in the Le Mans Intercontinental Challenge? He finished at Silverstone so he is team leader now.

AM: Can I just say that Capello after a brief affair with a German, when he had a weekend in the UK, has come back with his tail between his legs and we have taken him back in.

TK: Is there a driver’s championship?

AM: No, there’s no driver’s championship.

JB: OK that question is down the Swannee.

TK: We make sure we keep him out of the car for the whole race………that’s it.

AM: That’s why you’ll find him wondering about the shopping mall on Saturday.

JB: So that’s why he has shorts on and you two are dressed corporately.

AM: His flight is booked for tomorrow.

DC: This is why I ask to start the race.

JB: OK,back to business. Do you have ambitions to continue in motorsport after you retire? Perhaps management of teams or drivers?

AM: Photographer?

TK: When you have been in motorsport the time that we have, there will be some involvement. Press department is highest on the list.

JB: An Ambassador for the Press Department?

TK: Chauffeur for Press Department.

AM: Tom is right, I have been involved in motorsport for 30 years in one form or another, so I wouldn’t say my formal education outside the world of motorsport is very high, I’m probably not capable of doing anything else. But it’s your life and it’s what makes you get up in the morning. That is a critical point for me, it is what actually makes me get up in the morning, that buzz and feeling of it all. You might stop racing but you never stop having that feeling in your veins.

DC: Like Allan and Tom, it is the same. However as we have talked many times once we stop racing, we stop racing. What I do not like is to see old and famous drivers go to the race track and drive a very slow car, finishing last just to be still driving. That is something that I would not like to do.

TK: Maybe nobody would ask you……..

DC: Maybe do something for fun but not in a serious race.

JB: How do approach a race like Petit Le Mans? Physically and mentally? You have a training regime but as a trio do you work on a plan, with your engineers, do you work with each other?

AM: The last two years have been a bit different to normal. Normally you are racing all the time. Next season will be back to that but apart from Silverstone it has been a wee while since Le Mans. So you do have to do a bit of extra preparation but usually it is just a continuation of everything else. I would say that for PLM we arrived all on the same flight, we spend our time together and through that you build up the process of what you are going to be doing over the weekend and how you are going to do it.

TK: Yes that is correct, we are done in terms of physical preparation, we are running and exercising every day. We are always talking about different aspects, it could be the car, the weekend, other competitors.

JB: What do you do to relax between races? Something that helps to get your mind away from the tracks.

AM: I’m not good at it. I’m not good at relaxing and things become an extension of a race weekend. However with two kids you have to switch off.

TK: You have to also be honest with the people at home. Of course we have two families, the racing family, the Audi family and then there is the family at home as well. It is a contrast but it is also a support. It is important to relax, but it is difficult. You take the race home, the good races are easier to take home, than the bad ones. It is important to get away, sport is key for that. To get the body and the mind to re-generate.

DC: Once I am back home normal life should be enough but I’m a little bit with Allan. I struggle to find the time to relax. In that area Tom is much better than us, he is able to share his time in a better way. That is something I would really like to learn from him. I struggle to relax because my mind is too much in this business and even when there is no need I find it hard.

JB: Dindo, I saw a TV programme about your home life, a Michelin programme and your life seemed to consist of cruising on to the local café bar and drinking cappuccino, saying hello to all the women in the town, etc.

DC: Actually I live in the country, in a small village, where there is no stress at all. That is why I think that I am the problem, because the stress I have, I provoke it myself.

TK: So when the R8 goes boom through the town, it is that Mr Capello is home…..

JB: A final question for Tom and Dindo. I f you believe what you read on the internet Allan has the reputation of being a fan of a Scottish Football team, known as Queen of the South. Do you follow any similarly doomed, Biblically referenced teams or sports?

AM: Can I just say that they are from Dumfries, which is my home town, for goodness sake, they play at Palmerston Park, the Mecca of Scottish Football.

TK: OK. Are they part of the Women’s’ Soccer League of Scotland? For me it is my local town that is progressing as a soccer team in Denmark, so that is similar. But I suppose I have always been supporting Liverpool, since I was kid because of their fighting spirit.

AM: You mean fighting on the pitch? Off the pitch? Both?

TK: I like their attitude when going into a game.

JB: It does not have to be football. Queen of the South have never been a glamorous club or particularly successful.

AM: Queen of the South not particularly successful??? Two years ago they were nearly in Europe, they actually finished second in the Scottish Cup.

JB: Didn’t they play a game in Denmark and lose?

TK: Maybe we should talk about something we have all heard about….

AM: You haven’t heard of Queen of the South? You’re joking?

TK: For me Queen of the South is Jennifer Lopez.

JB: I believe the reference is to the Queen of Sheba in both Matthew and Mark or perhaps Luke in the Bible.

AM: Ask Dindo.

DC: The Padre.

AM: I am shocked that you have taken our greatest National football team and pointed them up to some sort of mockery. Do you know how the name started? It is obviously the region, it is the South of Scotland. They have an event called the Ride of the Marches, with the horns and the horses and everything, they ride around. Then on the Saturday Afternoon in May, I think, they have the Riding of the Marches through the town (Dumfries), they have a big market and then they crown the Queen of the South, a young lady from the region. It is an important local event.

JB: You learn something every day. Thanks guys.

John Brooks, July 2012

Over The Horizon

In the run up to the 60th Anniversary 12 Hours of Sebring I amassed a few recollections from those who had been at previous events………..Ken Breslauer has graciously allowed me to publish these accounts here on DDC……………enjoy.

Oh and

You can still order a souvenir program from this year’s 12 hour classic. Fans have told us its the best Sebring program ever- 200 pages filled with historical photos and features. $20 + $6 shipping. You can order by calling Toni at 800-626-7223.

Andy Pilgrim


In November 2000, we were testing the Corvette GT1 cars on the full Sebring track and it was the first time Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr. had been in the cars. This was prior to them doing the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in February 2001. The Earnhardts had never driven in the Vettes before nor had they seen the track. I had already met Dale (Big E) and Dale Jr. the month before when the whole deal was announced. When Dale arrived at the track he grabbed me and asked me to take him around the track in my C5 street car, while Jr. went off with someone else. The street car Vette was the car that GM had given me to use during my time with the Corvette factory team. I had driven up in it from Boca Raton, about 125 miles south of Sebring.

I did a couple of slow 70 mph laps of Sebring with Dale in the passenger’s seat. I pointed out the apex of each of the corners and how the weird Sebring pavement changes. Meanwhile Dale was filling me in on how his new boat was coming along. I wasn’t totally sure he’d heard one word I’d said, to be honest, but I kept babbling on as best I could giving my top Sebring tips in a two or three slow laps.

As we came down the Ulmann Straight towards Sunset a third time, Dale piped up “My turn”. So I said “Alrighty, no problem,” and pulled in the pit lane and we changed seats.
Dale asked if I was ready, suddenly I saw this little twinkle in his eye. I just knew this was not going to be good. Within a microsecond of the words “I’m ready”, coming out of my mouth Dale launched the car and we must have been doing 100 mph before exiting the pit lane. I closed my eyes, braced for the inevitable impact and started saying sorry for all the things I thought might affect my status in the hereafter.

After a few seconds I realised we were not impacting anything and that Dale had masterfully negotiated Turn 1 and that we were already braking for Turn 3. Dale had not only been listening but had put down every apex and was gaining confidence with every corner and gear shift.

As we were flying down the Sebring’s long back straight I was starting to relax, I could even think about getting out of the car and walking away, we were almost home, one more corner.

But wouldn’t you know it,  there was more. Dale flew into the braking zone at Turn 17, a monster of a brake zone in any car, never mind a production car with zero downforce. As Dale went for third gear from flat out in fourth the car felt like it got hit by a truck and ripped sideways into a massive spin at over 130mph. Round and round we went until finally coming to rest about 8 feet from the bridge at the apex of turn 17.
I just sat in silence for a second and then looked at Dale. He had the biggest grin on his face. He looked at me and asked “You a nervous Nellie yet?” “Nope” I lied. He looked down at my feet and said. “Well that’s not what your feet are telling me” and he laughed. I laughed too, admittedly a more nervous laugh. He was right of course, my feet had almost pushed right through the fire wall as I braced myself. We calmly drove into the pits and parked. No one had really seen anything and nobody asked any questions, it was amazing.
Of course the question on my mind was why had we spun out? I’m sure some of you car fans can hazard a guess. My own little thought on it would be a grab for 3rd gear ended in a grab for 1st. That would have certainly caused the immediate spin.

Did we ever talk about it specifically, no? Am I sure Big E found 1st gear, pretty sure? Do I think he might have done it on purpose to bust my chops? From the mischievous look in his eyes after the spin, a distinct possibility ladies and gentlemen, a distinct possibility.

That is my most cool Sebring moment for sure. It is a different story and feeling than winning the 12 Hours but I thought you might like a story a little off the racing line.

Serge Van Bockryck

When friends in Europe ask me about Sebring, I refer to it as being a bit like Woodstock, but for sportscars. Coming from the sanitised world of European race tracks it is always a great joy to each year start the season in the relaxed and down-to-earth Floridian atmosphere. The guys running the Sebring event are just as professional as their counterparts across the pond, but that week in March they sure try to make everybody’s life as easy and enjoyable as possible, as do the fans.
One afternoon after testing, early in the “Sebring week” in 2001, while standing on the pit lane terrace, our Corvette team photographer and I noticed a scantily clad lady tanning on the roof of one of the RVs, right in front of the Corvette pit. She was wearing little more than a postage stamp-size bikini and, obviously, drew some healthy attention from the Corvette crew (and indeed most other crews who had a view).
As the week progressed, the girl got more daring, the bikinis got smaller and our crew got more and more enthused by the unexpected moral support from across the road. On Thursday morning before practice, a senior Corvette Racing team member donned his shades, hopped on a golf cart and made his way to the other side, armed with his usual convincing charm and a “Corvette Racing – Welcome Race Fans” banner which was neatly tied to the fence in front of the lady’s RV. When later the crew arrived to set up the pit for the practice session, they immediately noticed their new #1 fan and certain requests were hollered across the track. Soon enough, the lady fulfilled their wishes and off came the mini-skirt to give the boys a 360-degree view of a tiny professional g-string contraption which briefly silenced her fans all along pit road. The banner unfortunately disappeared the next day, and apparently the lady was arrested on Friday while strolling through the paddock in a short, fishnet dress and little else.
Oh, and Sebring also has the best coffee trailer in the business, conveniently parked right outside the media centre. Helps cure the jet-lag.

Dindo Capello

I have many good memories about Sebring , I have four victories to my name, for sure a very good score :-). (Now Five)
But what will be forever my best memory about Sebring, is the the podium of the 2001 race.
The smile of Michele Alboreto, my co-driver, next to me.
It was his last race and last victory before the terrible crash at Lausitzring.
Graham Goodwin.

I was co-commentating with John Hindhaugh at Sebring in 2007 in the final stages of the race – John’s attention, correctly, was on the overall winner but I’d been watching the developing GT2 battle between Jaime Melo and Jorg Bergmeister – I got Hindy’s attention to what was going to be a grandstand finish just as the TV turned their attention to the Ferrari vs Porsche shenanigans.

From that point on there was no point in saying a thing as Hindhaugh went into overdrive, gripping both sides of the sound desk and nailing it with an emotionally charged but perfect commentary on one of the epic finishes to a classic endurance race – I swear he didn’t take a breath – or pause – for a full two minutes.

The film of that last lap became an internet classic of course and laid the foundations for one of the great needle matches in the ALMS – Risi vs Lizards, Ferrari vs Porsche, Melo vs Bergmeister.

 

Mike Garton was a factory driver for British Motor Corporation (BMC) during the 60’s. He recalls the 1968 Sebring 12 Hours.

It was March 1968 and I was with the BMC mob on our way to Florida. We tried to leave London Heathrow in a VC10 bound for New York but had to taxi back for few hours’ delay. We found out that a fuel pump actuator was changed – not a good omen !

The flight was then diverted to Canada as we ran short on fuel.  So we had to spend the night in New York as we missed the connection, eventually arriving West Palm Beach the next day.

We found Geoff Healey was not best pleased as the dockers had left the imprint of their size 12 boots all over the alloy bodywork of our Sprite Coupe.  Before the cars could be released from US Customs they all had to be steam cleaned.  Warwick, where our factory was based was subject to quarantine as that winter there was a major outbreak of Foot & Mouth disease that devastated the farming community. At Tech, the officials objected to my race gloves, they felt that the soft leather gloves with pin holes were unsafe. I was told that I must buy the official gloves, but on seeing them I pointed out they had larger holes than mine and said no thanks. Eventually they agreed with me and I kept my gloves.

Then we finally got out on track, I was totally awed by the size of it all.  However the pits were from the Dark Ages with fuel drums on scaffolding. I remember the Howmet TX Turbo especially, it caused much excitement. BMC had entered our Sprite prototype, a Group 4 Midget,  Group 3 MGB and the MGC prototype. During practice I tried different cars while learning the circuit and trying not to get lost.

We had a good start by Clive Baker, my co-driver, who reappeared early in the race with overheating, we sent him back out again and  promptly disappeared. He returned on foot reporting that the fuel is contaminated with water.  Actually that’s not what he said, but I cannot repeat the exact expressions here! Clive was sent back to car with some tools accompanied by Geoff Johnson, the Lucas Fuel Injection boffin, to advise over the fence. After a while Clive got the car back to the pits and the boys cleaned out the system. We found that the fuel drum had over a gallon of water in it. Once that issue was fixed we found that our pace was good. But our fuel stops were interspersed by stops to top up the coolant as car was continually overheating. These extra calls into the pits were really annoying, considering  how well the little 1.3 litre ‘A’ series ran. We managed around 120bhp with the experimental Lucas fuel injection, hitting 7400rpm continually on the straights. The car also had experimental four wheel brake discs which were fantastic. The only problem was the pedal disappearing on the straights due to the pads being knocked back, you learned to tap the pedal with your left foot so there was a hard pedal for the hairpin. On the last session of the race a Javelin tried to side swipe the Sprite and to miss him I had to leave the track at the hairpin, I hit the sand but kept foot down and just managed to get out and back on track.

At the finish we were classified and we won the class!

Funniest memory – Paul Hawkins, coming into pits with a badly damaged car, as a result of contact from a car that pulled across him, driven by a well known lady driver who favoured pink. As he got out of car a media guy shoved a microphone in his face and asked for a comment. As this was then broadcast over the track live he probably wished he hadn’t asked, as Paul replied in typical Aussie fashion.
“There’s only one f——— place for f——— women and that’s the f——– kitchen or bed !!”
Oh dear. After the race was run I flew back to New York for the Motor Show and worked on the BMC stand where that wonderful ‘car’ the Austin America’ was introduced.
Great Times.

Nic Minassian

I have now raced at Sebring three times, always with Peugeot. Although I finished on the podium in 2010, I think my favourite memory of the race comes from 2008.

It was Peugeot’s first trip outside of Europe with the 908. We knew that Sebring has a reputation for testing the limits of the car and also the drivers. We needed to finish to learn about the car and gather information for the future.

We were on the front row, with the #1 Audi on pole position but we felt that we had the faster car and were determined to prove it. I was nominated to start, so my team mates, Stéphane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy discussed strategy with me. This happened while on the grid and I think they may have been joking, telling me to go round the Audi on outside on the first corner, a completely crazy risk with 12 hours of racing to go.
Then I was in the car on the warm up lap and it was one of those days where you feel invincible, that you can do anything you want with the car, so I decided to follow their advice. I went for it, absolutely flat around the outside of Dindo’s Audi into Turn One and it stuck and I was into the lead and pulling away, fantastic,

It felt really great, I really loved it, why I went racing in the first place. We had a few problems in the race and did not keep the lead but we did finish. That move will stay with me forever, when someone says Sebring it is what I remember the most.

Marty Kaufman

John….I have so many fond memories of the Sebring 12 Hour events from the 20+ years that I was there as IMSA’s Race Director, and the history that it brings, it is really impossible to single out one….but there was one event that truly stands out in my mind and, I am sure, in the minds of a few other folks who worked in Race Control.

 
The Race Control office was remodeled in the late 80’s or very early 90’s and was nicely done in that there was more room, better lighting, and an outside stairway that provided access.  During the 12 Hour race, a power transformer that was located on a new power pole very close to the new outside stairway began releasing a significant amount hot, poisonous liquid of some sort.  The order came from the Fire Department to immediately evacuate the Tower as this substance was really bad news (contained PCP’s or some other really ugly agent) and would eventually cause the transformer to blow up and cause significant damage to anything around it.  Only problem with this order from the Fire Department was that this stuff was showering down on the only stairway to exit the facility.  We all decided, the Race Control staff, we would stay the course and wait it out and continue running the race.  About a half an hour later, that shower of liquid stopped and the Fire Department folks cleaned up the mess and all was well.
 
Just kind of one of those things that sticks in your mind…..for a long time.

 

Allan McNish

I have many memories of Sebring, good and bad, but that is only in terms of the racing. That usually tends to go by race results. From my point of view Sebring 2009 is probably one of my best races in my career, it was fighting all the way to the end against Peugeot. The last two hours I had to pull everything out of the bag to make sure that the R15 won its first ever race. I could also look back to 2006 and the pole position with the first diesel, the R10, and to give the car its first victory, with Tom, Dindo and I, it was really incredible.
But the biggest impression Sebring has made on me is the crowd, the 180,000 or so fans that turn up. The way they create such a carnival, they make this an annual event. The way they get into the spirit of this unique race is just………..fantastic. there is no other way to put it.

I do love that at the autograph session you see the weird and the wonderful; someone dressed as The Stig’s very fat brother, then there are the lawyers dressed up as cows, everyone coming along with their families and friends, all being part of this great event.

As a single story, probably the biggest thing that has brought me into this scene was going to Turn Ten, for a photo shoot with Mr. Brooks, one year (2004). To see that there is a club at Turn Ten, where they have made their own grandstands, they have made their own bar, their own restaurant, in effect they have cornered a section of the track as their own territory. They return there every year, like a pilgrimage. They have their own entrance ticket effectively, which is a key ring and I am pleased to say I have been able to build up a collection of Turn Ten key rings over the years. To see the commitment that these guys have put into enjoying the 12 Hours of Sebring certainly matches the commitment that AudiSport and every other team makes to win the race, that makes Sebring special.

Andy Wallace

I had been testing the Toyota TS010 in Eastern Creek, Australia a few weeks before (Sebring ’92). We had been doing a marathon test, which lasted for nine days straight! Eastern Creek is a great racetrack, but there is a monster bump in the middle of turn one, which is taken flat-out in sixth gear at about 190 mph. Fantastic corner, but each time you go over the bump you get bashed about quite badly in the cockpit. Well after nine days of endurance testing I went over the bump one more time and, CRACK, two ribs decided they’d had enough of that! Within an hour Hitoshi Ogawa had also broken his ribs for the same reason. As you can imagine, the flight back from Sydney to London was interesting… If I got up for a walk around the plane, I remember having to tell anyone who was thinking of passing me going the other way in the aisle, DON’T TOUCH ME, as you pass me. Sneezing was another very painful experience.

Anyway, back to the point of the story; my ribs broke on February 29, 1992, and the race day at Sebring was on March 21, 1992. I didn’t dare tell Dan Gurney what had happened, as I knew he would find another driver. I remember the worst part for me was the driver changes and also, strangely enough, under yellow. Behind the pace car the stiffly sprung Toyota was running too slow to compress the springs and the car bounced all over the place – not pleasant. Anyway, we won!

Timo Bernhard

The 12 Hours of Sebring is one of the hardest races in my point of view, all over the world, for a driver and the team. I have competed in the race nine times between 2001 and 2011.

2001 Sebring was the first race for me in the US, that’s why Sebring has a special place already for me. With the Alex Job Racing Porsche we finished 2nd in GT, a great result. The heat, the roughness of the track, the humidity, the corner speed, the bumps, the track layout and all the traffic makes this race absolutely tough but also challenging. You want to beat it, to win it.

My best Sebring memory was the overall victory with the “small” LM P2 Porsche RS Spyder from Team Penske! It was a dream come true! We had a perfect race. The years before, Romain and I always had a difficult Sebring as not only a single race but also as a start to the American Le Mans Series. So it was vital to finish this race and to score the points. But also there was the glory to try to win it overall and be part of the “Heroes’ Wall” at the entrance of the paddock. In 08 everything came together!

And also we made Roger Penske very proud, it was his first overall Sebring win as a team owner. For Porsche it was the first overall Sebring victory since 1988.

Michael Keyser

Between 1970 and 1980 I raced eight times on the old 5.2 mile Sebring circuit and there are two words that come to mind: hot and rough. In 1971 and 1972 when the race was still a part of the Manufacturer’s Championship Series the cars I drove, 2 liter and 2.5 liter Porsche 911s, were some of the slowest in the field, mixed in with Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s. This meant I spent almost as much time looking in my rear view mirror as I did out the windshield. In 1973 when the race came under the auspices of IMSA and was limited to the GT and Touring classes I was one of the fastest and cared little about what was happening behind me.
As is the case today the old circuit was a combination of concrete and asphalt. Although the concrete portions were referred to as “runways,” in fact they hadn’t been used for that purpose for many years. The actual runway planes used was adjacent to the section of track known as the North-South Runway, and you’d often look off to your left and see planes taking off and landing.
When the airport was first built, the concrete had been laid in slabs, which required seams between each one. As a result you felt as if you were driving on a washboard. With wear and tear over the years and the effects of weather and general deterioration, the concrete had inevitably shifted; fallen, risen and broken up. Although track maintenance was carried out each year prior to the race, weeds scraped away and concrete chunks removed, parts were bound to degrade and break up during 12 hours, so unexpected surprises were to be expected.
We’ll begin our lap of the old circuit at the start finish line, midway down pit straight where we’d probably shift into 4th gear. I may have hit 5th just before entering the very fast left-hand sweeping turn #1, bearing in mind this is some 40 years ago and my memory is not crystal clear. Depending on traffic, which is something I’ll repeat, you’d swing to the right just after pit out in order to make the widest arched turn possible, clipping the apex on the left and drifting out to the far right, close to the edge of the concrete surface. This was one of the fastest turns on the circuit and could be taken flat out…or not, depending on who you talked to.
If you were unfortunate enough to run out of room and slide off the concrete, a weed-covered expanse awaited you. The ground was not somewhat sandy here, which insured an explosion of dirt resulted. If you were lucky, it was nothing but a spin. If you were unlucky you might collect an errant chunk of concrete, a rusted piece of rebar or some other nasty bit of busness.
Between turn 1 and the fast left-hand turn 2 was a short straight. Still in top gear you’d fly through turn 2, then almost immediately brake and downshift for the ninety-degree left-hand turn 3. Immediately after the apex the road surface changed from concrete to asphalt. I believe that originally this was one of many service roads that crisscrossed this part of the airport. You immediately felt the smooth surface under your tires which was welcome each lap.
From 3rd gear you’d shift up to 4th for the short run up to the Esses, then back to 3rd for the quick left, right, left flick under the MG Bridge. I seem to remember the track sort of undulating a bit through here. When taken properly it was a nice little section. Unfortunately, it was where my race ended in 1975. I believe I was running 2nd in a Porsche RSR in the latter stages when another RSR spun ahead of me, flew back across the track and I promptly T-boned it. I made it back to the pits on the front rims in a shower of sparks, but the front left wheel nut had been smashed onto the hub and the chassis was badly twisted, not the mention extensive body damage.
After the Esses, it was up to 4th gear and into the long sweeping right-hand Big Bend and under the vehicle bridge. Depending on traffic, you either drifted out to the left or hugged the right side. In 1973, driving a Porsche RS with Milt Minter, I was on my first lap after taking over early in the race when, in the middle of this curve, the car suddenly burst into flames with a loud WOOOMPF. I later learned fuel had surged up the vent tube onto the left-front disc and ignited. I pulled to the side of the road, where thankfully emergency crews arrived quickly and extinguished the fire. I drove back to the pits where the crew cleaned up the car and we went on to finish 2nd. Who’d a thunk.
I may have shifted to 5th on the exit to Big Bend, but the Hairpin was fast approaching. If you were on your own, it was a mechanical exercise of braking and downshifting, at least to 2nd gear and in some cases 1st, clipping the apex of the turn and accelerating away. All neat and easy. If you were in traffic, there was always the potential for disaster with faster and slower cars jockeying for position. If there was one place where body to body contact was insured numerous times during the race, it was the Hairpin.
In the 1971, Gregg Young was driving a Ferrari 512M and overcooked it in the hairpin. There was an exit road to the left of the turn, but if you slid across it, as Gregg did, there was a large sand bank waiting. His car climbed the bank and flipped onto its roof, and since the doors on the Ferrari opened up, not out, he was trapped inside. Luckily the corner workers were on the scene quickly and a group of them lifted the car up just high enough for Gregg to crawl through the door. The second he was out, the car burst into flames. I recall a two-page spread in Sports Illustrated showing the corner workers dropping the car, Gregg scrambling away and the Ferrari, “fully involved,” as firemen say, behind them.
The Hairpin was a place where many photographers congregated as they could get quite close to the track. Of course a bonus was that there was always the possibility of drama, as evidenced by Mr. Young’s conflagration. It was the one place on the circuit where I remember seeing familiar faces of photographers I knew. Sometimes I’d give a little wave if it was a close friend.
Accelerating out of the Hairpin, it was a drag race up the short straight to the Green Park Chicane, then stand on the brakes and downshift, followed by a quick right and left turn of the wheel. Taken alone it was an enjoyable section. Traffic could make it “interesting.”
In 1971, during night practice in my 911S I recall being followed closely by a set of lights through Green Park. On the exit I clung to the right as a car pulled alongside. Looking over I saw it was Jacky Ickx in the Ferrari 312P. He hesitated a moment, shook his fist and then blasted off into the distance. It was only my second FIA race, so I was somewhat mortified. The following year when I was making the documentary film, The Speed Merchants, I got to know Jacky quite well. At dinner one night I related the story of his fist shaking at Sebring the previous year. “I would never have done that,” he said, with a guilty grin on his face.
After  Green Park there was a long section that may have been called the Warehouse Straight where you got up to 5th gear and the asphalt changed back to concrete. Fast approaching was a very quick right hand sweeper, taken flat, or close to it, after which you were all over your brakes and down shifting for the 3rd gear right hander that led onto the 4,700 ft. North-South Runway.
This long section of the track was sort of like the Wild West, ie: anything goes. It was so wide that cars would often run three and four abreast. There was always the chance a car ahead of you running the same speed would throw up a piece of concrete, so you’d pick another lane. In the meantime you might be passing slower cars on one side and being passed by faster ones on the other. Some sections of the track were smoother than others, and you quickly learned where those were, sometimes drifting back and forth to weave around the rough bits. Maybe you’d look over and wave to a fellow driver you knew.
At the end of the North-South Runway was a 90 degree turn that led onto the Backstretch, but because there was a wide expanse of concrete on both the entrance and exit you were able to take the turn at a very high speed, 4th gear or even 5th. To turn a fast qualifying time, swinging out wide to the left before turning into the apex and drifting out obscenely wide to the left on exit was a prerequisite. If you were going to perform this maneuver you were forewarned to keep an eye out for another car diving on your inside otherwise there could be a nasty incident.
The Backstretch was smoother than the North-South Runway and not quite as long or wide. At the end was the double-apex left hander that has changed little from its present configuration. If you were going into the pits, you clung to the inside right, and if you were continuing for another lap you’d swing out to the left and climb through the gears back to the start/finish line.
Since its inception in 1952, Sebring has always been a unique venue in which to hold a race. The lack of decent accommodations near the track in the 1970s was always a challenge and I did my time at The Kennelworth and Harder Hall, the pink stucco whales from the 1920s near the town. There were fairly massive crowds during this time, with spring break providing its fair share of college fans. Much like today, they were probably there more for the party than the racing, but in the 70s things were considerably wilder than today, if that’s possible.
At one race I remember driving through the infield with some friends between stints to check out the “zoo” as we called it. It was a radical juxtaposition. To be sweltering in the hot noisy car, racing around the circuit one minute, and idling through the infield the next with the air conditioner blasting, the smell of pot wafting through the air and young ladies flashing their wares.

Oh, to be young again.

John Brooks, March 2012

The Long Exposure

Le Mans, two short words that for those of us who make the annual pilgrimage to France defines a very long week.

Heavy Metal

All of those who attend the annual festival of speed and endurance are participants, players on the great stage. It is, perhaps, one of the defining qualities that makes this event so special, the sense of inclusiveness; we are all part of the story. Robert Altman should have directed Steve McQueen’s “Le Mans”, what a movie that would have been, at least it would have a plot.

Uniform Image

This element of participation runs counter to my philosophy regarding reporting events. One website that I was associated with until recently, adopted a policy of the bloggers relaying breathlessly their own activities at the meetings that they cover. The results are, by and large, both tedious and banal. Airline food or whether you get an upgrade is not something to comment on, nor how many times your pass gets checked, that is just reminding the reader that you have a pass. Whines about how long and hard the days are, should also be verboten, it goes with the territory. To be a part of the story requires the writer to have something interesting to say. Also he, she or it, has to be able actually tap on a keyboard in a manner that provokes others to spend time reading the purple prose. There is a sound reason why Hunter S. Thompson was unique.

Nevertheless, like all rules this one was meant to be broken from time to time. Le Mans is a kaleidoscope of random events underpinned by the final  24 Hours of competition, so during my time in France I jotted down notes and hypocrite that I am, I will share them with you, I hope they pass the entertainment hurdle.

The First of Many

2011 saw me clock up thirty-one editions of the Le Mans 24 Hours, three as a Page and Moy spectator back in the 70’s and the balance as a disreputable part of the Media Corps, a disjointed rabble, that ranges from the few ultra professional to the majority who are for the most part completely clueless. Before heading to France I resolved to try some different approaches to the task of covering the event, in the end some of this plan worked, some did not.

Simply Red

The role I was to play was different this year as amongst my assignments I was assisting the Greaves Motorsport team with their press activities. Crossing over to the “dark side” I even got to wear the team shirt and stand in the team shot in the Place des Jacobins, though the abuse and catcalls from my “friends” on the photographers’ stand made me consider the wisdom of this course.

Being part of the team, in however small a way, did change my approach to the race, none of this impartial crap, I was partisan as hell when it came to MY team. It was also a good chance to use the negative karma on those who have pissed me off during the past few months, you know who you are, and you know where you finished, if you finished. Selah!

A Fine Line

Looking back on the 2011 race, the sharpest images will be those of the two Audis being destroyed in two huge crashes. Allan McNish tried to pull off an overtaking manoeuvre, similar to hundreds that he has managed in the past, this time it did not come off. Anthony Beltoise in the Ferrari did not see his R18 coming and the contact sent the Audi spearing off the track, to be launched at the Armco beyond the gravel trap. Allan survived his flight as one might have expected in a well built car such as the Audi, but the photographers in the firing line were the ones who really rode their luck. One of them, DSC’s Peter May aka Pedro, remained calm enough after the incident to snap away at the wreck, intestinal fortitude I believe it used to be called. Best comment on the aftermath came from Tom Kristensen, courtesy of Andrew Cotton. He opined that as a result of the impact that Allan’s balls would be bigger than when he started the stint and that they would be blue like the Scottish flag…………..there is no good comment possible on that frankly disturbing image.

The Mike Rockenfeller crash later in the race looked much worse at first view, the unthinkable was on the team’s minds and the expressions on their faces revealed by the TV cameras showed that clearly. Rocky survived thanks once again to the engineering expertise of Audi and Dallara, God bless carbon fibre. Robert Kauffman, whose Ferrari drifted off line to initiate the disaster, got a public pummelling from the ACO who insisted that he sit out the rest of the race for causing the carambolage. In some form of mitigation, the GT drivers were complaining all week about the two big factory prototype teams. Their concerns centred on the rather desperate overtaking moves that the Werks cars were pulling, driven by the closeness of the opposition and the relatively torque-less 2011 engines. That and the blindness caused by the LED lighting, giving the GT drivers no idea of the proximity or closing speed of the diesels, that were about to pass. It is a problem that needs addressing, because if the likes of Marc Lieb and Jörg Bergmeister are making public statements, someone needs to listen and act.

The Last Lap

One decisive act during the week came from Sir Stirling Moss who announced his retirement from racing, at the tender age of 81. He declared that the prospect of racing the Porsche RS61 at Le Mans frightened him. Ever a man of principle and courage he said afterwards, “This afternoon I scared myself and I have always said that if I felt I was not up to it or that I was getting in the way of fellow competitors, then I would retire. I love racing, but it’s time to stop.” Knowing when take a bow and quit is perhaps not the most easy thing that faces us in life, most would fail to match Sir Stirling’s style. Motor Sport ran a feature recently on one his many day of days, defeating the Ferraris at Monaco 50 years ago. Now the last of the great drivers of the 50’s has hung up his crash hat, let’s hope that he enjoys his retirement.

Mazda Magic

Anniversaries pile up during the Le Mans event but can it really be twenty years since the garish Mazda 787B defeated the might of Peugeot, Mercedes Benz and Jaguar to win the race? Yes it is. So we had a chance to witness the victor again, to hear the unique siren call of the Quad Rotary engine. There were a couple of demo runs around the track with Johnny Herbert showing Patrick Dempsey how it should be done. During the Friday Drivers’ Parade, someone had the bright idea of letting Yojiro Terada and David Kennedy, both Mazda heroes of old, do a lap each of the city’s streets. At the conclusion of David’s run he gunned the engine as he rolled back into the Jacobins. A silly grin materialised on the faces of all who witnessed this sound, noise may be regarded as inefficient by some engineers but it very much part of motorsport’s appeal. The one piece of booty that I came back from France with was a copy of Pierre Dieudonne’s masterly tome, Never Stop Challenging, a history of Mazda in racing during the 70s, 80s and 90s. If you are at all interested in this period I urge you to get the book.

Friend of The Stars

Trying to do things differently this year, I shot the parade from the perspective of my team rather than waiting for all the drivers to go past one spot. It certainly was an eye opener; the crowds are, for the most part, completely bonkers. However it is an important part of the pageantry of the race, once again giving the paying public both proximity and participation to the stars, long may it continue. One trend that I saw this year was the use of water pistols by idiots in the crowd to douse the drivers in the parade as they went past sitting in the open cars. If that habit is not stamped out then I can see the drivers ditching the event, especially those who pay for the privilege of competing.  As ever a few morons will spoil the event for the rest, the forums are full of similar tales of selfish and ignorant behaviour in and around the campsites.

Y’All come back, now.

For the drivers who were making their Le Mans debuts, the whole Drivers’ Parade scene is a very strange happening, organised yet chaotic. Michael Waltrip had a bemused look on his face on the Friday afternoon. The double Daytona 500 winner must have imagined that he had seen everything in a 25 year NASCAR career but he was unprepared for the intensity of the Le Mans experience. His shock must have been total as he interviewed me for his personal blog, fortunately for the future of You Tube, the footage ended up on the cutting room floor, stardom missed again.

I read the News Today, Oh Boy…………….

Sunday morning I received a text from my old mate, John Dubrey, who was visiting the race after a gap of several years. Seen today’s Ouest France? You are in it!! A young French journalist had spoken to me at the Scrutineering on Monday and six days later I was in print, with a photo showing my attractive side, resplendent in Greaves Motorsport 2011 Le Mans team shirt and Turn Ten cap. Move over George Clooney………….yeah right. I had the piece checked out by a proper French speaker and I was as anodyne as one of my press releases, maybe a future in politics awaits.

You Make Me Feel Like Drinking

Memory Lane was a familiar destination during the week. Long time top F1 snapper, John Townsend, was on hand to shoot for BMW with the mighty David Lister. On seeing me in the press room he laughed and said he something for me on his Mac, dating back to 1983 and Monaco. It was as ominous as it sounded. Sadly, Leo’s career has been on the slide since this unfortunate encounter, you can judge the horror of the situation yourselves from the shot. As I recall Frank Bough was also outside the Tip Top that night, he even got a round in, thanking the TV Licence payers for their largess and we all know how that story went.

Arnage BMW

Even being out on track I was not safe from my criminal past. Back in 1995 I had misjudged a left turn outside the circuit and was hit by a speeding Donkervoort, totally my fault I have to admit. The two Dutch guys in the car were not happy with me but showed much more grace under pressure than I would have managed. During the race this year I was shooting at Arnage and there were two marshals also snapping away, they were between shifts. One came up and said, “You don’t remember us do you, Mr Brooks?” Their identities were revealed and a fresh sense of shame washed over me, I was once again mortified by my careless driving, that fortunately had no lasting consequences. They did cheer me up as they said how much they liked the retrospective pieces I write these days for a Dutch magazine, RTL GP. My head swelled momentarily but it soon passed as I struggled to get my Mojo working track side. Mojo was short supply in my case this year, the camera does not lie.

Motel Blues

Mojo is usually associated with music and the 2011 Le Mans 24 Hours had, like every other year, its own soundtrack that followed me round as I commuted to the track and the places to shoot. Cool as you like is the Richard Earnshaw tune “Rise” but perhaps the pride of place should be given to the late, great Gil Scott-Heron. His catchy “Racetrack in France” seemed truly appropriate even it was in reality about Le Castellet. This stuff helps while trundling around in the traffic.

Come the Hour, Come the Man

Back in the race there was an amazing struggle between the Peugeot trio and the surviving Audi. I, and a few others, had to eat our words regarding André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer. There had been doubts expressed regarding their position as factory drivers. Well they well and truly put those questions away with blindingly fast and error free stints. It is also worth remembering that they had to witness the utter destruction of their two sister cars in massive impacts, yet were able to strap themselves in and do battle with the French. If there were a tipping point when it became clear that they were going to win, it was after the safety car period following the Magnussen/Felbermayr accident. Tréluyer, in a mega quintuple stint held off the trio of 908s that were hunting as a pack, it was a race winning performance and I raise a glass to the Audi trio. Salut!

Mulsanne Straight

The changeable conditions and unseasonably low temperatures played havoc with both Audi and Peugeot at times, such outside factors making a big difference to how the cars performed. Both teams ran flat out and there was nothing to choose between the pit crews. When the Chequered Flag was waved by Daniel Poissenot on Sunday afternoon, #2 had a winning margin of exactly 13.854 seconds over the leading Peugeot, this equates to 763 meters. The victorious Audi R18 TDI covered 4,838.295 kilometres, at an average speed was 201.266 km/h. This is close competition by any standards.

Hens’ Teeth

For the third factory team in LM P1, 2011 cannot end soon enough. The Aston Martin AMR-One pair only managed six laps between them in the race, a disaster that all the excuses and post rationalising in the world cannot mitigate. Aston Martin Racing has built up a solid reputation over the last decade for extracting the maximum performance from their relatively small budgets, that reputation is now in tatters. The only comfort is that things cannot get any worse, the only way is up. The distraction of fire-fighting the LM P1 project has led to the V8 Vantage being left behind in the GTE wars, which are every bit as keenly contested as the prototypes.

Focussed

Greaves Motorsport had a trouble free race, winning the LM P2 class by a country mile and to be even a very small part of that success was great. The expressions on the faces of the crew, drivers and supporters, as Olivier Lombard crossed the line for the final time will stay with me for a long time. The whole team did a fantastic job and deserved the win, achieved on a combination of performance and reliability, no matter what some have said subsequently.

Another year done and dusted, Audi triumphant but at a high cost, the price was nearly too high. Peugeot, so close but no cigar, next year it could easily go the other way.

La Route est Dure, we would have it no other way. The Roads to Freedom are not easy.

 

John Brooks, June 2011