Tag Archives: Dindo Capello

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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 

The Legend…………Prologue Part One

“Audi to quit Le Mans and Sportscar Racing at the end of the 2016 season” was the headline that shocked the racing community when the news broken last month by Sport Auto’s Chief Editor, Marcus Schurig, in Germany. The impact will be felt far and wide as many in the business have depended on the huge budgets committed by the German giant, either directly or indirectly, not to mention the Départment of La Sarthe. The story of the 18 seasons at the top of the endurance racing tree will come to fill the history books but perhaps now it is time to have a brief look at the racer that created the Le Mans legend, the Audi R8. But first we should examine at how this journey started.

Like all epic tales there was a prologue. Audi arrived at Le Mans in 1999 with not one, but two different race cars, one open, one closed, the rules of the time allowed for radically different solutions. The Audi R8R’s chassis was designed by Dallara and built by ATR, while Fondmetal assisted the German factory with the aerodynamics.

The R8R made its debut in March 1999 at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Two of the open prototypes were entered with the operation run by Joest Racing, four time winners at Le Mans, 84-85 with a Porsche 956 and 96-97 with the Joest Porsche.

#77 had former Ferrari Grand Prix stars , Michele Alboreto and Stefan Johansson on driving duties. This pair of former winners at Le Mans were joined in Florida by Dindo Capello, a multiple Italian Touring Car Champion with both VW and Audi.

#78 had Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Perry McCarthy in the driver’s seat. Pirro and McCarthy were both ex-Formula One men and Biela, another long time champion driver for Audi in DTM and BTCC.

The 12 Hours of Sebring is widely regarded as the toughest of all endurance sportscar events and Audi found out the hard way, making all manner of adjustments to the car that had not been necessary in pre-season testing.

Sebring International Raceway is notoriously rough on cars, this caused the R8R problems. Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, head of Audi Sport, explained the issues. “It’s so bumpy here that we’ve had to raise the ride height of the car by 15mm. Otherwise we destroy the front splitters every 12-15 laps. We’ve never tried the car this high before.”

Audi struggled in Qualifying managing only 11th and 12th places, over 4 seconds down on the pole setting BMW. The ride height caused handling issues that could not be fixed at the track, it was going to be a long race.

Race day was kinder to Audi who got both cars to the finish, in third and fifth places, as others failed. A podium for Alboreto, Johansson and Capello, albeit 3 laps down on the winning BMW, would be the first of many for Audi in North America, it was a solid start to the project.

The next appearance for Audi was in early May in Pre-Qualifying for the Le Mans 24 Hours. 53 cars chased the 46 spots on the grid, those who could not beat the clock would be eliminated, unthinkable for a factory-backed team. The sleek Audi R8C pair made their first competitive appearance. Designed by Tony Southgate, engineered by Peter Elleray and sharing the same engine (3.6 litre V8 with twin turbos) and rear drive train as the R8R. The handsome coupé was seriously underdeveloped having been commissioned too late (the project only started in the previous September) with the second car only just completed before Pre-Qualifying. The driver line up was certainly experienced with #9 crewed by former winners, Stefan Johansson and Stéphane Ortelli who were supported by Christian Abt, a late call up after Yvan Muller withdrew from the Audi squad. #10 was an all English affair with James Weaver and 1988 winner Andy Wallace sharing the wheel with Perry McCarthy, the original Top Gear ‘Stig’.

The R8R pair qualified for the race with relative ease, not far off the outright pace of the leading Toyotas and BMWs with the Panoz Roadster S also showing a good turn of speed. Both R8Cs struggled to get into the race, Wallace having his door sealed up with tank tape to prevent it flying off once more into the French countryside. When the Chequered Flag was finally waved both were in but it had been a nervous time in the Audi Sport UK pit.

Five weeks later the circus reconvened at Le Mans, this time it would be for real………come back later for the balance of the tale.

John Brooks, December 2016

Sonoma Sunshine

2001 ALMS Sears Point

Back to 2001 and Sears Point, that great little track across the bay from San Francisco for the X-Factor Grand Prix of Sonoma. Emanuele Pirro leads Dindo Capello in the werks Audi R8s, but by the Chequered Flag, the positions were reversed. A decent crowd turned out to witness the contest, a typically competitive affair in the American Le Mans Series during the early years.

John Brooks, January 2015

Going Round and Round – Part Four

2002 ALMS Washington

In August 2001 plans were announced to once again take the races to the fans, nothing if not persistent were the ALMS in this direction. The venues were to be a street race round the financial district of Miami and the Washington Grand Prix at the RFK Memorial Stadium Circuit in Washington DC, or rather in the car park of this former home to the Washington Redskins.

2002 ALMS Washington

A long-term contract was drawn up, ten years duration, between the ALMS and the promoter, with the City underwriting the whole affair. The benefits, or so we were told, would be tourism, prestige and anticipated revenues of $350 million, and these noble aims were much trumpeted. One element that encouraged the staging of the race was the potential bid for the 2012 Olympiad from the combined cities of Washington and Baltimore or such was leaked to the media. However this being Washington DC, the downsides soon began to surface. As was reported at the time, in the media  “On September 5 neighborhood residents shared serious concerns regarding safety, the environment, cost, and the livability of the neighborhood during the event. No environmental authority — not COG, nor the DC Department of Health’s Office of Environmental Health, not the Mayor’s Special Assistant for Environmental Issues, was consulted prior to the August 9 press conference, although planning for the project began in 1999. July, according to the Council of Governments (COG), is the worst month for air quality in the metropolitan region, with the most code-red health advisories because of high ozone levels. On code-red days, COG discourages all daytime driving and refuelling.”

2002 ALMS Washington

These legitimate concerns were amplified by the apprehensions of local residents about noise and the sheer inconvenience of the event and the proximity to their properties, as little as 100 yards in the worst case. Furthermore there was unease about the financial arrangements which involved public funds and were opaque to say the least.

Robert D. Goldwater, the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission’s President and Executive Director, said those details will not be made public because the Commission considers the information proprietary. The only cost he has revealed is that of building the temporary 1.7-mile racecourse: $3 million, which will be split with the Grand Prix organizers.

“The policy we had is the policy we are following: We are not releasing financial information. . . . We need to negotiate private agreements,” he said. “The understanding we have with each of our promoters is such that the expectation they have is that we are going to keep financial information private.”

2002 ALMS Washington

That declaration was soon undermined as the Washington Post dug deeper into the affair.

“The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission and the promoter of this month’s Grand Prix auto race are splitting the estimated $3.5 million cost of constructing a track, but the Commission is assuming the risk by putting up all the money — a contrast to Grand Prix deals in other U.S. cities that generally have avoided using public funds to finance the events.

The North Carolina-based promoter has the duration of the 10-year race contract, and possibly longer, to repay its share of the cost of the temporary track, receiving what amounts to an interest-free loan with no guarantor, according to interviews and documents obtained under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act. The promoter is supposed to make annual payments, the amounts of which have not been disclosed.”

2002 ALMS Washington

The rows over the event rumbled on with a great deal of band-wagon jumping by local politicians, community leaders and ‘activists’. A sound absorbing wall was promised and other environmental issues were declared as having been addressed. The promoters apparently offered free tickets to the locals and other incentives were suggested, some accepted, some rejected. Cadillac were persuaded to be the title sponsor and the United States Mint got in on the act announcing that the Golden Dollar would be the Official Coin of the Cadillac Grand Prix. Whatever anyone said as 2002 rolled by the tarmac was laid in the stadium car park and the track gradually took shape.

2002 ALMS Washington

So in July 2002 the ALMS circus assembled in the shadow of the RFK Memorial Stadium, along with the Speedvision World Challenge, Trans-Am and a celebrity support race, this felt like a proper motorsport event. The track, sinuous and short – 1.7 miles – was wide with passing opportunities and it would be possible to race even in these confines. July is not the optimal time to enjoy the banks of the Potomac, or the District of Columbia, being both hot and humid, no wonder everyone was so grumpy.

2002 ALMS Washington

Thirty-two cars would line up on the grid and it was clear, that barring unforeseen incidents, victory would be a contest between the two factory Audis and the lead Panoz, the latter now in a revamped EVO 2002 form. Embracing the patriotic spirit in the post 9-11 USA, the livery was composed of Stars and Stripes, and titled ‘Spirit of America’.

2002 ALMS Washington

The Cadillac team were a vast improvement on their 2001 effort but in the background the long-term viability of the project was in doubt as GM management were starting to grasp the realities of engaging in a technological and budgetary war with Audi.

2002 ALMS Washington

Corvette was a happier GM ship, successive GTS wins at Le Mans will do that for a team. This project made more sense in achieving the marketing, brand building and fan satisfaction aims of Corvette than Cadillac’s venture into Prototype Land.

2002 ALMS Washington

In GTS the Vettes had some serious opposition in the shape of the Olive Garden Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello, they could not afford to relax their efforts.

2002 ALMS Washington

The GT class was an almost exclusively Porsche affair, as BMW had packed up their E46 M3 GTR campaign in response to rules on homologation being changed without notice by the ACO. The ALMS were furious, they had not been consulted, and this destroyed competition in the class and also hit revenues substantially. The BMWs ended up at the 24 Hour races at Nürburgring and Spa in the following years. So a solitary Bimmer was on hand to potentially disrupt the Porsche Parade – it did not.

2002 ALMS Washington

One major difference that the DC race had over the other expeditions into Oval Land was spectators, and in numbers. So when the Audis blasted off at the start there were plenty on site to witness the enthralling contest between them and the Panoz. Post race claims of 70,000 attendees over the three days were perhaps true, certainly it was busy. Maybe for a while the ALMS thought it had enjoyed its “Garlic Bread” moment, post event criticisms would cause any such feelings to evaporate.

2002 ALMS Washington

The adjacent Stadium-Armory Washington Metro station no doubt contributed to this popularity, not that I got to experience it personally. The top notch photographer, world class pfaffer and local resident, Regis Lefebure, generously provided a chauffeur service during my stay in his nation’s capital. His technique behind the wheel was certainly different, probably more suited to the roads in the proximity of the Tiber or the Yangtze than the Potomac.

Whatever…………….

2002 ALMS Washington

The Champion Racing Audi struggled to match the pace of the factory cars, not helped when it was hit by the Capello car while being lapped, Dindo got a stop/go penalty for that indiscretion. Neither Johnny Herbert nor Stefan Johansson were happy with the R8 all weekend, this was not a normal state of affairs, quite puzzling.

2002 ALMS Washington

The Audis and the Panoz traded the lead, rarely more a few seconds gap from first to third, the crowd were certainly getting their money’s worth. Which was than could have been said by me. Looking back into the archive there is a big hole in the race, then it clicked, I remembered a microdrive had failed, as they regularly did, and I had not been bright enough to make a back up. Mind you from what remains on file it was clear that I lacked inspiration at Washington, a rather lacklustre performance all round.

2002 ALMS Washington

All three pit and engineering crews worked flat out to optimise their car’s performance, trading off taking new tyres against shorter pit stops and track position, gambles on Yellow Flag periods and fuel consumption. In the end fresh Michelins on the Panoz versus used ones on the Audis was the critical difference. When the Chequered Flag dropped the gap was .766 of a second, in the favour of Magnussen and Brabham, they had won!

2002 ALMS Washington

For Don Panoz it was his day of days, a car bearing his name winning in Washington, it really does not get any better than that. It was the final triumph for the rumbling mid-front engined car. Audi, as they always are, were gracious in defeat. They have learned that the value of their own victories is, in part, measured by the respect that they show and receive of the opposition.

2002 ALMS Washington

GTS went to the #3 Corvette of Ron Fellows and Johnny O’Connell while Alex Job Racing’s Porsche driven by Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr scooped the prize in GT.

And that pretty much is where the fun stopped, though I did get to buy Regis dinner as a thank you after the race and we were joined by the Great Dane, TK. A thoroughly agreeable way to end my only visit to the District of Columbia.

Ah yes, the hair pulling and name calling started almost before the engines went silent in the paddock. The media reported the antics:

“Cost overruns spilled into the millions, the promoters were fined for noise violations, and allegations of abuse of power were bandied about in the City Council.

City Inspectors found the sound wall constructed in the Kingman Park neighborhood measured only 584 feet long with sizeable gaps between some sections, and over the weekend, at least nine large panels were removed, in some cases for photography reasons.(My experience would suggest that this would be for TV rather than us humble snappers, as ever access was a big issue for us.)  District tests recorded during the event registered 93 to 105 decibels, far exceeding the city’s 60-decibel limit for residential areas.”

In August 2002, Washington Post columnist Colbert King blasted then-D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams for “the noisy, noxious-fume-spewing Cadillac Grand Prix that was insensitively and stealthily imposed on a stable, predominantly black North-east Washington neighbourhood over the residents’ strong objections.” Considering that I recall the Post being a partner to the event this was strong stuff.

In the face of all this controversy the race was cancelled in 2003 and there have been no attempts to revive it. How the money situation played out is also not clear, my guess is that the taxpayer got hosed and the lawyers got richer, plus ça change……….

The city race experiment has had limited success over the years, for every Long Beach there was a Miami or Baltimore, perhaps motor sport and metropolises do not mix.

That concludes my look back into ALMS history for now, more soon.

John Brooks, December 2014

 

 

 

 

Going Round and Round – Part Three

2001 ALMS Texas

The last visit to the territory of NoRight was for the first American Le Mans Series round of 2001. Arriving from the wintery UK and expecting a repeat of the sweltering heat previously encountered in September I got a shock. The conditions in Texas during March were more Donington than Dallas, damp, cold and grey.

2001 ALMS Texas

The series had lost the Vipers of ORECA, the BMW V12 LMR had retired and Schnitzer now had M3s to join PTG in the fight with the Porsches for the GT class. Overall the numbers were down, 34 entries had participated at Las Vegas, here in Texas four months later that was reduced to 22. Certainly the grid was not helped by the competition at Grand-Am who had 35 cars turn up at Homestead the same weekend. A big incentive was not having to take on the Audis or the Panoz, Dyson Racing could bring along the Riley & Scott to win, that would have been unthinkable in Texas. The vastness of the Texas Motor Speedway and the reduced car count gave a feeling that the ALMS was somehow losing momentum, in danger, perhaps, of stalling.

2001 ALMS Texas

On a positive note Champion Racing had acquired an R8 to give the Joest pair a run for their money, though they would take some time to get up to speed, including drivers who could take full advantage of the Audi’s potential performance.

2001 ALMS Texas

Perhaps most importantly, at least it seemed that way at the time, there was a new Panoz, the LMP07. In addition Doctor Don put his hand into his pocket and ran a pair of the old LMP1 cars to pad out the field at the sharp end.

2001 ALMS Texas

One thing that was familiar was the lack of a crowd and the lack of decent locations or backgrounds to execute my art…………..even the light deserted me until the race started.

2001 ALMS Texas

I do recall a few things about the second ALMS race at Texas Motor Speedway. The Australian Grand Prix was also running that Saturday evening after the track action had finished, time zones are a wonderful thing. So we all got in our rental cars and drove 50 miles (all journeys in Dallas are 50 miles or more, it’s the Law) to a sports bar where the Grand Prix was being televised. I had just acquired my first digital camera; it was powerful Juju back then, the ability to see your work instantaneously, no waiting for the film processors to do their work. Instant gratification, how very 21st Century?

I was sitting with Dindo Capello and Michele Alboreto watching another dull Schumacher/Ferrari procession when I piped up.

“Dindo, did you damage the car today, during Qualifying?”

“What do you mean, damage?” said the completely innocent Italian, butter would not melt, his eyes showing the hurt he just endured when such an outrageous suggestion had been aired.

“When you hit the chicane and scattered the poles”

“No, no that was not me”

“Well, how do you explain this?”

I flicked the back of the camera to show cart wheeling poles from the chicane that Dindo had driven over. It was a magic show, that Michele had been keenly observing as Dindo squirmed, his mistake now public.

Michele seized the moment, grabbed the camera and got all the Audi crew to see the evidence of his friend’s indiscretion. I recall it cost Dindo a round of drinks. From that point on Michele and I got on like a house on fire.

2001 ALMS Texas

Another new car making its début in Texas was the Callaway C-12 R, it was a handsome beast even if the results never reflected the potential.

2001 ALMS Texas

In real terms the race was largely settled before it began, the Pirro/Biela R8 had its pole position time disallowed as their Audi’s rear diffuser was 2mm higher than the rules allowed, so they would start at the back of the field. Dindo Capello led away at the Green Flag, he was joined in the Audi for 2001 by Tom Kristensen as Allan McNish had jumped ship to Toyota in preparation for their 2002 Formula One campaign.

2001 ALMS Texas

Most cars start slowly and develop but the LMP07 went the other way. The race at Texas was the only time that it looked like a winner, a late race stop for fuel denying a début win for Brabham and Magnussen, thereafter it was a dog. The team dropped the car after Le Mans, reverting to the trusty LMP1, a decision justified with victories at Portland and Mid-Ohio.

2001 ALMS Texas

Kelly Collins had a massive crash in the factory Corvette after a puncture, he was lucky to walk away after the heavy impact. The guys at Pratt & Miller faced some sleepless nights to get a new car built up for Sebring less than a fortnight later.

2001 ALMS Texas

GT was the property of Alex Job Racing with the paring of Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen overcoming the BMW challenge.

2001 ALMS Texas

Tom Kristensen brought his R8 home for yet another Audi 1-2 and the Panoz was third. Once more the crowds stayed away in droves missing another good battle and a tight finish. Plans to run again at Charlotte late in 2001 were quietly dropped and that was the end of the Roval experiment. And yet the ALMS had not finished with stadiums as we shall see in Part Four.

2014 Nurburgring 24

What went wrong? Why did ‘Takin’ It to the Streets’ not work? I can offer some thoughts………….

Simply that sportscar races held on these hybrid tracks were artificial, driven by TV and marketing demographics, planned by those who had little feel for what they were doing. We would all show up with the “Hey another day at the office attitude” and none of the anticipation that the mention of Le Mans or Nordschleife or Spa brings. Sportscar fans are usually amongst the sharper knives in the block and even the dumber ones could sense that this was ersatz racing, endurance lite and avoided it like the plague. If the real fans did not care why should casual spectators spend their time and money?

2002 ALMS Miami

This failure and the failure of street events such as Miami and Washington (for different reasons) pose a question. Is there a future for sportscars given the need to increase attendances to get greater coverage, to get more sponsorship $$$, to get greater coverage? Or should we just give up and admit that F1 and NASCAR have sucked the life out of the sport below their Augean stables? Perhaps the answer lies with a different question. Instead of chasing new markets should we not just consolidate our existing strengths and concentrate on improving the show……….sort of “Build it and they will come” philosophy?

Blonds Have More Fun

Blonds Have More Fun

Well the numbers that attend Le Mans and the other classics attest to the popularity of the endurance form of racing……sometimes. There are many who would no more stop breathing than fail to turn up at their favourite event be it La Sarthe or Sebring; these folks would no more go to a Grand Prix or Daytona 500 than fly to the moon. Some of the more extreme cases plot their trips throughout the year and there are many websites run by the fans for the fans. Even the absence of a historical lineage is no obstacle to success as the instant classic status of Petit Le Mans proves.

Derek Pye

Derek Pye

Maybe that is it, in this age of hundreds of cable channels, the internet and all day drinking hours, for us to get off our backsides and go to a race meeting without the incentive of making a buck, requires that the venue/event has a sense of occasion, a promise of a place in history ……….most of us Sartheophiles reference our personal index of the years by the who-what-why of 24 hours between 3.00 pm on two days in June. I suspect the same is true of the guys on Sebring’s Turn 10, even for the most part, like the 60’s, if you can remember it you weren’t there.

2000 ALMS Laguna Seca

Our fables are not of dragons and wizards but of Ickx in 1969 or 1977 or Andretti in 1970 or of Pedro and Seppi just about all the time. In an age when almost everything is pyrite to find the genuine article is exciting and precious, so seeing a McNish or a Lotterer on a charge is the real deal but only given the right setting.
It would seem that the best hope for the healthy future is to learn from the past, successes as well as failures and go for fewer “classic” events at the remaining few real tracks. Quality over quantity……..F1 and NASCAR are on the opposite course, so that’s proof enough for me.

 

LMES…….this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

John Brooks December 2004

Excuse some of those conclusions, hindsight is a wonderful thing or a complete embarrassment. The answer would appear to be the FIA World Endurance Championship……………..

More in the final part.

John Brooks, December 2014

 

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

 

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