Tag Archives: Tom Kristensen

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Sportscars at Goodwood Festival of Speed

As one might expect, at Goodwood there was a fine display of sportscars from the early days right through to the 2017 winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours. There was also a special tribute to the Great Dane, Tom Kristensen, nine-time victor at La Sarthe.

Our great snapper, Simon Hildrew, was also on tip top form, so enjoy the penultimate gallery on DDC from the Festival of Speed.

John Brooks, July 2017

Everyone’s a Winner, Baby

1999 24 Hours of Le Mans

Is Smokin’ Jo on the hot chocolate? This impressive group of winners were attending the 1999 BMW Driver’s Training Camp in the Dolomites. Between them they have racked up sixteen victories at Le Mans, including 1999, so the training must have worked then, even if Jo is still on the gaspers. Some things never change.

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

 

They call me MISTER Sebring

2001 12 Hours of Sebring

Tom Kristensen has been at the head of the endurance racing grid for the past 15 years, since he burst on to the scene by winning the Le Mans 24 Hours at his first attempt in 1997. That famous victory in the Joest Porsche led to a factory drive with BMW the following year and that led the Dane to Sebring in 1999. Tom has gone on to score a record further seven wins at La Sarthe and to many he is known as ‘Mister Le Mans’. However a good proportion of the temporary population of Highlands County each March would claim that another nickname would be more appropriate, Mister Sebring. So why is that so? Let’s find out what Tom thinks himself.

Recently I caught up with Tom and discussed with him his experiences at America’s greatest sportscar race.

1999 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: 1999, your first time at the 12 Hours of Sebring what do you recall?

1999 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: My first race was with BMW in 1999, with Jörg and JJ. We had tested at Homestead the week before to prepare our new car, primarily for Le Mans but also for Sebring. We had a problem with differentials, we did not have enough spares, and I know that BMW were not very keen to race at Sebring. However the team at Williams Grand Prix, who had designed and built the car, particularly John Russell, pushed very hard to go on as planned. In fact we had some new differentials flown in as late as Thursday as all we had were the units that were actually in the cars.

1999 12 Hours of Sebring

Then we got to the race and it was certainly an eye opener for me to drive on the historic circuit. I remember that there were quite a lot of Yellow Flags, a lot of cars had problems and went off. I recall that the whole section of the track from Turn Ten to Turn Fourteen was full of sand towards the end of the race. Of course James Weaver was pushing very hard, he is a guy who never gives up and really put pressure on me. I drove the last stint to finish the race and we scored the début win of the BMW V12 LMR, which was a big step forward from the previous car. So that then became a trend for the manufacturers to go to Sebring both to race and test in preparation for Le Mans. One thing I do remember about 1999, we were waiting I think for the arrival of the spare differentials and we went with a certain photographer, I guess it was Regis, I’m not sure*, out to meet the fans and especially to Turn Ten. They are true fans of life and true fans of Sebring, it was nice to receive such a fantastic welcome. I always try to wave to the crowd there, either under a yellow flag period or on my in lap, to show my appreciation of Turn Ten.

JB: Then we move on to 2000, and your first race with Audi…………….

2000 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: In December 1999 I was at Sebring again driving an Audi, it was an interim car between the ‘99 car, the R8R and the R8, which went on to be so successful. The interim car had the rear end of the R8.

JB: One thing that I remember from 2000 was during one of the practice sessions you burying the R8 into the tyres at Turn Three, do you recall that?

2000 12 Hours of Sebring

No, that happened in Qualifying. It was the first lap in Qualifying and I locked up avoiding another car that had just come out of the pits and I went in heavily to the barriers under the foam sacks. Of course Dr. Ullrich was standing at that corner, he saw everything and jumped over the fence to help shift the sacks off the car. At that time I was on the radio to the pits to say that I have just had a small off, and of course Dr. Ullrich had the headset on and could hear this while pulling the foam away. It is not the perfect situation when it is your boss trying to dig you out and you are trying explain that it was only a small off…………

JB: Still despite the red face the race turned out OK and it was a great win for Audi, their first at Sebring and the first for the R8.

2000 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: Audi had learnt a lot from their first race there the year before, Sebring nails down any challenges or issues that you have with the car. Of course Joest and Audi are particularly good at dealing with such issues and the information and feedback that you get from Sebring is so valuable, there are five or six different types of tarmac around the track and that gives car and driver a rough time.

2001 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: In 2001 there was a rain affected race, and your team mates Dindo, Laurent and Michele just managed to beat you in a close finish.

2001 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: Actually I was very disappointed that time, we had a great race and it seemed that Dindo and I were often on track against each other. I remember that we were actually leading but in the crucial time of the race, I came into the pits too fast so got a Stop and Go Penalty which dropped me behind Dindo and, despite pushing very hard, I could not catch him before the end of the race. Yes it was a disappointment because it was solely down to me.

2001 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: It was Michele’s last victory.

2001 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: Yes, and it was certainly deserved and in that sense it is much better to look back at the race with that fact in mind.

JB: 2002 was a completely different race because the heat was extreme there was a problem with the car and the steering rack needed changing during the race. Of course once you lose a chunk of time in the pits your race is effectively done, especially competing against another R8.

2002 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: No you cannot come back from that much lost time, we had the issue with the steering which I had never experienced before or since and when you need to change something like that all your plans are out the window. We had a fast car however it was not to be but Audi scored a hat trick so the race was not completely lost.

2003 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: In 2003 you joined the ranks of the Bentley Boys.

TK: Yes, I remember that the Bentley was a hot car, certainly after the R8. The car ran really well but we had the issue of being put to the back of the grid after Qualifying and this definitely compromised our race. I think we had only one problem and that was with the brakes, we had to be very careful towards the end of the race. We were very focussed on winning Le Mans, and Sebring was an important part of that. We had a very good debrief after the race. The Bentley was very different to the philosophy of the Audi R8. We had an Audi engine so we were safe on that side, and for the guys working on the car the Sebring race helped the team to gel. Racing at Sebring was crucial to our Le Mans’ victory. Getting both cars to the finish at the 12 Hours was really important to us in the context of our whole programme.

JB: 2004, how could they do this to us? No Tom Kristensen at Sebring?

2002 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: Well 2004 was the year I started in DTM as that was the only factory programme for Audi that year. Dr. Ullrich offered me the opportunity to join the Audi DTM effort and I then raced in that for several years, really enjoying it. In all the years I was in DTM I just joined the endurance races like Sebring and Le Mans, keeping in touch with that side of the sport.

2005 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: 2005 you joined Champion Racing for Sebring, and Le Mans. You shared the driving with JJ Lehto and Marco Werner. You had a big fight with Allan in the other Champion car in the last stint, you always seem to get the last stint at Sebring.

TK: It was a good race between the Champion cars, all the way to the flag it was very close, the result all depended on how we played our cards. We were out of sync in terms of tyres and fuel strategies and I remember that when I was on new tyres I had to make a gap to make sure that when Allan had new tyres that he did not get too close. So the gap moved around a little especially in the last three stints. It was vital that when you left the pits on cold tyres, in particular on the penultimate stop, there was just enough grip to keep Allan back and he did not pass me. I was then on new tyres and could keep him behind and created just enough margin that when he got his last set of new tyres he was still just behind. I think it was the closest ever finish at Sebring.

2005 12 Hours of Sebring

I still have the video from Speed TV and on the last lap Allan and I were still racing hard, so as we get to the back (Ulmann) straight, I got on the radio and asked if they wanted to stage a photo finish. Brad Kettler who was engineering our car, started yelling back, “No, No, No! Keep the pedal down. Keep the pedal down” Of course I did not realise that this was going out live, and the Speed TV commentators were really laughing at this exchange. I still have the recording.

12h-Rennen Sebring (USA) 2006

JB: So then the 2006 race, the début of the diesel powered R10.

TK: Yes, that was amazing, it was a big step forward for both Audi and motorsport, very important. It made the front page of the newspapers in many places. The day after the race I had Ulrich Baretzky the engine designer, as one of my passengers on the way to Miami, he was a very proud man that day and rightly so. The R10 TDI had a big engine, which meant that there were compromises in how the car was configured and also in the way that you drove it. Now we have a very lightweight engine in the car but back then the V12 was much bigger and heavier. The R10 TDI was a very sophisticated car, with the very latest technology and it won its first race and that was at Sebring.

2007 Sebring 12 Hours

JB: On to 2007 and there were a couple of things that went wrong as I recall. The rear suspension needed changing……………

TK: I’m not sure I completely remember, I think we had to go behind the wall, so we lost time and that was that. It was one of those times that Sebring gets the better of you.

ALMS 01 - Sebring (USA) 2008

JB: 2008 and another difficult race, as Dr. Ullrich said at the time, the team had more problems in this one race than they would normally encounter in a whole season. Brake disks were a particular problem.

TK: Well we were trying very hard, racing against the Peugeots and maybe we went a little bit in the wrong direction. That being said, the problems that we had at Sebring and how we fixed them were the basis of our win at Le Mans that year. The performance in Florida really hurt us and made us really push to the maximum to get our pride back in France. Some people consider the 2008 Le Mans to have been the best or one of the best ever, perhaps, but the determination after Sebring, in Joest, in Audi, in the drivers, everyone, was really strong. We knew that Peugeot had a faster car, but we had a car that we could race, and we thought that if we performed to the maximum we could beat them. We believed in winning when others did not, the Truth in 24 movie shows that pretty well.

2009 Sebring 12 Hours

JB: 2009 another new car, the R15 TDI, and another début victory, now win number five, up against Peugeot again.

TK: The R15 TDI right on the limit was delicate, so to keep it in the performance window was always interesting at a circuit like Sebring, a real challenge for engineers and drivers, so I feel that our victory was hard earned and well deserved. It was certainly not an easy win.

2009 Sebring 12 Hours

JB: The following year the updated car, the R15+ was not ready in time for the race itself though you did go testing later.

TK: I would not have been in the race, as I had injured my Achilles tendon and was in recovery mode.

2007 Sebring 12 Hours

JB: 2011, things were going well in the race, a big battle with the Peugeots and then Dindo was hit by Gene while racing.

TK: That was in Turn 17, which is very fast and that was our race done. It was a shame because we looking in good shape. But if I recall all the factory cars hit problems and the Oreca car took the win.

2012 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: In 2012 the Peugeots had gone as a result of financial problems, but on the positive side Sebring was the first round of the new FIA World Endurance Championship and it was Sebring’s 60th birthday and you managed to add to your list of wins.

2012 12 Hours of Sebring

TK: Last year was another great race and an important one, being the first round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. It brought together, the ACO, IMSA and the FIA. It was an honour to have won the 60th race, and it was a really big battle with our two other Audis. It made up in a way for my mistake on the 50th anniversary race. I said to Dindo on the podium, “Congratulations on your fifth victory, now you have caught me”…………then the penny dropped and he called me something rude. Of course now Dindo is retired but he will be in Sebring, as Allan and I always get him to pay for the espressos in the morning at Starbucks………………..

2012 12 Hours of Sebring

JB: If someone says to you “Sebring 12 Hours”, what do you think of? Why do you think the race is so special?

TK: It is unique, even the journey from Miami through small towns of central Florida is very different from Europe, you are approaching the tradition and history that is this 12 Hour race. Famous names like Fangio and Moss were part of this rich history and then later Andretti and Ickx, all the great names of the sport have been to Sebring. So if I speak to any of these guys I can relate to their career as the track is basically the same layout as when it started. That is really cool, it is the Paris-Roubaix of motorsport, the famous traditional cycle race. To get the best set up for the track is difficult and you really need to get on it as a driver, you have to conquer the corners every lap. You have to be aggressive but at the same time be very aware, alert for traffic. 2012 was the hardest race in terms of traffic that I have experienced, as there were more than 60 cars on the grid. So you feel like you are overtaking cars every 50 metres, you are constantly overtaking. There is not much space and if you put the car even a few centimetres off line you can hit a bump which is much harder than you expect and then you are in trouble.

JB: You have mentioned the Sebring fans…………..

2009 Sebring 12 Hours

TK: The Sebring fans are fantastic, the enthusiasm they show is just like Le Mans but it is also different. Sebring has the American way and that is really cool. Another place where the fans are on the same level is the Goodwood Revival. The fans at all these events are genuine and they are there to watch the race but most importantly they are there to have a good time. They wake up in the morning and say to themselves “Hey I’m going to have a good time today” and the atmosphere where everyone feels like that is fantastic. You are in the right place at the right time. Sebring makes me feel that it is THE place to go to every March and I am very happy that Audi asked me to go again as it looks like it might be the last time that Audi and LM P1 will compete there.

JB: Briefly what would you say your best and worst moments at Sebring were?

TK: It is difficult to choose but I suppose that my first race which showed me that the 12 Hours of Sebring is very different from any other race. Then the victory last year was very special. The second place in 2002 was difficult because I knew right after the Chequered Flag that the defeat was down to me, I was the one who was speeding in the pit lane and that was a very hard defeat to take. But on the other hand it was Michele’s last win and that makes it easy to get over.

* It was me………………..

John Brooks, March 2013

All the Sizes, All the Colours

2003 FIA SCC Spa

2003 saw the end of the road for the FIA SCC, whose competitors were affectionately known as Mango’s Barmy Army.  Numbers on the grid dwindled and even John Mangoletsi himself was no longer on the scene. Stéphane Ratel and Patrick Peter joined forces with Martin Birrane and David Kennedy in an effort to breath some life into the Championship but matters were beyond all help. The bright light on the horizon was the prospect of the quartet joining the ACO to create the Le Mans Series, the first step on the road to a proper World Endurance Championship.

2003 FIA SCC Spa

The penultimate round of the FIA SCC was held on the majestic Spa Francorchamps circuit, a truly cunning plan was hatched to increase numbers, step forward the British GT Championship. So 24 GTs were added to the 11 prototypes to give the grid a fig leaf of numerical respectability. Of course SRO’s definition of a GT was typically elastic, so there was both a VW Golf GTI and Renault Clio V6 in the mix, seen here interfacing with Jan Lammers in the Dome and Tom Kristensen in the Audi R8. Utterly bizarre and thankfully not repeated.

John Brooks, December 2012

Stolen Moments

The 1998 Le Mans 24 Hours was very cruel to the factories, both Mercedes Benz and BMW saw their cars retired before sunset instead of contesting victory, an ignominious failure for such top line teams.  The Williams designed and built BMW V12 LM suffered suspected rear wheel bearing failure, and rather than risk the consequences of a suspension collapse at high speed, the cars were withdrawn. This shot is early in the race, real early, as Pier-Luigi Martini leads Tom Kristensen. Next year it would all be very different.

John Brooks, August 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

Time For The Countdown

As we approach June and the annual run at La Sarthe, one of the questions out there is can Tom Kristensen add to his tally of wins, taking his record even further out of sight?

Marvin Gaye’s “A Funky Space Reincarnation” gave us all something catchy to sing along to when thinking back on TK’s time in l’Ouest.

“One Fun, Two You, Three Me, Four More, Five No Jive, Six No Tricks, Seven We in Heaven, Eight Everything is Straight, Nine Fine, Ten…Let’s Do It Again………..

Those of you who are interested in seeing more about Tom and his Le Mans’ history should have a look HERE

John Brooks, May 2012


 

Orange Blossom Special

Cover Shot

For sure we live in strange times, perhaps it is the change of the seasons, perhaps some other wild cosmic shift in the Solar System. Whatever, the Mojo wire has a steady stream of bizarre stuff tumbling out, as might be expected when the first Grand Prix of the year is on, the hype dials are set to eleven. But there is more……

Bruton Smith, is normally a very sharp businessman and CEO/Owner of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI), an organisation that has a portfolio of Speedways at Charlotte, Atlanta, Bristol, Kentucky, Las Vegas, New Hampshire and Texas, plus Sears Point. So reports that he is going to recreate the Nordschleife in Nevada are to be treated with some respect, though the question is why? Where will he put the Pistenklause and will the beer be cold enough? What about sand in the Schwalbenschwanz?

Even more weird are tales that Pamela Anderson is heading towards sportscar racing.

Pamela Anderson, a renowned petrolhead, has launched her own motor racing team, Downforce1 by Pamela Anderson, with plans to enter this years’ European Le Mans Series (ELMS) with an Aston Martin Vantage GT2, the International GT Open Series and NASCAR for 2013. Austrian Markus Fux is the first driver to be named.

I suppose she will be a visual improvement on some of the Team Principals I have known but………………..according to one social media group that I am linked to she is something of an veteran when it comes to handling drivers…..Paul Gentilozzi • Her interest comes from her dating Eddie Irvine a few years ago. She was our guest at the Long Beach Grand Prix and was immediately drawn to the sport.

Strange Days Indeed, Mama.

Buy This Book

How appropriate then that I have spent the best part of a week in motorsport’s version of Saturnalia, the 12 Hours of Sebring. For those who did not attend or those who did not pick up a copy of the excellent Official Programme, I am allowed to publish some of the pieces that I collected for the publication. Ken Breslauer, PR Director for the place and Track Historian had kindly given me permission and in return I am giving a plug to his latest book the “Sebring 12 Hours Record Book” a comprehensive guide to the results from all the endurance classic held at Hendricks Field.

So starting with my own experiences here are some of the memories that Sebring provokes amongst those who have visited it in the past………….more tomorrow.

Blondes Have More Fun

The Grand Old Dame of American Sportscar races has reached Senior Citizen status. My own involvement with the annual trip round the clock-face is relatively recent, 1999 to be exact. In truth I had visited the Central Highlands a few years earlier, as part of the travelling circus that was the 1997 FIA GT Championship. I was distinctly underwhelmed by the place, remote and scruffy, yet strangely familiar, a race track based on a World War Two bomber base, hello Silverstone, hello Thruxton, hello Snetterton.

Fast forward to March 1999, like many before me, I used the opportunity of a race in Florida in March to have a holiday to try and shake off the European Winter Blues. So as I dropped my wife at Miami International I wondered what I would encounter up Highway 27, everyone had told me what a great event the 12 Hours was, but my own experience of the place had not been positive,

On The Mean Streets Of Sebring

Most Europeans find on their first visit to the United States of America that the most distinctive feature is the scale and sheer size of the place. So, not for the last time in my travels, what looked on the map like a short hop from Miami turned into a long, and frankly, boring drive. Through the Everglades, past sugar-cane plantations, into and out of  Clewiston and Moore Haven, across the Caloosahatchee and alongside Lake Okeechobee. These were places that would become familiar in the following decade but the first encounter increased my sense of apprehension, what was I going to find even further away from the bright lights of Miami? Eventually the cattle fields gave way to citrus groves and then the gates of Sebring International Raceway were in front of me.

Excitable Boys

The place was transformed from the one I had seen in earlier times, it was bursting at the seams and everywhere there were folks having a good time with motor racing as a background. This was now familiar territory, it had the feeling of La Sarthe in June, now I understood what others had tried to tell me about the 12 Hours of Sebring, it really was a special time and place.

Spirit Of Sebring

Over the years it has become clear to me that the track action is just a small part of the attraction that drags some 100,000 plus souls back to the Central Highlands around Saint Patrick’s Day. Where else do folks queue outside for weeks prior to a motor race? Shared experiences forge friendships that survive the passage of a whole year or years, there is a generosity of spirit amongst the Sebring fans that is rarely, if ever, encountered elsewhere in the motorsport world. As I look back over the decade or so since my first 12 Hours a few memories come to mind.

Dining Al Fresco?

For those competing in the Big Race, the Sebring 12 Hours is a largely frenetic affair, pre-race testing in the run up to the gates being opened to the public, then all day track action on Thursday, followed by Friday Qualifying, prior to the race day itself. Friday afternoon is however a time of rest for the drivers, if not the mechanics, so most disappear to their accommodation but one or two of the more adventurous go out to see close up what they have passed at racing speeds. This was how I came to pick up a couple of blondes on the Friday afternoon in 1999.

No my luck had not changed, the blondes in question were JJ Lehto and Tom Kristensen, team mates at BMW.  I caught them hanging around outside team hospitality, I knew JJ pretty well from our GT  seasons together but Tom less so. We were all a bit bored and bit curious to see more of the madness that was happening just over the bridge. So off we went for a few hours that could only be described as “different”.

Reading The Motoring Column

Cutting a long story short, I signed the drivers for the 2000 season with La Bomba Racing, helped them read Playboy and Penthouse (only the motoring sections of course) in the Stumble Inn and watched some goldfish in, rather than on, the television. Finally we ended up at that Floridian motor racing Mecca, Turn Ten. This was my first encounter with the citizens of that particular town and thankfully not the last. As you would expect the Blondes were treated as if they were royalty, everyone was pleased to have the Pole Position winner (JJ) drop in for a beer and a snack. To round off a perfect introduction to the Sebring 12 Hours the Blondes won the race the next day, my weekend was just about complete.

Sign Of The Times

Two years later I was at the track on race morning before the sun rose, there is always a photo briefing to look forward to, a great assembly of grumbling, groaning snappers. I understand that the collective noun for motorsport photographers is a Moan. 2001’s raceday photo meeting  was an unexpectedly solemn occasion though.  First to arrive, and in those pre-digital days, first to leave, the vast majority of us snappers had not heard the news, Bob Wollek was dead. It was unbelievable, Wollek had survived during a truly dangerous period in motorsport and now, as he contemplated retirement, he was killed in a pointless traffic incident.

Memoriam

Just how pointless was soon evident when the circumstances emerged. Bob was a keen cyclist and would use that method of transport to get to and from the circuit. In fact he would ride to Le Mans every year from Strasbourg, and then back after the race, over 400 miles each way. So on Friday afternoon he left the Sebring paddock en route to his lodgings, west along Highway 98 towards the small town of Lorida. An 82 year old local resident driving a pickup truck collided with the Frenchman, killing him instantly.

The Florida Highway Patrol reported “Wollek had been riding close to the edge of the pavement marking and the van, travelling in the same direction behind other traffic, hit the back of the bicycle. Wollek was taken to Highlands Regional Medical Center with fatal injuries.”

Ciao, Michele…….

The whole paddock was in a state of shock, things like this no longer happened to drivers. A minute’s silence was observed before the race as a token of respect and there were not many dry eyes amongst those who had known him. Tributes from the fans appeared on the walls, it was the other side of the soul of motor racing. The race went on and was won by an Audi as expected, it was the R8 driven by Dindo Capello, Laurent Aiello and Michele Alboreto.  As if we needed any further evidence of how brief our time here on earth is, former Grand Prix star Michele was killed in a testing accident a few weeks after his victory at Sebring.

B-17

2002 marked the 50th Anniversary of the 12 Hours of Sebring. As might be imagined the boat was pushed out all round with celebrations and commemorations everywhere. For my part top of the list was a ride in Nine-O-Nine, a B-17. During World War Two, the current track location was known as Hendricks Field, a  B-17 Flying Fortress crew training base of the United States Army Air Force. So what more appropriate way of marking 50 years of the Floridian classic than the appearance of this fabulous aeroplane, paying tribute not only to the race itself but also to the men and women who served their country and who passed through the base during its years as a military establishment.

On Parade

The Flying Fortress idea was facilitated by Vintage Porsche Guru, Kevin Jeannette, who persuaded The Collings Foundation to bring their extremely rare war bird along to raise money for various deserving charities. The B-17 arrived to much fanfare on Friday with Kevin’s son, Gunnar, hitching a ride with the crew on their journey South. To support this worthy effort the team painted up their Panoz LMP01 in a USAAF camouflage dull green and raised more funds for Services’ charities.

High Flying Bird

Saturday morning and the call came from Kevin, a real dream come true.

Get over to the airport and you can have a ride in the B-17, if you want.”

“Try and stop me.”

So an hour or so into the race I, and a few other lucky dogs, took to the skies over the temporary city of Sebring International Raceway. The abiding memory of the short flight was of how small the plane was inside and how vulnerable the crew would have been, flying for hour upon hour over enemy territory. As the plane droned along, tracing the outline of Lake Jackson and the shopping malls on Highway 27, a silence descended over the passengers. Each of each us started to gain a small appreciation of the courage of the very young crews who had endured such terrible casualties in the skies during the War. It was a sobering thought and there are not many of those to be found in Highlands County during race week. It was a rare privilege to be a passenger in such an aircraft and a memory that I shall always treasure.

One For The Frog & Toad?

I have seen many strange things during my time at the tracks but a wedding is definitely in my top ten list of oddities. But perhaps I should not be surprised at any of the antics that the real Sebring fans get up to. So in 2005 I gathered with all the other guests in the Florida sunshine to celebrate the institution of marriage. Of course this being organised by the gang at Turn Ten, this was no conventional ceremony. Unusually for weddings in Florida’s Central Highlands it was reported in the London Daily Telegraph, not I grant you in the Court and Social pages, but in the Motoring Section.

Derek Pye

“It was a moving ceremony. The bride wore vaguely white and carried a bouquet in one hand and a large Budweiser in the other. The bridegroom wore an Hawaiian shirt, shorts and sandals. He had one arm in a sling and a 10-pin bowling ball chained to his ankle, convict style. But he looked very relaxed.

Bride or Groom?

The flower-girls looked particularly fetching – male, admittedly, and more heavily stubbled than is usual, but nicely turned out, especially the taller one in the American football shirt, faded jeans, unlaced Caterpillar boots, flowery headband and lime-green tutu. The maid of honour was colourful, too, in a floaty off-white dress with fluorescent green feather boa and shocking-pink wig – like a psychedelic and visibly better- developed Shirley Temple.

Honey Do?

The bride arrived a little late and walked the length of stair-carpeted aisle to warm applause from the large congregation, accompanied by the best man, looking frighteningly like the Elwood half of the Blues Brothers. And in a touching if oddly ethereal moment, the strains of Here Comes the Bride crackled out on loud hailers, led by a choir of Friesian cows with prominent udders, truck-drivers’ caps and very large cocktails.

Emergency Supplies

The candles, in Jack Daniel’s bottles on a flag-draped altar that doubled as a substantial coolbox for emergency beers, were ceremonially lit, as the preacher, in full gorilla suit, pronounced the blessing through another megaphone. The gorilla invited the groom to kiss the bride (which he managed with some enthusiasm) and the Friesians proposed another toast, warmly taken up. Twenty feet away on the other side of the barriers, the racing cars thundered past, apparently oblivious to the solemnity of the moment.”

What more can I add to Brian Laban’s purple prose?

Norm meets the Fourth Estate

I witnessed the other side of the human experience on my last visit to the 12 Hours, back in 2010. The news had come at the end of February that one of great characters of Sebring’s annual race was not at all well. A few days later there was an announcement that Norm “It’s a dry rain” Koury had passed away. He was a true eccentric, even by Sebring Fan standards, but much loved by the nomadic community. So to celebrate his life and to assuage some of the grief and sorrow of those left behind, it was decided that there would a Wake For Norm on the Thursday evening. As a guest but not a member of the Turn Ten clan, I felt that I would show up, pay my respects and proudly display my “2002 Year of the Norm” beer cover. So I did, as did many, many others. The ceremony was given a dignified start by Richard Anderson, from Motorsport Ministries, who said a few words and prayers for Norm. It seemed a very appropriate way to mark the passing of such a Sebring Citizen.

Hen’s Teeth

When someone mentions Sebring to me these days I think not of the cars and track action but of the fans who make the atmosphere of March in the Central Highlands of Florida unique.

Message In A Bottle

Remember Steve McQueen may have acted at Le Mans but he raced at Sebring, that tells you all you need to know.

John Brooks, March 2012