Allan McNish has raced to Le Mans enough to know that the greatest challenger to overall victory never ends. It’s not another car, another driver or another team. It’s Le Mans itself…the track, the endurance, the weather, the history and even the past.
It’s the past that McNish wants to beat the most. The tenacious Scot has been coming to Le Mans since 1997, missing the race from 2001-2003 while in Formula 1. After crashing early in his debut race McNish scored victory the next season in a works Porsche 911 GT1, the first of what many thought would be multiple victories in the world’s greatest sports car race.
Or at least that was conventional thinking. Le Mans has been the albatross around McNish’s neck that he hopes to rid himself of 10 years after that glorious win with Laurent Aiello and Stephane Ortelli. He gets his next crack this weekend in the diesel-powered Audi R10 TDI he shares with Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen, teammates who have a combined nine overall wins at Le Mans.
Last year the trio seemed to be on their way to an easy victory before a broken wheel sent Capello off the circuit with eight hours left. It was a crushing blow for McNish and the rest of the No. 2 crew.
“Since 1998, I have led in every race here at Le Mans,” McNish said. “Last year we had a three-and-a-half lap lead after 16 hours and then all went wrong. So sitting here in advance you can never say if you will be on top of the podium or even finish the race. You have to beat Le Mans before you beat any of your competitors. And beating Le Mans is the hardest part of it.”
This year’s race is even more of a challenge with three factory Peugeot diesels being the biggest threat to Audi’s dominance that has seen seven Le Mans victories in eight years. McNish, Capello and Kristensen will start fourth, the best of the Audis but still behind all three Peugeots. But as McNish knows all too well, anything can and usually does happen.
“Le Mans is such an unique race – a very special circuit, 24 hours, so many miles,” he said. “It’s like a whole racing season in a day. And the race is not only about car speed. It’s about team capabilities, it’s about working under pressure, it’s about coming back from problems, and it’s about strategy. I think the importance of car speed is as high as the importance of team work and strategy.”
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