Interview: Tom Kristensen on Le Mans and Goodwood
Tom Kristensen will drive the Audi R8 he used to win the 2000 24 Hours of Le Mans at Goodwood
The amazing career of the nine-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner will be celebrated at the Festival of Speed this week
Danish driver Tom Kristensen’s motorsport legacy will forever be linked with the 24 Hours of Le Mans – a race he won an astonishing nine times.
Kristensen’s first win came 20 years ago, in 1997, on his first attempt. Kristensen only secured a drive in a Joest Racing TWR Porsche WSC-95 the week before the race, with the team questioning if the Formula 3000 racer’s skills would translate from single-seaters to sports cars.
Clearly, they did.
After winning with Joest, Kristensen spent two years with the works BMW team before a career-defining switch to Audi for 2000. He effectively spent the rest of his career with the manufacturer (Audi didn’t run a works team between 2003 and 2005, so Kristensen drove for Bentley and privateer teams).
Kristensen retired from driving at the end of 2014, having set a new record for the most Le Mans wins by a driver. His career will be celebrated at the Goodwood Festival of Speed this weekend, with a collection of his cars on show.
We caught up with Kristensen, and asked for some of his memories.
How does it feel to be celebrated at the Festival?
“It’s great. I was very happy, and pleasantly surprised, when Lord March’s team said they wanted to have a 20-year celebration. At first I said, ’20 years, really? Where has that gone?’ But then you start to look at all the cars, the team-mates and the races, and you realise how long it’s been.”
You’re driving up the hill in the Audi R8 you drove to win Le Mans in 2000 – before the car is retired to Audi’s museum…
“That will be very special. I’m there to enjoy the moment. I’ll go slowly up the hill, but I’m sure I’ll rev it higher than I should to give the crowd a thrill.
“Allan McNish will be driving the sister car from that year, and the R8 marks the beginning of Audi’s long journey in sports cars. The Porsche from 1997 will be on display, and the BMW I drove in 1999 and won the Sebring 12 Hours with will be driven by Steve Soper. It should be a nice celebration.”
Do you have a favourite car?
“No. I enjoyed the journey. I’m the only one who had driven all the Audi Sport Le Mans cars – I came into the project a year late, but I drove the 1999 car in testing. And earlier this week I drove last year’s car, the R18 – the black one, called Dirty Harry by the mechanics – which is the very last car from this era of Audi. To have driven all those cars has been a great privilege.
“Five of my nine victories came in the R8, with works and privateer teams, so that car means a lot.
“The biggest best, absolutely, was the R15 [from 2009-2010]. But the R10 [2006-2008], with the 12-cylinder diesel engine, was the one I had to change my philosophy and driving style for, and it was a huge challenge for the engineers.
“The R18 e-tron quattro from 2013 was the most aggressive car – with the hybrid engine, wide tyres and narrow cockpit. It’s probably also the most extreme-looking car I’ve driven.
“But the most elegant is the Bentley from 2003. I’m sorry to go a bit away from Audi, but since we’re in England I can say that that was the most elegant – and it still had an Audi-built engine.”
Which was your most memorable win?
“The first one was special, of course: getting the drive so late with the Joest team, and it’s the foundation of the others.
“I also remember 1999, retiring when we had a four-lap lead with the BMW – that hurt me so much it helped with Audi. I didn’t have to worry with Audi because the reliability was so fantastic, but I was always so tense until the chequered flag.
“Of my Audi wins, 2001 stood out – it rained for 19 hours – as does 2008. Everybody thought Peugeot would smash us that year, but it rained in the night, and the will of Allan [McNish], Dindo [Rinaldo Capello], myself and the whole team to not give up, and push to find any seconds, make that win very rewarding.
“Then the 2013 race was tough mentally. We a lost a great guy that year in Allan Simonsen [the Danish driver was killed in a crash in his GT-class Aston Martin early in the race], and my dad also died that year. That win was very important for me to say ‘well, at least something went right that year’.”
Source: Autocar Online