The recent LMP1 last hurrah for Audi Sport this past weekend at the 12 Hours of Sebring could have been historic for a certain Dumfries native, as 2-time Le Mans winner Allan McNish looked to kick off his racing season with the R18 e-tron Quattro in the right way. However, the usual back markers caused trouble for the endurance veteran, who was partnered with “Mr. Le Mans,” Tom Kristensen and former F1 driver Lucas di Grassi, as a fifth victory at the track was scuppered, but still saw Ingolstadt go out in a blaze of glory, with Oliver Jarvis, Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer picking up the win.
The competitive nature of the high-paced race shows that even as a racer of such high calibre are held in such esteem, as McNish’s trademark speed behind the wheel is highly-rated & well-documented, especially when he started for the #2 car, when Audi Sport made a clean sweep at the 2012 24 Heures du Mans. It was the end of an era, as Dindo Capello, who last year, officially announced his retirement from international endurance racing, stood for the very last time with Tom and Allan.
The Scottish driver took time from his busy schedule at the Autosport International Show earlier this year to talk to us exclusively at TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk about his feelings on the matter, as well as looking forward towards the future, with Dindo always being a good friend: “It’s not as emotional as you would think, as we were concentrating on doing our job, as well as making sure we did that to the best of our ability. Afterwards, it was definitely emotional not having Dindo around. But he is still around, as I speak to him roughly once a week, and he only lives a couple of hours down the road. So it’s not like he’s out of the picture completely, it’s just that he’s not going to be with us at Le Mans.
It will be different when we get to Le Mans this year, because it will be the realization that he obviously won’t be there, which will end up being a bit of weird experience.”
With Dindo leaving a void that cannot be filled, Allan said that ‘replacing’ the charismatic Italian was not the best way of asking just who would be the third driver taking part in the #2 entry this year, which was recently announced as Frenchman Loic Duval, who competed for Team Joest for 2 races during the 2012 WEC season. The 30 year-old has competed in Formula Nippon and Super GT, and will find the environment with Tom and Allan relatively comfortable, and will be able to bring his own dynamism to the team, as the partnership between the trio looks set to flourish, as the 6 Hours of Silverstone in April draws ever nearer.
It was a difficult season for Allan in the WEC last season, as having to swap between the R18 Ultra and the e-tron Quattro throughout the season meant less continuity for a full-pronged attack, but Tom and Allan finished 2nd overall, finishing with 159 points overall, behind the sister car, which ticked all the boxes for Audi. Toyota, however, gave Ingolstadt notice of what is to come in 2013, and that it won;t be easy. McNish said it all started really well, followed by frustration, but still left motivation for carrying on in the sport: “Certainly, on our car, we started off in Sebring and had a victory there, which was my fourth there and a fantastic way to start the World Endurance Championship. It was tougher than what it would normally be, when you have a consistent car, engineering crew and set up, but it was a frustrating year in a lot of ways from our car’s point of view, for Tom and I.
“But that is part of the reason why we are here, why we are in motorsport, to compete, as well as enjoy the successes when we have them as well. I certainly don’t intend to finish behind them.”
There is still a lot of work to do in preparation for the 2014 season for Audi Sport, as the ACO have brought in further changes to the regulations for endurance racing, that will, as Allan discussed with us, place an even bigger emphasis on efficiency, especially with the ACO concentrating its efforts since the beginning of 2003: “There’s aerodynamics, as we have been working hard to get our aero efficiency better, which means less drag for the same downforce levels, which is key to Le Mans.
“It is about so many different things, not just the drivetrain, but also weight-related too, but mainly about how everything on the car interacts, with 2014 being the next extension of it. I think that the general push and idea from the ACO has been forward-thinking, significantly ahead of the other categories in motorsport, because I would say that they have created the interest for the manufacturers to come up with solutions for problems they will have, as well as on the roads, but allow them to develop and race the technology.”
Audi clearly has been the catalyst spearheading the tidal wave of efficiency in motorsport, first with the TFSi direct injection petrol engine in 2000, followed by the TDi engines of 2006 changing the game once again, before the e-tron Quattro once again showed a new dynamic to the way that the WEC will continue to evolve in the future. Ingolstadt has a different philosophy to Toyota, Allan explained, as well as it being unclear as to what Porsche will bring to the table, as the Weissach outfit was the team that helped him achieve his first Le Mans 24 Hours win in 1999. He said that they will be bringing a strong and fast car to the party, and will look to challenge for race wins.
But Ingolstadt will make sure they are able to fight hard when the time comes: “That side will make sure that we have the appropriate tools to play the game, but as a general principle, I think that whole concept of trying to do more with less is not anything new, as it’s something motorsport has been doing for a very long time, especially from Audi’s sportscar racing since the R8 at the beginning in 2000, that’s been one of the ethos: ‘The more you’re on the track, the less you’re in the pits.'”
The fast nature of motorsport can bite back hard, especially when the high speed accident involving Anthony Davidson at the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans this year stopped him from carrying out his duties as expert analyst for Sky Sports F1 HD, so Allan got the call to fill in. His wealth of knowledge and experience in the world of Formula One has helped shape his career, and told us about his thoughts about being on the media side of the fence: “The people don’t change, so to an extent, it was a “busman’s holiday,” and you’re just there in a different environment.
Honestly, talking and doing commentary was a bit like sitting at home, because when you’re at home, you’re sitting there, commentating on what’s going on, as you don’t necessarily find yourself saying it to a couple of million people, but it was definitely a “busman’s holiday” in a way, but I honestly enjoyed it. The group at Sky are pretty dynamic, and in some ways, they are pushing the boundaries of technology themselves, in the way they are trying to do things and what they are trying to create, like the Sky Pad for example.”
Allan will continue to provide his expert analysis on F1 in a part-time schedule for BBC Radio 5 Live this season, alongside James Allen and Jennie Gow, but he isn’t planning on hanging up his racing helmet just yet, as the racing is still a predominant force within his career, so watch out for what surprises might be in store for those racing fans that make the trip to Northamptonshire this April, to see Allan McNish put his foot to the floor, as the excitement builds towards the battle between Audi Sport and Toyota this year in the WEC. You can be sure Allan will give it his all, and give no quarter on track…