Friday, 14 January 2011

Last night's dinner

With thanks to Martyn Pass at Audi UK for providing the venue and the opportunity, Allan McNish hosted an informal dinner last night, and talked on a wide range of subjects. Chipper as ever, and exuding the knowledge and confidence that goes with his experience, here is a selection of quotes from the evening.

On Le Mans: “I never said I liked it. It’s a love-hate thing. After we went out in 2007 I felt like a never ever wanted to go back to the place. But that feeling is short, it doesn’t last long.”

“The track is good. But it's more than that. It’s interesting because it is constantly evolving, it like a living thing. There was one year when a tree root was growing up into the track between Mulsanne and Indianapolis, making a massive bump, and they shaved it off, flattened it out between Wednesday night and Thursday qualifying.”

“And there is always change on safety grounds; there has to be: moving kerbs, resurfacing, etc.”

“The history and character of Le Mans is a big part of it. It’s a race that you only get one chance a year to win, so yes, it is hard when you don’t get the breaks.”

“At Le Mans in 1997 there were three Portuguese drivers racing for Roock Racing [Roock was the team that Allan was driving for that year and the Portuguese team consisted of Manuel, Tomaz and Pedro Mello-Bryner - PT]. They came third in GT2 and at the end they were all crying in the garage because they were so happy with the result. Before that, I had always been totally focussed on winning, coming third would have meant nothing to me, but it made me realise about the culture of Le Mans; what it is all about, and how important it is as an event.”

Le Mans 2010: “That was strange, because when Tom [Kristensen] had the problem with Andy [Priaulx, who inadvertently made contact with the Audi when driving slowly back to the pits], I wasn’t thinking: ‘that’s the race win gone’, I was thinking ‘that’s fourth place gone’. I honestly thought that the best we could hope for was fourth place. I thought we could beat one of the Peugeots; that was our best realistic chance. So I wasn’t so disappointed when that happened. Up till then at Le Mans, I was always in a position to win - I would either be on the podium or be out of the race. We weren’t used to struggling for pace. I don’t want to be in that position again.”

Gentleman drivers: “They’re not a problem at Le Mans, it’s worse at Sebring and at Petit [Road Atlanta]. It’s good that the ACO are prohibiting Gentleman drivers from LMP1 cars though. You need to be aware of what’s going on around you all the time.”

“The biggest problem at Le Mans is the number of people in the pitlane. And for a lot of them, it is their first time there. Or at best, they only go once a year.”

On new regulations: “The new engines aren’t very powerful. Racing drivers always want more power. I don’t know how much bhp we’ve got, but it’s not enough. We’ll get used to it right enough, but it will be a different driving experience. We'll have to see how the car behaves.

“I drove the new car (the R18) in November, but we will use the R15+ at Sebring, and then the R18 will have its debut at Spa, with three cars there and at Le Mans.” [Interestingly, this might prevent the ACO from applying any balance of performance after Spa.]

On closed cars: “You obviously can’t see as much, because of the pillars and things, but don’t forget I drove the Toyota GT-One at Le Mans as well, and that had to comply with road car regulations, so had bigger windscreen, wider A pillars and suchlike. The biggest difference is the wind noise, which disappears, and you can hear the engine noise, because it kinda reverberates around the cockpit.”

On hybrid technology: “At Petit, I was coming up on the inside of the Hybrid Porsche, and I couldn’t believe the acceleration it had. Amazing!”


  1. Great stuff. Thanks for transcribing the comments!

  2. fantastic. 1997 though, Roock

  3. Sorry - anon... absolutely right. McNish said 1997, I thought 1997, but wrote 2007. Must have been the hangover.

    Thanks for the clarification though.

  4. Nice interview Paul.

    Just a question on the "Balance of Perfomance" comment - could the ACO not make changes following Spa with a promise to review the changes after Wednesday practice at Le Mans.

    I know it is a little late to make changes but I seem to recall a change in rules that meant the Ferrari 430 runners were fabricating strips of body work to ensure the rear tires could not be seen from the back of the car (or something similar) a couple of years back at Le Mans.

    Love your insights Paul, here on your blog at and on Radio Le Mans

  5. Thanks, Dan – I should just say that I wouldn’t call this an ‘interview’; it’s more my recollections the morning after a good night out. It’s worth mentioning that I’ve ‘known’ Allan since he was 17, and he’s always been extremely open and frank. Of course he knew that anything he said might appear in print, so wasn’t about to spill any beans (bad pun). And at least one story was prefaced by: “Don’t any of you write this, but…”

    Anyway, regarding the Ferrari bodywork modifications: you’re right, they were taking place after scrutineering at Le Mans, but not as a result of a change in regulation. Rather, it was due to (possibly over-zealous) ACO officials deciding that the bodywork of the cars did not conform to the regulations (to which they had been running all year).

    The trouble is that this year, the ACO has written into its regulations that it will assess performance after the first two rounds, and adjust one of three parameters if it feels that a car has an advantage of more than 2%. The three parameters are: weight, fuel capacity or air restrictor. When this came up in discussion with McNish, he was clearly against any kind of change, since they (Audi) would not have the opportunity to properly test with the new configuration. It is clear that the technology of modern-day LMP1 racing is somewhat ahead of say BTCC or FIA GT1, where ‘success ballast’ is simply part of the game.

    However, (and this is a big however), it should be noted that the regulations seem pretty clear (to me, but the 2009 regulations on front bodywork seemed pretty clear to me and Peugeot and Audi still managed to argue about it). The Balance of Performance clause in the regulations (art. 1.3 of the ‘Regles Sportives’) says that the possibility to ‘adapt the performance’ is being kept open in order to ensure parity of the different technologies (i.e diesel, petrol, forced induction, etc.) Second, any adjustments will be applied to the slower technologies. In other words, this is about giving breaks to petrol powered cars rather than handicapping Audi because the R18 is quicker than the Peugeot 90X. (Unless the 90X surprises everybody and employs some kind of hybrid power.)

    I might do a separate post about this…