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!”