14 days

News Flash


Scrutineering Bay

Not that it's any of my business

Notes from the Cellar

Across the Border

Focal Point







Mail  to a friend

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Family and friends


sportscarpros CottonBalls

Michael & Andrew Cotton


Top of Page

Monarch of the Glen

Not so many years ago, women were unwelcome at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, London, unless as a guest of a member…male of course…for functions in the ballroom. Well, men dancing with men was frowned upon in those days, and the august body had to bend the rules in order to present the Segrave Trophy to Amy Johnson in 1932 for her flight from England to Cape Town, and back, and four years later to Jean Batten for her solo flight from England to New Zealand.

  Scotland was well represented at the RAC in July when the Segrave Trophy was presented to Allan McNish for his outstanding contribution to motor sport. In fact the trophy is not just awarded for deeds on land, but “to those individuals who give the most outstanding demonstration of transport by land, air or water and in doing so show skill, courage and initiative – the spirit of adventure.”

  Sir Jackie Stewart was there to applaud McNish, and so was Duns garage owner Louise Aitken-Walker, MBE, world ladies rally champion in 1990. Other guests included Wing Commander Andy Green, world land speed record holder and the only man to have broken the sound barrier on earth (his next aim is to exceed 1,000 mph on land!), and, sitting next to me, Brian Milton, who flew a microlight around the world in 80 days, in 1998.

  Allan, a real pro in front of an audience, made a warm speech in praise of Sir Henry Segrave, who in his 33-year lifetime was a fighter pilot, a Grand Prix winner, and world speed record holder on both land and water. He was also the first man to exceed 200 mph, and was knighted in 1929 after firing his Golden Arrow up the Daytona Beach at 231.45 mph.

  Segrave’s luck ran out when his craft, Miss England II, went out of control and capsized on Lake Windermere in June 1930. Sir Henry apparently regained consciousness for a moment to be told by his wife that he had indeed broken the water record before passing away a few moments later.

  Allan has no ambitions at all to break records on land, sea or in the air, except in terms of race victories, but his career in sports cars puts him right at the top of the ladder of fame. Twice a Le Mans winner, four times winner of the Petit Le Mans, three times winner of the Sebring 12-Hours, three times American Le Mans Series champion, nine-times a winner in ALMS in 2007, eight-times a winner in ALMS in 2008, marks him clearly as the sports car driver of the 21st century.

  His first victory at Le Mans was in 1998, at the wheel of the Porsche GT1- 98. Allan arrived at the Porsche Sport Awards in November, joined by his mate David Brabham, expecting to lead Porsche’s sports car programme in 1999. Instead, they had a bombshell dropped in their laps, the announcement that Porsche would suspend their endurance programme for a year. “We will be back” said r&d director Horst Marchart, meaning with the V10 engined prototype that Allan, and Bob Wollek, tested in secret at Weissach. It never happened.

  Instead, Allan signed up with Toyota for a one-off bid to win the 24-Hours of Le Mans in the outrageously bodied GT-One, no more a Grand Touring car than a two-seater Grand Prix car. Thierry Boutsen crashed out, Ukyo Katayama was denied victory by a cut tyre on Sunday afternoon, so the race was won by the BMW V12 LMR.

  In third place was the Audi R8R run by Joest Racing on behalf of the factory, crewed by Emanuele Pirro, Frank Biela and Didier Theys, and it was to Audi Sport Team Joest that Allan went in 2000.  Straight away he established himself as the unofficial team leader, winning the American Le Mans Series at his first bid, including the PLM and five more events besides, with four pole positions and seven fastest laps, six of them at record speeds. His most memorable success, perhaps, was winning the Adelaide Race of 1,000 Years on New Year’s eve, in the crocodile liveried Audi R8.

  All the while he was Toyota’s Formula One test driver – it must have been a very lucrative time in his career! – but his elevation to the Japanese company’s Grand Prix team in 2002 ended with a terrifying crash in qualifying at Suzuka, from which he miraculously stepped out unhurt. It was not quite the end of Allan’s career in single-seaters, as he was appointed Renault’s F1 test driver in 2003, but his career in Audi sports cars was well and truly launched.

  Unhappily, Le Mans kept getting away. Emanuele Pirro,Tom Kristensen and Frank Biela notched up three consecutive Le Mans victories between 2000 and 2002, more in succeeding years, and just when it seemed that Allan was destined for victory in 2007, with TK and Dindo Capello, the left-rear wheel fell off the car on Sunday morning. Again, it was the old firm of Biela and Pirro that took the big trophy, with Marco Werner.

  Le Mans 2008 was one of the all-time classics as Allan, Dindo and TK slugged it out with the Peugeot 908 team throughout the 24-Hours. Peugeot had the faster car but were slightly under-prepared in two or three departments. The Audi number 1 crew had a perfect race, something that only happens once in a decade, with the average of all pit stops working out at a fraction below 60 seconds.

  I said goodbye to some friends at Le Mans in June 2008, after a 40-year span, grateful to have witnessed the greatest event since, well, Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver won in 1969, their Gulf Ford GT40 beating the Porsche 908 of Hans Herrmann and Gerard Larrousse by some 70 metres.

   My first Le Mans for Motoring News was in 1968, and the next three seasons produced some epic contests between Porsche and Ferrari, with their 5-litre cars, and their drivers became legendary. I include of course Pedro Rodriguez and Jacky Ickx (I would find it difficult to say who was the better of those two), Jo Siffert, Brian Redman, Vic Elford and Derek Bell. There were more, in fact, but these were the men who could find something from nothing, could achieve or retrieve a victory simply by being great sports car drivers, undaunted by rain or night mist at the Sarthe.

  My heroes, the drivers that really captured the hearts and minds of spectators, later included Hans Stuck and JJ Lehto, and that brings me to Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen in what we will regard as the Audi era in the 21st century. Allan may be five behind Tom in terms of Le Mans victories, but he has more than compensated for his disappointments in nine extremely productive seasons, on three continents.

  Recalling the citation showing “skill, courage and initiative – the spirit of adventure” the Royal Automobile Club could not have made a better choice than Allan McNish.