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Since SCP had been reprogrammed to be a monthly, if that, occasionally something newsworthy gets overlooked. Or ignored. Letís face it, 2009 has been a bringdown of a year for the most part; just not that many daily or weekly items worth following up on. The upcoming Petit Le Mans comes at the right time to shake things up. Peugeot sticking it to Audi, in a market that the French abandoned years ago, put Ingolstadt in a position where they had to show up. So they shall. McNish hasnít been doing much but has managed to stay in shape by working on his house and driving here and there. Right now he is at Sears Point doing his Audi corporate penance by showing off the R8 V10 for the assorted hacks and scribes. Marketing and PR should have included Dindo Capello who is actually racing a GT3 R8 in Italy. Now that would have been something, Dindo sideways in turn 11 with a journalist holding in his hospitality lunchÖ

The following piece was done for an Audi Club print publication and is worthy of posting here in the original text as originally published. The tone may be less acidic from my usual style but Nishy gets to the core of why he continues to push ahead. Hopefully Audi Sport will bring their ďAĒ game to Atlanta with a sorted out R15. They owe it to him and Dindo.
Kerry Morse
   August 2009

Allan McNish on the 2009 Twelve Hours of Sebring

The Audi R15, itís big win on the maiden voyage, the competition, the drivers, and the upcoming race in France.

Allan McNish is one of the sports great drivers with an impressive resume. A former factory driver for Toyota, Renault and Porsche, McNish was one of the mainstays of Audi Sport when the Ingolstadt steamroller debuted the R8 in the American Le Mans Series back in 2000. After a return stint in Formula One, McNish was back at Audi aboard the revolutionary R10 diesel and the new R15.
He continues to show what it takes to be a winner as well as a favorite among the fans.

Morse:
  With the exception of your time in F1, have you ever driven at such a consistent pace during your stints? Was the pace easier or more difficult due to smaller field and that traffic was less of an issue? That had to be a change in your closing speed on cars running in the other classes.

McNish:
  The last two or three years has been flat out driving from the beginning of our stint to the end.  The cars are now so reliable that you can drive it like a single seater in a sprint race. Reliability problems are few as long as you keep your nose clean in traffic.  But I look at Petit Le Mans in 07, Laguna 07, ALMS races last year, Silverstone or even when Le Mans, then it has been the case where you just give it your all. Sebring certainly was with the heightened intensity with Acura coming along. It brought more focus but the pace was maybe easier to keep at a high level because there was less traffic. However, because there was less traffic it was more difficult to fill a gap or gain an advantage but on the other side of that there was less pickup off line so you could overtake easier. I think in general it was nice to drive because there was many more clear laps, you were able to really gain.


Morse:  How much winter testing seat time did you have in the Audi R15 prior to Sebring, What were your initial impressions of the new car to both the R10 and the R8 from testing?


McNIsh: 
Most of the testing was done in Southern Europe as we normally do however it was pretty cold in Southern Europe and very wet at times, so everything we tried to do was interrupted by the weather. From that point of view it was a little bit of a new situation when we got to Sebring because of the heat and to be honest it was the first time we had gotten the tires up to a true working temperature. The initial impressions of the R15 were quite different to the R10 and the R8.  When I first got in to the R8 I have to say it didnít suit me at all and it took a wee bit of time for us to get the balance right and for me to feel at one with the car.  The R10 was very quick straight away and quite raw and it took some confidence to throw it around and get away with it.  The R15 for me was a very manageable car even on the first lap that I drove, I knew what it was going to do. The feedback from it was very good, the agility was very good, so I was very impressed and pleased with the fact that they had got a good racing car straight away.  And after that we had to work to see if it had the sheer outright lap performance we would need to try to win Le Mans again.


Morse:  Did your overall impressions change from the test once you got in the car under race conditions and had to deal with the Peugeot. Were you surprised by the initial speed of the Acura in qualifying and then only to see it fade so quickly in the race?

McNish: I think when you are testing and doing it in a very unaesthetic environment and you are going through a series of changes in programs and things like that and you are looking for direct, quantifiable results. There is only one competition and that is a lap time and the lap time is usually against the previous generation car. When we got to Sebring that was our first time we had a direct comparison with Peugeot and Acura. It was the first time we saw them live, it was the first time we knew what they were capable of doing and even then we knew it was going to be a tough battle, whichever way, just because of the way races usually are. I would say now coming out of the race, even after a win, we have just as long a list of things that we need to work on in comparison to what we had last year when we didnít have as good of a twelve hours of Sebring.  Itís a different list but certainly there is no better way to push your car forward better than racing.  I was a little bit surprised with the speed of the Acura in qualifying but when I stood with Dindo and watched the car going through I knew that Brabs and Dixon were extremely committed and with that level of commitment to get that lap time I knew they were going to struggle in the race.  Right now itís their first LMP1 season and we have been doing this since 2000 and Peugeot has been doing it for three years. So itís not a surprise in race one of Acura stepping up to LMP1, which is a different category completely than LMP2, there is no question about the competition being tougher. They didnít quite hit it spot on for the actual race. But you could see some of their performance straight away in testing. They were losing quite a lot in the corners and not so much in the straights, they definitely were not as quick as us or Peugeot. But thatís an area that they will gain quite quickly.

Morse:  It was an interesting role reversal from last season, Peugeot was fast as usual but not dominating and the R15 was quick from the start. Right from the start it was obvious that records would fall, not only because of fewer yellows.

McNish:  I feel that you can never stop development, never, ever, ever.  Thatís why the human race is where it is in everything. When you reduce performance all it means is that the designer and engineers will look in different areas to gain that performance back.  And thatís the same with the drivers, we drive in different ways to get that performance back. Its not that we drive faster or harder or anything, we just use the machinery slightly differently.  And a lot of people have forgotten about tire development. It is one of the big areas of performance, itís not just horsepower, itís tire development as well and in that side of things it is very clear that Michelin is an extremely good tire manufacturer, no question about it.  And every year we understand and develop a little bit more about the car and we make it better and we understand and develop a bit more about the engine and make it better. The same with the tires, drivers as well, we just mature into things and that just means the cars are going quicker and coupled with the competition is the fact that we had to give it everything. The driving standard was better than it has ever been before at Sebring and generally the records were falling very quickly.

Morse:  Were you surprised by Bourdais flyer of a lap in the Peugeot ? Under the circumstances it was unreal and almost as if to say ďHey, there is that race in France during June, we will be readyĒ.

McNish:  The radio message just came to me just out of turn 17 that Bourdais had turned that lap time. I was at a 44 at that time and that was as fast as I could go and I was on a clean lap. It was at the end of a stint and very low fuel, under those circumstances lap times are usually very quick. It just proves that they are very fast.

Morse:  We have become so jaded, long distance races used to be won with a lead of several laps, usually by miles. Now it comes down to a matter of seconds, let alone minutes.

McNish:  There are two things I think here, one that long distance races historically have been won by reliability and won by conservative driving.  Now the capability of the cars is such that you can drive them flat out in every way and they will finish the race. So now itís down to performance and that is driver, team and car performance.  And with the manufacturers that are involved from the last few years, itís very clear that none of them want to lose. It is one of the great things in motor racing history. They know how to be successful and that just pushes the development forward and pushes people to the limits that theyíve never done before.

Morse:  With the limited schedule and other than your sponsorship duties, what are you doing to keep sharp and in shape. As you said, a two race canoe, Sebring and Le Mans.

McNish:  Prior to Le Mans, I actually donít have very much of a different schedule than any other year. There is normally two races in between Sebring and Le Mans and so that is effectively two race weekends that I am missing so that is about seven days in total for the first six months of the year. However racing is what itís about and you have to stay very sharp. I think it will probably be more critical leading into 2010 than necessarily prior to Le Mans 2009. But there is a lot of time to go between now and then. We still have the big race at Le Mans coming up for this year. Certainly training and focus and all the testing will keep us as sharp as we can be.

Morse:  One of the most interesting aspects is that you, TK and Dindo were on top of the time sheets most of the time above the #1 squad with the two ďyoutsĒ. Both Rocky and Luhr have the talent and also the benefit of Audi Sport seat time. What keep you old guys going? TK is TK, Dindo may be driving better now than at any other time and you just keep going for it.

McNish:  I think you are right, you are fast or your not, you are clever in traffic or youíre not, you are able to conserve your energy or you are not, youíre fit or youíre not. I think I am driving with two of the best guys, not just of this era but of any era in sports cars, and both of them are very fit and both of them are very aggressive and both of them want to win. Both of them have a similar driving style to myself and weíve come up against a lot of other opposition. Certainly there is obviously a push through of the Audi youth brigade for the future and that is entirely 100 percent correct. But we know how to win, we like to win, we donít want to lose and I think you could see that motivation at any point in any one of our driving stints through Sebring. We donít want to finish second.

Morse:  Have you driven the GT3 version of the R8?

McNish:  I have not driven the GT3 version of the R8 yet and thatís not to say that I will. Dindo is racing one in the Italian GT Series.

Morse:  Thanks for all this and good luck at Le Mans. Maybe we can do part two on how you won the upcoming les 24 heures.

McNish:  I will look forward to that.


                                                                        Kerry Morse
                                                                         April now August 2009




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