Les Parapluies du Mans
Did it really, finally happen? Allan McNish was able to get to the top step of
the podium at Le Mans in his sophomore outing but since 1998, Nishy at La
Sarthe has taken on all the aspects of a Kurosawa film. The season so far
has had all the elements of a production gone wrong. Even the unflappable
Dindo Capello has wondered what it was all about. The Dane, his majesty
Tom Kristensen, in between his seven crowns, DTM and the constant
schedule of the man with the records, there was also the question of the Audi
R10 being able to keep pace with le lion of Peugeot. There has been little
secret that the Lord of the Rings best hope for the year lay in their state of
the art knowledge of what it takes to win les 24 heures. In heads up in the
previous rounds of the LMS against the lion Audi has proved to be a tamer
without a whip. Out of the cage and roaming free, taming the lions would
require a monumental effort from the boys from Ingolstadt.
Even the insiders expected the R10 to be closer to the 908 at La Sarthe,
however, the cheetah like run of the lion in qualifying was somewhat of a
surprise. No, it was simply shocking. Surely all three Peugeots couldnít
maintain a pace consistently with such a wide gap. So, for the first time since
1999, Audi came in as the underdog. Sweet Polly Purebread.
I wanted to be there, as baby C pointed out, historically the years of 8 and 9
have produced some of the greatest runs. My initial excursion to La Sarthe
came in 1978 and I still recall the drama between Porsche and Renault, a
great race is forever. The start of this yearís round the houses (Maison
Blanche) recalled a furious scrap from 1999 when Schneiderís Mercedes CLK
went right after the Toyota GT-Oneís of Martin Brundle and Thierry Boutsen. A
certain Mr. McNish was part of the Toyota armada back then and his major
protagonist during part of the race was a Mr. Tom Kristensen aboard a BMW
LMR. Thatís another story for another time.
Nishy wanted to send a message to Peugeot that Audi was in the game and
pulled a neat inside out move on Nicís lioncat and briefly got in to third until
the sheer grunt of the 908 dispatched the R10 on Mulsanne and the train of
Peugeots motored on for that all important first completed lap. The wee Scot
wasnít going to go away and pulled a stint that went on for what seemed like
a couple of days. Audi pitwork was game on and more polished than the
Unlike Nishy I wasnít going anywhere at all. A bunch of stitches made a
journey from the kitchen to the couch an adventure, that and milkshakes
made with rum, a good way to watch the coverage on the box. There was no
question that the best hope of Ingolstadt was in the trio piloting the #2 R10.
No disrespect intended for #1 and # 3 and there is little doubt that Luhr has
the fire, this just isnít his moment. The combination of the experience
between TK, Dindo and McNish was the class of the field and may rate as
one of the best ever on balance. The images of Tom Kristensen waiting in the
garage for his stint, quiet but focused, like a pool shark watching a game.
When it is his turn, out comes the custom made cue and he proceeds to run
the table. There was no rah-rah, cheerleading, simply three men who when
the time came, went to work.
Dindo Capello drove fast, steady, stayed out of trouble and put the demons of
the current LMS season behind him. After the experience of leading handily
last year only to be robbed by a loose wheel nut and a harrowing crash, you
couldnít blame Dindo if he backed off a bit. But that style isnít in his playbook
and he complimented brilliantly between Nishy and TK.
There are those who will claim that Audi won because of the change in the
weather. Nice try, Audi won because they were the better prepared team and
knew how to make disadvantages work to their advantage. Unlike Peugeot,
Ullrich and company were able to improvise when needed and still pull it off
as if it was scripted.
Can there be any doubt to just how skilled Tom Kristensen is in the rain. TK
was the hunter in the heart of darkness and he effectively cornered the lion.
As dawn broke, the drama continued as only it can during Le Mans but the
aura around the #2 R10 just gave off the vibe that it was their race. The
normally unflappable Dr. Ullrich showed the rare emotion as he knew that his
team finally had real competition and this race was only matched in
importance to that initial overall win in 2000.
However, the podium moment belonged to Allan McNish. He drove a race
fueled by passion and each lap was a mission statement. After the
disappointments since winning ten years ago, he has learned that nothing is
certain and he takes very little for granted. From that move he made on that
first lap some 24 hours earlier, McNish made the race his own.
Kerry Morse, June 2008