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McNish and Capello: Goodbye Baby and Amen!

Audi Sport is off to a good start this season despite the disappointment at not capturing another overall win at Sebring. Luhr and Werner have picked up the pace after it was announced that Allan McNish and Dindo Capello would be contesting the Le Mans Series and in effect, Sebring was the pairing’s farewell to racing in the U.S. That, of course, led to this conversation over coffee the morning after the 12 hours.

KM: Give me each your separate recollections as far as being teammates, of racing over here or things you absolutely detest.

The things that I really enjoyed about it was that here you have the same groups and organizations throughout the whole year, year after year, for example the pit lane marshals, the same guys, the safety workers, the same guys and you build up a bond, and an understanding and they know when something is right or wrong as well as you do but there is a personal relationship and in Europe we don’t have that relationship. You go to each different circuit and it’s a new group of marshals a new group of safety people, it’s a new pitlane person, there is no understanding there at all, there is no smile there.

KM: What, no euro version of Marty Kaufman and Dick Martin, the original IMSA Sunshine Boys? They are going to be thrilled hearing this.

McNish: Sure they will, they penalized Dindo yesterday, which was great by the way, but we don’t always agree with their decisions but at least by the end of the day we know that the next week we can go and say to them why did you do that? Or we didn’t agree with that and they will give the reasons behind the call and in Europe you get penalized and then you don’t see the guy for two and a half years. And I think that is something that we in Europe need to bring across as far as officiating.

KM: Dindo, wasn’t Sebring your first race over here?

Yes, OK… Sebring at night time because if I remember that was my first race in the R8R and I was together with Michele Alboreto and Stefan Johansson which for me, as Italian, you know was very big.

Ah, the Ferrari connection.

Capello:  Yes, when I was a kid they at the time I was dreaming to be like them and suddenly, 20 years later, I was racing together with them in the same crowd, that was something strange. Sometimes I think about that because I remember the first time I met Michele the first I was 17 and I was only racing locally and 20 years later I was in the same car with him racing the Sebring 12 hour and that was something that you know……….something in our sport.  I don’t know if there are other sports where a young fan can join 20 years later. I think that our sport is the only one where you can do that because football, when you are 15 and they are 30, 15 many are already retired.

McNish: I had a similar thing, because when I was at school. Then years later…

KM: I think most have a similar experience but not many happen the way Dindo’s did. Usually it’s in the arts, playing music or acting. Racing beats the crap out of you over the years.

At this point Dindo and Nishy look at one another and smile and then look at me. Time to change the batter… and ask for more coffee.

McNish: One thing, something that will never happen in Europe and I know it won’t, was after Salt Lake City last year. Emanuele, Dindo, Frank, Martin and I had new Harley Davidson’s and we rode along to Portland just cruising over three days between races and that was such a brilliant trip and it was relaxing.  There was no phones, no internet access, nothing.
Now after the first LMS race in Barcelona there is a short flight straight back to Nice and then home. We will miss that social element of being in America.

KM: The myth aspect of the American west only you weren’t on horses, you were on Harley’s. Get your motor runnin’…

McNish:  Well we had a few horses with the Harley’s. There is a certain element from a European perspective coming across the Atlantic……more than just a business trip, you do have a slightly holiday atmosphere, which was nice, with a bit of business coming on but there is an element of knowing you are somewhere else, a big country.

Capello: I think there was a release from coming from Europe. Because when you are in Europe, you know you are a one hour flight from home and then you even lose interest because Barcelona for example is a great city but I never thought to stay there one day longer because you know in one hour you are home but here it, I think the long distance from home, it makes our, how do you say?..... our stay…..here a little looser than racing near home.

So is that why you are staying one day longer here in Sebring?

Capello: Allan is, I am going to Miami with Tom.

McNish: Wal-Mart… you know we are had some mega races. It’s difficult actually to say because there is a list of about 10 or 15 straight away off the top of your head that were really good ones. I think from a personal point of view, Sears Point is obviously one that comes up because it was our first season together in 2000 and we had a bit of a scrappy start for the year and we should have won in Sebring. We had problems in Charlotte and I threw the car off in Nurburgring and then we get to Sears and that was the start of the roll.

KM: Any time you can lap the entire field I would say you are doing OK.

McNish: Yes, but at that point in the season we were in a position where we could only lose, so why not? Then we went on to Mosport………..

KM: Wrong direction, you went upstate in a westerly direction after Sears Point.

McNish: Oh sorry, Portland…….

KM: That was the one where you started first Dindo and had an incident in the first few minutes with a 911. Then you and Nishy had to fight back and won!

Capello: Yes, OK and at the time to be honest I was still learning because for me I was really new at Sebring in 1999 and then the rest of 2000 was my real season here.

KM:  All new material. (Laughs)

Capello: Yes and the new racetracks and I have to say, not because he is sitting here, but Allan helped me quite a lot because it really sped up my learning back then.

KM: Well, you’ve learned to hit fewer people over the seasons. But you like to run over lizards.

Capello: Ha!  (laughing)…….this was a completely new way of racing not only for me but for Emanuele and for Frankie as well. To go from touring cars, single seaters, it was something……cars much faster, racetracks where we never raced before, it was difficult for me to understand, when you were lapping a car that they didn’t give you room but they were fighting like they were fighting for a position in their own class and that is something that was a little different.

McNish: (laughing)

Capello:  But to have Allan as a teammate, I think he really sped up my learning curve and I think 2001 and 2002 I start to show some very good performances. I had to learn about the speed, I was very fast in one lap but I was not as consistent as I got one or two years later……..

KM: You were learning patience…..

Capello: Yes, then when I joined Bentley in 2003, I had experience and knew racing strategy.

McNish:  Yes, well patience was one thing but in Portland to be in pole position Dindo actually just proved it because the car was a dog through the sessions beforehand. He had two laps on the tires before they dropped off too much and Dindo qualified and stuck on pole by a few tenths or something on the second lap, which I thought was a pretty impressive thing. We sit down now and go over the car. There is a sensitivity that I’ve got to the car and that he’s got and sometimes he’ll bring up a point that I’ve never actually thought of and then follow down that route and it gained us some pretty good technical developments.

KM: Unfortunately yesterday’s car was not one of them……..

McNish: (laughing) Well, when it was set up and running it was fine, it was just when the suspension thing happened.

KM: Do you guys ever get a gut feeling when you get in a car and you just go…..maybe you haven’t’ even gone, but you say this just isn’t going to work today?

McNish: I am very much of the opinion that when a car drives out of the garage, the first time it ever drives, you know whether it’s right or not and if it’s poor and a pig it will always be a pig and people will always try to redevelop it.

Capello: Talking about that and I don’t know if you agree but the best feeling to me was in Houston and at Lime Rock, was because in those two races we were really struggling in practice and qualifying…..the car was okay but we had no speed and then in the race after two laps we really understood that we could fight for victory.

KM: It’s interesting that you bring up Houston because it is a mickey mouse circuit in the middle of a parking lot but I am actually going to miss it and I am sorry that it was cut……I remember by the third lap in the race, just like Laguna last year, you two were going to win this race and that’s what I meant by the gut, where you just go for it.

McNish: I have to be honest, after qualifying I thought we could be clever in traffic and everything else but when it was there, when I saw Dindo catching up after the initial speed of the Porsches after I thought maybe we had a chance.

KM: Were you surprised at the speed and how good the Peugeot was on the bumpy parts of the track? You have your work cut out for the LMS.

Capello: They will be very fast all this year.

McNish: I want to take it to them the best we can.

Kerry Morse, April 2008

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sportscarpros Not that it's any of my business

Features and pieces by Kerry Morse