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2013-06-14 09:01

AUDI AT LE MANS: Its e-tron machines qualified 1-2-3 for the 2013 race - and we talk to driver Allan McNish. Image: Audi


LONDON, England - Howling down the long dark Mulsanne Straight at 330km/h, car squirming on soaked asphalt and  headlights reflecting off a wall of spray, is no place for the faint-hearted.

Scot Allan McNish, 43 and a double Le Mans 24 Hours winner and a strong 2013 contender in the No.2 Audi when the sports car classic celebrates its 90th anniversary over June 22/23 2013 is more of a braveheart. The car qualified third, behind two other Audi e-tron machines.

The ex-Formula 1 driver whose former Toyota F1 team mates are Audi's big rivals, walked away from a spectacular crash at France's Circuit de la Sarthe in 2011 but has no hesitation in coming back for more.


"If there's something lurking in the back of your mind you stop racing - you do something else, get a desk job. It's that simple," he told Reuters from his Monaco home. "If your instinct says you don't want to drive down a circuit at an average speed of 240km/h the middle of the night then you don't do it.

"My instinct says that there's another Le Mans race victory that's up for grabs and a World championship at the end of the year and that's what I'm focusing on."

McNish will partner Denmark's eight-times Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen and Frenchman Loic Duval in a factory Audi R18 E-Tron quattro. The car wase fastest in eight hours of testing.

Audi has won Le Mans 11 times in 13 years but McNish's most recent victory was with Kristensen and now-retired Italian Rinaldo 'Dindo' Capello in 2008. The Scot was second in 2013 despite hitting a barrier three hours from the end. In 2011, he walked away from a huge impact after contact with a much slower Ferrari in the first hour sent his Audi flying into the barrier, where it disintegrated.

Toyota is again the Audis' main threat with its hybrid car and McNish expected them to be in contention all the way after making a strong return in 2012 after a 13-year absence.


"I don't think we necessarily saw their pure performance at the races so far this year and certainly we didn't see it at the (test) weekend," he said. "I'd say we must keep an eye on the upper end of the pits lane to see what those characters are up to. I know the people there... I know the team and I hope they all have a fantastic race - and finish a very fine third or fourth behind the Audis.

"There's no question they will be good, they will be taking the fight to us."

Lapping slower cars is an occupational hazard at Le Mans, where sleek LMP1 prototypes mingle with regular sports cars and fatigue can dull reactions. McNish is hoping for a dry 2013 race.

"Le Mans isn't physically demanding because you've got such long straights," he said, "but when you're going down the Mulsanne at 330km/h and the car's aquaplaning underneath you... you do tense up on the steering-wheel, you are naturally on the edge of your wits.

"A wet race, and just driving generally in the wet around there, is significantly mentally and physically more tiring than in the dry. I prefer a dry race because I think we're in pretty good shape in the dry. In the wet you can't control whether the guy spins in front of you."


With qualifying scheduled for next Thursday (June 20), McNish's immediate priority is to stock up on rest. He stays at home, preparing for a weekend when sleep is sporadic at best.

"I am very fortunate, I can sleep anywhere any time," said McNish, "But it's very easy to get caught up in the race. This is Le Mans. As a driver at my first time in it, as soon as I got out of the car I wanted to know what was happening, I was watching the data, I was looking at the lap times, I was living it as if I was still driving the car.

"So, physically, I wasn't driving... mentally I was. And it was absolutely exhausting. With experience, you realise you can't do that. So you do tend to have your switch-off point and you can get away from it and try to conserve a bit of energy."

Audi will have four containers right behind the pits for the drivers to sleep and shower; doctors, physios and dieticians will be on call. That much is under control. The rest can be in the lap of the gods.

"Motor-racing is always risk and reward," said McNish. "There's always the chance that it can go wrong with a technical failure or an accident. It's like a grand prix season - but all in one day."

Qualifying result for the 2013 Le Mans 24 Hour
1 Fassler/Lotterer/Treluyer (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) 1min59.961
2 Gene/Grassi/Jarvis (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) 2m 00.236s
3 Duval/Kristensen/McNish (Audi R18 e-tron quattro) 2min00.610
4 Lapierre/Nakajima/Wurz (Toyota) 2min00.947
5 Buemi/Davidson/Sarrazin (Toyota) 2min01.203
6 Heidfeld/Jani/Prost (Lola-Toyota) 2min01.482
7 Beche/Belicchi/Cheng (Lola-Toyota) 2min03.278
8 Kane/Leventis/Watts (HPD-Honda) 2min03.688
9 Kaffer/Perez Companc/Minassian (Oreca-Nissan) 2min08.540
10 Dolan/Luhr/Turvey (Zytek-Nissan) 2min08.762

Read more on:    toyota  |  audi  |  france  |  le mans

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