In the June issue of Motor Sport we assembled a feature called ‘Lap of The Gods’ – it would appear we ran it too early. Had we waited a couple of months, we would have included Kamui Kobayashi’s extraordinary qualifying run from the 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours – a lap that not only secured the Toyota team pole position but also gasps of astonishment from the motor racing community. His 3min 14.791sec was two seconds quicker than the previous record (set by Neel Jani in 2015) and just dipped below the outright record set in 1985 Hans-Joachim Stuck’s 3min 14.800sec – when the circuit was in its previous guise. The layout Stuck monstered in 1985 had four fewer corners than today’s version, and considerably less run-off. If that statistic doesn’t curl your toes, then how about this: Kobayashi’s quali run was only 0.9sec slower than Pedro Rodriguez’s pole lap in 1971, when his Porsche 917 screamed a significant distance along the 3.7-mile Mulsanne straight at a (un)steady 224mph.
Fans, journalists and officials filled social media with praise for Kamui and Toyota. Even fellow racing drivers, for whom complimenting other drivers is best carried out through gritted teeth, were unanimous in their admiration. Alex Wurz was quick to point out that the Circuit de la Sarthe was “in its best ever shape”, with a “a tailwind on straight and a headwind in the Porsche Curves”, but nobody begrudged Kamui or Toyota their moment in the sun. Having made it to the drivers’ parade in the old town on the Friday, like most of those present I wanted to catch a glimpse of the man who delivered this extraordinary lap. Sure enough, a cheer erupted as Kamui came into view clutching the pole winner’s trophy. Kobayashi seemed humbled but justifiably proud – surprised even. “I thought I could do a 3min 16sec or maybe a 3min 15sec, but when I saw 3mim 14sec, I thought ‘wow’.” If you head to motorsportmagazine.com you can watch an onboard video of the lap. Like Kamui, you’ll say ‘wow’ – especially during his run through the Porsche Curves. It is one of the most acute demonstrations of the racing driver’s craft you’ll ever see.
Picture the scene. It’s the morning after the night before – breakfast at the Royal Automobile Club, Woodcote Park. Murray Walker rubs shoulders with David Richards, Freddie Hunt, Brian Redman and Motor Sport’s proprietor Edward Atkin. Nigel Mansell finishes his breakfast then walks over to have a chat with Tom Kristensen – and before long Nigel is entertaining Tom with a series of card tricks. It’s a slightly surreal scene that in many ways epitomises the Hall of Fame gathering – a night of stars, cars, good humour, great food and mild eccentricity. Well, what else would you expect from Motor Sport?
Having spent some time with Nigel during the awards evening, I was somewhat surprised to discover just how at peace he seems to be with himself. I don’t mean this disparagingly, but those who spent time with Nigel during his career often spoke of a surly, complicated man and a spiky interviewee. It was before my time – I was a young teen during his career and a huge Nigel fan. I made my own posters of him and various Williams cars, attended the ‘Tribute To Williams’ day at Brands Hatch in 1986 as a starstruck 12-year-old and, three years later, accompanied my dad on an unforgettable trip to Hockenheim to watch Nigel race for Ferrari. Such moments shape your personality…
I’ve met Nigel a couple of times during my apprentice years (pre-Motor Sport), but never have I met him in such fine shape. It is perhaps surprising, then, to find out that there’s a serious side to the magic tricks.
Mansell’s Le Mans challenge ended in the barriers in 2010. It was a big impact, one which despite having broken his back, neck, legs, arms, wrists and feet in previous accidents, left Mansell thinking he might finally be “finished”. The subsequent concussion seriously affected his memory, and for a while he was withdrawn and struggling to communicate. Learning magic, he claims, helped him realign his thinking, his mood – and ultimately his brain. Nigel performs his magic at events – often in aid of UK Youth, the charity over which he presides.
Backstage at the Hall of Fame, Nigel admitted that had he found magic during his youth he’d never have followed the path of a racing driver. I’ve no doubt that a few keyboard warriors will scoff at this, and indeed Nigel’s passion for this unconventional hobby, but that he has now spent the majority of his life committed to using his talents to help others – in whatever field – should be celebrated.
It’s a cheery cheerio to online editor Ed Foster this month. Ed has worked for Motor Sport for more than 10 years with considerable skill and passion, and leaves us to join the team at Goodwood. While our time together on the editorial team was short, I can honestly say that there are few people I’ve worked with who combine such a consuming love for our sport with a dedication to report on it in a manner that is in short supply these days. From all of us on the Motor Sport team, we’ll miss you Ed – and we wish you all the best at Goodwood.