“For me, driving on the M4 is more dangerous than driving at Le Mans,” said Allan McNish as the constant stream of headlights lit up the motorway outside the quaffro rooms’ giant windows. He and Tom Kristensen, friends and team-mates with 10 Le Mans wins between them, had joined us at Audi’s flagship West London dealership to meet readers of Motor Sport and join them for a special viewing of Truth in 24, the brilliant film that documents their victory at the 24 Hours in 2008. And as usual, the pair spoke with eloquence and authority about their favourite subject.
It was a Saturday evening in October and the pair had just returned from what had been a disastrous Petit Le Mans for Audi. But Motor Sport’s latest ‘reader event’, run in association with Audi UK, offered an occasion to reflect on happier days.
McNish and Kristensen are used to the limelight, but on this occasion they were overshadowed by the guys who make them look good! British engineers Howden ‘H’ Haynes and Leena Gade joined the drivers on stage for the post-film forum. ‘H’ steals the show in the final 20 minutes of Truth in 24 as he makes a vital strategy call from the pit-wall, overruling Kristensen on tyre choice the killer blow that allows the Audi crew to beat the faster Peugeot.
As Kristensen, McNish and Dindo Capello celebrate victory with the rest of the team, the camera follows ‘H’ through to the back of the garage, where he draws on a cigarette, checks his phone and sits alone on a pile of tyres. It’s a beautifully underplayed climax to a great fly-on-the-wall film.
The knowledgeable Motor Sportaudience showed their appreciation as the credits rolled, then sat back and listened to the stories behind the movie. “There was only one point when I remember the camera crew being there at the track,” said McNish, who admitted he had no idea how well the film would turn out. “In reality it just showed all the human interaction that goes on, that we take for granted in a race team. It’s the critical part of our work by which we win and lose races.”
The audience also enjoyed the chance to get up close to a fantastic collection of Audi Le Mans cars. There was the R8C coupe from 1999, an example of the five-time Le Mans-winning R8, the R10 turbo-diesel which won the race in 2008, an R15 and finally this year’s race winner, the R18 which Gade engineered to another backs-to-the-wall victory last June.
The R18 was in eye-view of the stage and prompted McNish’s M4 observation when discussing his horror smash at the Dunlop Esses this year. But team-mate Mike Rockenfeller’s huge accident during the night was even bigger. Kristensen had been confident McNish would be fine as he witnessed that first shunt, but he wasn’t so sure about ‘Rocky’: “That one I thought the worst, yes.”
“I think it was 10 minutes before we heard anything about what had happened,” said Gade. “Our car, driven by Andre Lofferer, had come across the accident about 20 seconds after it happened and all we got back on the radio was how serious it was. He didn’t recognise it as one of our cars…”
Following more questions from the audience, our guests chaffed with readers and signed autographs. Then it was time for goodie bags which included a great model of the R18 before we all made our exit, melting back into the stream of headlights on the M4. For all, it had been a memorable night.