His marshaling efforts may have been a little half-hearted, but the Audi ace excels in his role as Scottish motor racing president
Here’s a novel experience at a club meeting. I find myself stationed at a marshals’ post at Knockhill, in conversation with one of the orange-clad volunteers – who also happens to be a two-time Le Mans winner. As it turns out, Allan McNish should stick to driving.
At the end of the day, the post chief submits his report for the meeting and his remarks about the new recruit are far from complimentary.
“McNish didn’t stay on the post for the full day,” the report states, “and continually distracted other marshals by talking during the racing. He used a mobile communication device while the track was live and I got the impression that the gloves were worn to keep his hands warm. May be better spectating in the future.” Oh dear. Where’s the dedication, Mr McNish?
Allan was at Knockhill visiting as many people as possible as part of his role as president of the Scottish Motor Racing Club (SMRC). He’d taken this group of marshals, all of whom he counts as friends, down to Silverstone for the six-hour race in September and was determined to get out onto the track to say hello. But after his less-than-auspicious cameo on the marshals’ post, we are whisked back to the windswept paddock. Only after Allan has grudgingly handed the gloves back, of course.
As soon as we’re out of the course car it’s a short march up to the Legends paddock where he tracks down driver ‘number 30’. “Hi, I’m Allan,” he says. It seems the introduction is superfluous as ‘number 30’ looks as though she’s about to keel over. During her race the driver was locking up under braking and trying to turn in at the same time, and Allan is soon explaining why that won’t work, especially in the wet. The dumbstruck Legends driver no doubt went better in the second race.
When Allan asked me to Knockhill to see what the SMRC is up to and find out more about his role as president, I didn’t expect him to be handing out advice to individual drivers. “It’s a funny thing advising young drivers,” he says as we’re battling through traffic on the way back to Edinburgh airport. “They might take in 10 per cent, but if that’s the case then they’ve still taken in 10 per cent more than if you hadn’t sat down with them. It only takes a little bit of time. It’s all about time at the end of the day, and it was time that I was lucky enough to get from others. You’ve got to put something back into the pot otherwise it runs out.”
Allan was asked to be president of the SMRC by Sir Jackie Stewart in 2007. He wasn’t keen on the idea at first, but only because he was concerned that he wouldn’t have enough time to dedicate to the cause of Scottish motor racing. “I was told that all I needed to do was put my name above the door, but I wanted to do more than that,” he says.
“Ultimately there is a committee that decides on the general running of the club, but the main thing I can offer is that I can open some doors and create introductions. The club services Scottish motor sport. It’s not necessarily international motor sport, but it does provide a platform for drivers and engineers. What’s really helping at the moment is that the ruling SNP (Scottish National Party) want to talk about Scottish success stories. If you win a major race you now get a letter from [First Minister] Alex Salmond. DC [David Coulthard] won 13 Grands Prix, but I’m pretty sure he never got a letter from the Labour ministers during that time…”
Earlier that morning, Allan was asked by a fellow SMRC board member to talk to young driver Craig Mitchell, who has been campaigning a Sports 2000. This wasn’t just a five-minute chat, though. After 45 minutes spent covering sponsorship, the right series to race in, test drives, and racing in the wet, the dry and everything in between, we stepped back into the Knockhill wind. With some successful drivers it would be easy to put all this attention down to the presence of Motor Sport, but with Allan, you know that’s not the case.
“We did a sponsorship brochure for all the young drivers recently so that they had something presentable to give to potential sponsors,” he says. “We need to work with drivers rather than just letting them get on with it.
“There’s no way we can fund the racing for them. If we were to try and find £1.3 million to put a young Scot through two years of F3, where’s that money going to come from? You’re never going to get it. Forget it.
“It’s all about raising awareness. Crikey me, motor racing is the most successful Scottish export in terms of sport. Which other sport has World Champions, Indy 500 winners, Le Mans 24 Hours winners and Monaco Grand Prix winners? Which other sport has got Scottish people at the elite level now? We’ve got Andy Murray, and that’s it.
“However, we can’t be comfortable with what we are doing, we’ve got to look to the future. We’ve got to get young drivers to come into the sport because many of the people racing now will soon retire. The future is having more people coming into the sport. Something must be working, though, because we’ve got the maximum number of entries and we’ve got plenty of marshals.
“From my side, I also want to make sure younger drivers know that we – and I suppose I’m a representative of the international drivers – still care. Going to the annual SMRC dinner is part of it, coming here is part of it. It’s important that the current crop can have a relationship with where we are now. Normally it’s too distant.”
McNish, Paul di Resta and Dario Franchitti are all proof that motor racing drivers continue to be a truly successful Scottish export. With the likes of Allan working for the SMRC and the current push for young drivers, don’t be surprised if you see more international stars sporting the blue and white colours of the Scottish Saltire very soon.