To win at Le Mans you need to be quick, consistent and lucky. Our nominees for this year’s Hall of Fame left little to that third aspect in their journey to the top of the La Sarthe podium.
They have had success in karts and single-seaters, before focusing their career on sports cars and capturing victories at some of racing’s most historic events, not least Le Mans.
Allan McNish won three times — twice during his illustrious career with Audi and David Brabham helped return the Peugeot name to the top step while interrupting Audi’s dominance. Five-time overall winner Emanuele Pirro is among the greatest Le Mans legends; also winning with Audi in the 2000s.
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There is little in motor sport that Allan McNish hasn’t done. Le Mans winner on multiple occasions, Formula 1 driver for a major manufacturer, commentator and team principal, the Scotsman has and is still making an impact in the world of racing. Beginning his career in karting, he was recognised alongside David Coulthard as promising youngsters and received the McLaren/BRDC Young Driver of the Year award steps up into British F3 and then F3000 focused on finding a path into F1.
By 1996, his chances of making it into F1 were looking slim but he had risen in the ranks of sports car racing where he’d start for most of his career. McNish was part of the Porsche team that took overall victory in 1998 but an F1 lifeline soon materialised. Toyota’s entry and McNish’s link to the Japanese manufacturer through sports cars meant he was called upon to drive for the team in its maiden season, but the team was uncompetitive and he returned to sports cars after.
Driving for Audi, he won overall in the 12 Hours of Sebring twice in three years between ’04 and ’06 and after narrowly missing out on a second Le Mans victory in 2007 in dramatic circumstances, added another to his tally one year later. Two Sebring overall wins followed in 2009 and 2012 and a third Le Mans triumph in 2013. His association with Audi remained and he fulfilled the role of team principal of the manufacturer’s Formula E team until its withdrawal at the end of last season.
Son of legendary F1 champion Jack, David Brabham is a racing ace in his own right, securing an overall Le Mans victory before leading the revival of the Brabham name in the racing world. His career began racing in Australia, driving karts and graduating to FF1600 before a move to Europe and a British F3 championship in 1989.
His break into Formula 1 came at the eponymous team though he enjoyed nothing like the kind of success of his father. An uncompetitive car and lack of experience meant he qualified to race just six times all season. He returned to F1 in ’94 with Simtek and led a distraught team through the campaign following the death of Roland Ratzenberger. Subsequently, he gave up Formula 1 and moved into touring car and sports car racing.
He’d go on to claim a 12 Hours of Sebring victory in 2005 but overall glory at Le Mans would soon be his driving for Peugeot. Alongside Alex Wurz and Marc Gené, Brabham became just the fourth Australian driver to achieve a Le Mans win in history. He also won two American Le Mans Series titles in 2009 and 2010. In recent years, his focus as been on Brabham Automotive and the BT62.
One of the most successful endurance racers of all time, Emanuele Pirro has taken victories in the biggest of marque sports car races during his career. He began his career in karts before graduating to cars in 1980. He competed in European F3 and F3000 up to ’86. McLaren came calling in 1988 though it was for a test driver role. He’d get his first F1 opportunity in 1989, deputising at Benetton for Johnny Herbert but drove for BMS Scuderia Italia in 1990 and 1991.
Along with his F1 duties, he drove for BMW’s touring car programme winning in ETCC, WTCC, Italian Supertouring and DTM. He won the Italian Touring Cars title in ’94 and ’95 with Audi. His attempts at Le Mans had been unsuccessful until he linked back up with Audi for the 2000 edition which he won alongside Tom Kristensen and Frank Biela. The trio won the event another two years running before Marco Werner stepped in to replace Kristensen and the new line-up won Le Mans a further two times in ’06 and ’07.
His five overall Le Mans victories means only Jacky Ickx and Kristensen have won more times than he has. Pirro has also been victorious twice in the 12 Hours of Sebring. Today, he remains linked with Audi as a brand ambassador while he regularly fills in as a driver steward for Formula 1 and is a member of the FIA Drivers’ Commission.