Pirro vs McNish vs Brabham – which Le Mans legend will you choose for the Hall of Fame?

Hall of Fame

Emanuele Pirro, Allan McNish and David Brabham all battled through adversity to become Le Mans legends – which one will you vote into the Hall of Fame?

MOTORSPORT - LE MANS 24 HOURS 2006 - RACE 17/06 TO 18/06/2006 - PHOTO : FRANCK FAUGERE / DPPI EMANUELE PIRRO (ITA) / AUDI LMP1 N°8 AUDI SPORT TEAM JOEST / ACTION - WINNER WINNER FINISH LINE JOY

FRANCK FAUGERE / DPPI

It has been described as the toughest circuit race in the world where simply finishing can be the crowning achievement of a career. So what does that make the winners?

Legendary in the case of at least one of this year’s three Hall of Fame Le Mans nominees. They have nine victories between them and a bevvy of wins at other enduro classics such as Sebring and Petit Le Mans.

Emanuele Pirro, Allan McNish and David Brabham would all merit a place in the Motor Sport Hall of Fame. All came through adversity in single seaters and career dead-ends to seal their place amongst sports car racing’s greatest, but who will you nominate?

You can select your Le Mans legend at the bottom of this page, as well as the nominees for all the other categories.

 

Emanuele Pirro

AUTO - LE MANS 24 HOURS 2004 - TESTS 10/06/2004 - PHOTO : JEAN MICHEL LE MEUR / DPPI EMANUELE PIRRO / AUDI R8 CHAMPION RACING LMP1 - AMBIANCE - PORTRAIT

Pirro got off to a slow start in F1, but eventually made history at Le Mans

JEAN MICHEL LE MEUR / DPPI

Emanuele Pirro told Motor Sport that he wished upon a “falling star” to become a racing driver – in the end it was granted and then some.

A promising junior career seemed to indicate a life in F1, but Pirro found himself pounding round Suzuka in a McLaren MP4/4 every other week for the benefit of Messrs Senna and Prost.

Whilst the former was polite yet distant, the latter was highly complementary of Pirro’s driving, the Frenchman admitting how hard he had to push to beat the young test driver’s times.

A 1988 race seat at Benetton delivered little and a miserable two-year stint at Scuderia Italia even less, but it was from there that Pirro began to beat a path which would ultimately lead him to the top of the Le Mans mountain.

Le Mans, FRANCE: Italian driver Emmanuel Pirro takes a curve with his Audi R10 TDI during the 75th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours Race, 17 June 2007 in Le Mans, western France. German duo Frank Biela and Marco Werner along with Italian driver Emanuele Pirro won the Le Mans 24 hour race in an Audi for the second successive year. They beat home a Peugeot driven by Sebastien Bourdais, Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy. AFP PHOTO ANDRE DURAND (Photo credit should read ANDRE DURAND/AFP via Getty Images)

Claiming final Le Mans win in ’07

ANDRE DURAND/AFP via Getty Images

Multiple touring car championships with Audi meant the Italian had the box seat when the German manufacturer began to formulate its Le Mans plans, with Pirro central to the R8R and dominant R8’s development.

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Pirro won with the latter on its Le Mans debut, adding three more consecutive titles as Ingolstadt set a new benchmark for La Sarthe performance.

Audi changed the game again by introducing its diesel-powered prototype, the R10 TDI. The ever-reliable Pirro was at the wheel once more, sealing an historic first victory for diesel power at the famous race.

He did it again the next year, meaning the Italian had an incredible five Le Mans wins in eight attempts, in addition to scoring two ALMS titles in 01 and ’05, again at the wheel of the mighty R8.

Unassuming, modest and yet mightily fast, will you choose Pirro to join the Hall of Fame this year?

 

Allan McNish

LE MANS, FRANCE - JUNE 13: Allan McNish of Great Britain and Audi Sport North America attends the drivers parade in Le Mans town centre prior to the 76th running of the Le Mans 24 Hour race at the Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans on June 13, 2008 in Le Mans, France. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

McNish moved from single-seaters to sportscars, etching his name into the Le Mans legend

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

In a career which had remarkable parity with Pirro’s, Allan McNish was also regularly taking the bullet train to Suzuka to help with the McLaren juggernaut in the late ‘80s.

Winner of the 1988 McLaren/BRDC Young Driver of the Year Award (along with David Coulthard), McNish was thought to be the next Jackie Stewart, such was his fearsome pace and tenacity shown at junior level. However, three years testing for Woking from ‘89 and another for Benetton blew him off his racing course.

Then, after losing out on a Champ Car drive to Mark Blundell, it seemed like McNish’s racing career might be all washed up. His saviour came from the most unlikely of avenues: after a British GP cameo in the 1996 Porsche Supercup, the Scot suddenly found himself in the frame to drive a Porsche GT1 at Le Mans the next year – his career finally had lift off.

His race lasted less than half an hour after a damper issue on his first Le Mans attempt in 1997, but the Scot claimed victory at the second time of asking.

After leading brilliantly in the rain, McNish and his team-mates Laurent Aïello and Stéphane Ortelli had to fight back from a 20-minute repair delay to beat the Toyotas. McNish’s talent had at last been rewarded.

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The Scot jumped to Audi for 2000, claiming the ALMS title with six wins out of 12 in the mighty R8.

Eight victories in 2009 and nine in ’07 brought another pair of crowns in that series, and the year after McNish took his second Le Mans in some style.

A race-long battle with the faster Peugeot 908s saw the aging R10s cars lose out in the dry, but once the rain came down McNish, along with co-drivers Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello managed to fight back and claim an unlikely and famous win.

In his final year in endurance racing, McNish truly went out with a flourish. Finishing on the podium in all but one race at last brought him a world championship in the form of the 2013 WEC crown, which included his third La Sarthe win, sealing the Scot’s legend in endurance.

McNish’s was a career which was slow to get going, but ended up being a benchmark in motor sport.

 

David Brabham

David Brabham and Alex Wurz celebrate on Le Mans podium

Brabham letting it all out after 2009 Le Mans victory

Getty Images

Being the son of a three-time F1 champion might seem like the perfect finishing school for any budding race driver, but in fact it was quite the opposite. Whilst David Brabham saw his brothers Geoff and Gary go off racing, grand prix legend Dad Jack was priming his youngest for a life on the family farm.

However a visit to Geoff, who was then racing in IndyCar, changed all that. The junior Brabham became hooked on racing, setting him on a path to one of racing’s greatest prizes.

Like the two other nominees though, it wasn’t without its severe challenges. After finding himself 38th on the grid for a junior single-seater support race at the 1987 Australian Grand Prix, Brabham’s father Jack told him: “The days of you ever getting into F1 are finished.”

So riled up was the youngster that he stormed through to field to lead by lap 13, going on to win what was only a 15-lap race.

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Winning the ‘89 British F3 championship (and beating Michael Schumacher at Macau in the same year) along the way, Brabham found himself in the F1 team which bore his family name for 1990. A far cry from the championship-winning outfit his father had founded, the season was littered with retirements and DNQs.

Brabham’s career at a dead end, Tom Walkinshaw then came calling in 1991, asking him to drive in the one-make Jaguar XJR15 series. So impressive were his performances that he found himself parachuted into the TWR sportscar team in a XJR14. He won on his debut at the Nürburgring 1000Kms, thus starting a fine sportscar career.

Next, Brabham was in an XJ220 at Le Mans ’93, overcoming the alarming sight and smell of petrol leaking into the cockpit to win his GT class with David Coulthard and John Nielsen, only to be disqualified on a technical infringement.

An ill-fated return to F1 with Simtek followed, before Brabham took on the bizarre front-engined Panoz Esperante and was an unlikely runner-up at Le Mans in ’98. He finished second in the 1999 ALMS.

Brabham told Motor Sport in 2012 that he felt “dead inside” after losing out to the sister car when part of Bentley’s Le Mans effort in ’03, but the Australian would finally seal his endurance legend six years later.

N¡ 50 - MAGNUSSEN - BRABHAM - VAN DE POELE / PANOZ LMP01 - ACTION AUTO - ALMS 2002 - 12 HOURS OF SEBRING 20020316 - PHOTO : JEAN MICHEL LE MEUR / DPPI

Brabham first tasted championship success in ALMS with Panoz

MICHEL LE MEUR / DPPI

Peugeot enquired about a one-off Le Mans entry with Alex Wurz and Marc Gené, and the low-key third entry was allowed to keep to its own devices.

What resulted was Brabham finally achieving his dream of winning Le Mans, scoring the 908 victory which the French marque craved.

Brabham would then claim a pair of ALMS titles in ’09 and ’10, and when tallied with his La Sarthe victory and a string of Sebring podiums, the son of an F1 champion from a farm in Australia has truly marked himself out as a true great in endurance racing.

 

The stats

Emanuele Pirro
Allan McNish
David Brabham
Le Mans entries 13 14 18
Le Mans Wins 5 3 1

 

Which of the trio makes it into the Motor Sport Hall of Fame? It’s time for you to decide. Vote below