Tom Kristensen's greatest racing cars – Le Mans and more

Racing History

Tom Kristensen, Le Mans' most successful driver with nine wins, has driven more than his fair share of brilliant racing cars – from R8 to Speed 8, we chart the best

Tom Kristensen 2000 Le Mans Audi

Audi R8 is among Kristensen's greatest cars


Tom Kristensen’s name is synonymous with Le Mans, devastating sports car success and engineering brilliance.

One of endurance racing’s greatest names, the nine-time La Sarthe winner has sampled some of the best machinery ever to grace the Mulsanne straight.

The Dane competed at a time of ferocious technological development, and so witnessed innovation after innovation in his racing career, nearly all of it with the VW group.

It wasn’t just at Le Mans though, the sports car legend also made his name in touring cars after thousands of miles racked up in single seaters – below, we run through Kristensen’s greatest cars.


Audi R18 e-tron

Tom Kristensen 2013 Le Mans Audi

Kristensen and his Audi team-mates took on the R18 e-tron Quattro for the first time in 2012, the hybrid version of a car first introduced two years earlier.

Related article

The original machine had been Audi’s first closed cockpit Le Mans prototype in over a decade, created due to new rules restricting power output and putting a heavier emphasis on aerodynamic efficiency.

The first iteration left room for a potential hybrid system to be added, which it duly was in 2012, and came in the form of two electric motors and a flywheel which stored and redistributed energy.

Combined with the TDI V6 engine, the car produced over 700bhp. In 2013, Kristensen’s team-mate Loïc Duval harnessed the machine to take pole by over 1.3sec from the next closest R18 and, along with third team-mate Allan McNish, the trio would win by over a lap from the challenging Toyota team.

The win would be the last for Kristensen, an incredible ninth Le Mans title.


Audi A4 DTM 2006

Tom Kristensen 2006 DTM

Along with its Quattro Group B machine and brilliant R8, the Audi A4 DTM stands as one of the German marque’s greatest competition car.

From the archive

Claiming eight DTM titles over a period of eight years, with five of those being drivers’ crowns for Mattias Ekström, Timo Scheider and Martin Tomczyk, the A4 was a dominant machine which brought Kristensen his most successful year in the German championship.

Six podiums – including two race wins – in 2006 put Kristensen third in the championship, the best Audi driver that year as Mercedes’ Bernd Schneider took the title.

The following season would see the Dane involved in a horrifying Hockenheim shunt which nearly put an end to his career. Though he would return a couple of months later for that year’s Le Mans, Kristensen had seen his peak in DTM.


Audi R10 TDi

Tom Kristensen 2008 Le Mans Audi

The Audi R10 is a landmark car not just for Le Mans in sports cars, but in all of motor racing.

The diesel-fuelled prototype was a relative novelty for elite level motor sport, and only slightly less for endurance racing – BMW had managed to win the 1998 Nürburgring 24 Hours with a 320D.

From the archive

Audi wanted to promote its own diesel road car range, and was in luck: engine guru Ulrich Baretzky fancied the challenge of putting diesel in Le Mans machines after an ACO rule change.

“I realised that if someone else other than Audi, as the pioneer of direct-injection diesels for the road, should bring this technology to Le Mans and win, I would regret it for the rest of my life,” Baretzky told Motor Sport in 2016. “It was like a bolt of lightning.”

The car was effective from the off. Frank Biela, Marco Werner and Emanuelle Pirro won Le Mans on debut, with Kristensen third, and two years later the former would also win.

“We opened the door to new technologies with the R10 TDI and, before that, the R8 FSI,” said former Audi Sport boss Wolfgang Ullrich. “Maybe we changed the mindset by showing what could be done with future-orientated technology.”


Bentley Speed 8

Le Mans 2003 Bentley win

Another marketing initiative, another legendary race car. The stunning Bentley Speed 8 holds a special place in the hearts of many racing fans, and Kristensen himself – the Le Mans legend called it “the most beautiful” machine to ever take on the blue riband enduro.

Rising from the ashes of an aborted VW Le Mans prototype, senior engineer Brian Gush headed up a team at Racing Technology Norfolk to forge a rebooted Bentley team after the German group bought the beleaguered British brand.

Related article

The idea was to win on track, and sell Bentley Continental GTs off it, with Gush and co completing the job in three years from scratch.

“The operation that we took over had an incredible depth of manufacturing, which was really good – there was more British content in the Bentley than there was German content in the Audi: the R8 chassis was designed by Dallara, the gearbox was from Ricardo,” Gush told Motor Sport.

“Another key to our success was the independence of being able to just choose our own transmission – we chose the very reliable Xtrac gearbox, which wasn’t the Achilles Heel that the Audi’s Ricardo unit was. Aside from that and the engine, nothing was outsourced.”

After debuting with the EXP Speed 8 in 2001, the new Bentley boys brought the all-new Speed 8 for 2003, and quite simply dominated.

With Rinaldo Capello and Guy Smith, Kristensen’s No7 car won from pole position – a brilliant sixth Le Mans victory for Bentley.


Audi R8

1 2000 Le Mans Tom Kristensen Audi

Not only one of the greatest cars ever to grace Le Mans, the R8 stands as one the finest pieces of motor sport engineering achieved in any discipline – and was devastatingly successful.

Making its debut in 2000, the car would win at its first Le Mans, as well as in four of the following five La Sarthe contests following.

Related article

Designed by Michael Pfadenhauer (aerodynamics), Wolfgang Appel (chassis) and Ulrich Baretzky (engine), the R8 was a development of the previous R8R. It was a platform for various innovations from Baretzy, including direct injection engines from 2001.

After BMW attempted its Le Mans efforts following a single win in 1999, Kristensen had been left without a job, until Audi came calling for a historic decision.

“Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, their head of motor sport, showed me a drawing of the R8, and we made a deal that day.”

The R8 took a 1-2-3 finish in 2000, with Kristensen teaming up with Biela and Pirro for his second Le Mans victory. He would take another five in a row after that, sealing his La Sarthe legend and moniker as ‘Mr Le Mans’.