Here we are again, on the eve of another Grand Prix. But I want to get away from the rollercoaster that is modern F1 and pay tribute to a new world champion. Few people have more richly deserved to reach the peak of the mountain they’ve been climbing.
On hearing he’d finally clinched the championship, I texted him. His reply summed up this milestone in typically neat and crisp fashion. “Cheers chap, it feels pretty good so far!”
Allan McNish, the loquacious and brilliantly communicative Scotsman who now lives in Monte Carlo, is the new World Endurance Champion. Aye, at last this compact and super-quick racing driver can bask in the glow that comes from achieving his lifetime’s ambition.
He is the first British driver to win the sports car title since Derek Warwick was crowned in 1992, and the first ever Scot to put his name on the trophy.
A long time coming
McNish has been waiting a long time to win a world title. In 1985 he came tantalisingly close to taking the Karting World Championship at Le Mans, finishing third after leading much of the way. After winning the Vauxhall Lotus Challenge, and finishing runner-up in the British F3 series, he impressed in F3000 and got his chance to race in F1 with Toyota. It was in sports cars with Audi, however, that he finally had the support and equipment to consistently display his natural speed and talent.
A third place in Shanghai was enough to give McNish, Loïc Duval and Tom Kristensen the title with one WEC race still to run.
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Amazingly, neither McNish nor Kristensen have won a world title before despite having won the Le Mans 24 Hours three and nine times respectively. They have dominated the WEC this year, the Audi yet again proving to be faster and more reliable than its competitors. Still on a high, Allan spoke to me this week about what it felt like to finally win a world title.
“I knew we were in a position to win the title and I pushed quite hard for the last couple of stints, until five laps from the end, and then I really did back off, keeping away from the traffic like they were the plague because you can get caught up in stupid situations. You try to keep the concentration, keep the focus, and then when you cross the line all you see is a sea of people leaning out over the wall – you’re still doing a couple of hundred miles an hour or so – but then the slowing down lap takes about three minutes so that’s when it hits, that sudden release of emotion, the realisation of what we’d achieved.”
McNish: an all-time sports car great
3x Le Mans 24 Hours wins (1998, 2008, 2013)
4x overall Sebring 12 Hours wins (2004, 2006, 2009, 2012)
3x American Le Mans Series champion (2000, 2006, 2007)
2013 World Endurance Champion
“We’d done it, we’d won a World Championship. It was very emotional, it’s just you and the car, and there’s a surreal bond at that point. I tapped the dashboard bulkhead above the steering wheel where we keep all our notes, circuit maps and hybrid settings, stuff like that. No question there was a bit of a sentimental bond with the car as I cruised round to the pits.
“Then, when you get back, you see your team-mates and that’s when the party kicks off, it’s done and dusted, and you know these things don’t come around every five minutes. Neither Tom nor I had had the chance to go for a World Championship until last year and we knew we had to grab it while we could.”
An impressive record with Audi
Amazingly, McNish has been on the podium for 75 per cent of his career with Audi, winning 35 per cent of all his races with the factory cars. Impressive, by any standards.
“Yes, that surprised me,” he says, “I’m not really into statistics, I don’t follow the stats like some drivers do, but yes, it’s been a huge team effort and it tells you that Audi has done a fantastic job over such a long period. The team has been such a big part of my career, of my whole life, and I’ve still got the fire to fight for more wins in the future.
“Now I’m looking forward to Bahrain, to finishing the season on a high, and there hasn’t even been time for a big party yet… just a wee drink at the airport after the race as we had to be in Paris at 5.00 the next morning.”
All of us at Motor Sport salute World Champion Allan McNish. It’s been a long journey from karting in Scotland and few have deserved it more.
Allan serves as guest editor in the January 2014 issue of Motor Sport, on sale November 28.
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