Exclusive interview with Allan McNish


Before Allan went to Le Mans we caught up with him at West London Audi to get his thoughts on this year’s race, the races leading up to it and what his plans for the future are.


Can the Audi R15 Plus beat the Peugeots on pace alone at Le Mans?

We’ve definitely improved from last year. We’ve improved on those areas where we weren’t so quick, so I think we’ll be able to fight a wee bit better. We also understand the car a lot better than we did. This year we’ve been very focused on the type of testing we’ve done. I’ve never run the car in anything but Le Mans aero, so if you think of all the kilometres we’ve done in that set-up, then we do understand it pretty well, the good and the bad. We know the areas we have to work on and we know the parts of the circuit that we’ve got to focus on to keep the speed up. I think we’ll be able to take the fight to Peugeot and give them something to think about, which wasn’t the case last year.


How much did the Le Mans aerodynamic set-up hamper your chances of fighting for a win at the Spa 1000Kms?

It was hard to do Spa in Le Mans aero because it’s a compromise for that place where you need a load of downforce. For us to be so close to Peugeot – we were only one second off in terms of ultimate pace – meant I came away more encouraged than anything else, even though we finished third. It does give me a bit of confidence that we’re better prepared. We’ve also been… quite Audi in a way, making sure that we understand the detail this year. That was maybe born out of the fact that we got our backsides kicked last year.

Where did it go wrong last year?

It started going wrong the previous December with the testing and we just never recovered from it. The race result was a pretty good indicator, really. But the thing that was good about Le Mans last year was the resolve the Volkswagen Group showed in terms of, ‘we were not good enough on that occasion, but we’ll come back stronger’. Getting that from the advisory board of the Volkswagen Group, never mind the Audi management, was a nice bit of support. There was an element of pressure, no question, because you’ve got to perform, but it certainly meant a lot.

You’re well known for doing triple stints at Le Mans, whereas others drivers don’t do such long periods in the car…

They’re weaklings, just weaklings! Jessies! But really, physically I don’t find Le Mans that difficult. Focus-wise for three hours, yeah… I mean if you were to think about driving round the M25 flat out at a 140mph average, then three hours of doing that is quite hard. That’s a few loops of the M25 – OK maybe you’ll be queued at the Dartford Tunnel for a while, but… If you look at it that way, then yes, it is a long time.


Is Le Mans as physically demanding as other tracks?

Not as much as some – we run double stints at Petit Le Mans, which physically is so much harder than Le Mans. There’s no comfort zone at all, it’s all flat out, maximum attack. That’s what it requires to win. If you take Le Mans in 2008, 15 minutes from the end the gap from our car (the Audi R10 of McNish, Kristensen and Capello) back to the second-placed car (the Peugeot 908 of Minassian, Gené and Villeneuve) was 1min 40sec. If you take Petit Le Mans in 2008, we had a six-second advantage after 10 hours. You just need to look at one second per pitstop and we’d have lost Petit. The difference is that small.

Is this where you want to be for the future? At Le Mans with Audi?

Yes, certainly as far as my eyes can see. What else would I want to do? Would I want to be a test driver in Formula 1 again? I’m not going to be sitting in a Ferrari, McLaren or a Red Bull, so why would I want to be there? I’ve been with Audi now… Well, the first time I drove with them was 2000. I like the way they work, they’re very clean-cut: you either win or you lose, and if you lose you fix it, you go back and try and win again. I enjoy it, I enjoy Le Mans, I enjoy the people I work with and I enjoy the competition, which I think is going to get much harder in the next couple of years.


Will Audi stick with a diesel next year?

Honestly, I don’t know whether it’ll be a diesel or not. I know they’ve got a commitment towards programmes, but we’ll have to wait and see. The regulation changes have been pretty substantial over the past couple of years, and at Paul Ricard [earlier this year] we saw how quick the Aston was on the straight, especially on acceleration. It was, well, a bit disappointing to come out of the corner and lose 50 metres on it. I’m quite happy with the diesel because we’ve worked for four years trying to optimise it with the traction control systems, the driveability and with all the other aspects to it. But if they turn up with something else, then that’s what we’ll race. The good thing is that it’s a new technical challenge. In 2011 there’ll be a big push in the hybrid regulations and that’s another new challenge and something which, 10 years ago, no one would ever have thought of. Diesels and hybrids at Le Mans? No way! It’s quite positive for the long-term future of Le Mans.

You may also like