It was inevitable that triumph would be tempered by tears. Given what had happened at the start of this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, it would have been fitting to finish the weekend with a Dane on top of the podium and an Aston Martin class victory. In the end Aston had to accept a close, honourable GTE defeat against the factory Porsche team, but Tom Kristensen added a little symmetry by sharing the winning Audi with Allan McNish and Loïc Duval – a record-extending ninth victory for the Dane. He dedicated it to fallen colleague Allan Simonsen, who died when his Aston Martin left the road at Tertre Rouge on lap three.
The tributes began on the podium, when six-times Le Mans winner Jacky Ickx stood alongside Aston Martin Racing chief David Richards and asked the crowd to remember Simonsen with a rousing ovation that was duly received. Ickx and Kristensen then embraced warmly before the trophy presentation.
There was some humour in the post-race conference, when Audi motor sport boss Dr Wolfgang Ullrich was asked about the problems that befell 2012’s winning crew. André Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler led the early stages of this year’s race and looked set for a repeat until technical problems intervened.“We had to change an alternator,” Ullrich said, “and our car wasn’t conceptualised to allow for alternator changes.”
For the most part, though, warmth and thought were the motifs.
“You invest everything in a race like Le Mans,” said Duval, “and we can all feel the strain. I’m trying to stay calm to stop myself crying. It was a complex race and we lost a driver this weekend, so you have to put everything into perspective. It’s my first race here with these two, though, and also my first win, so it’s a major moment in my career.”
McNish added: “We had the speed this year because our engineers did a great job over the winter. It was a case of trying to be very careful and not having any extra pit stops, but apart from Tom’s puncture we didn’t have any of those. Given the strength of competition, we needed that.”
The Scot was asked how he’d felt while pacing around in the pits towards the end, with conditions ever changing and one of the Toyotas still a little too close for comfort. “I was nervous,” he said, “even though I have big faith in Tom, but I think Loïc was even more nervous. It’s very difficult to describe what it’s like, because five per cent throttle can make the difference between staying on the track or flying into the wall. In some respects I was happy that Tom was driving, because in those circumstances you need a calm Dane and he was a very calm Dane today. That last hour wasn’t a lot of fun, but we’re here…”
Anthony Davidson, part of that second-placed Toyota trio, spoke eloquently about the weekend’s difficulties. “The most difficult thing,” he said, “was to carry on racing after we’d heard the news about Allan Simonsen. We all know what happened to me here last year and we accept that this is a dangerous race. To carry on after passing the scene of the accident so many times… you realise it can happen to anybody, but we all had to race on in tricky conditions. It was like walking on ice.”
Kristensen’s mind was focused on matters other than win number nine. “I’m very proud to drive for the best team in the world,” he said. “We realised a dream today, but this weekend we lost somebody who shared the same dreams, somebody who was a nice, humble guy.
“This weekend I was driving with my father’s determination. He was the most low-key person in the world and he died in March, so I said I’d win Le Mans with my boys this year. I’m proud to be team-mates with these two and hope one day we can win another so I can dedicate it to my dad, because this one’s for Allan Simonsen.”
You get a better class of emotion at Le Mans.
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