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Conway RACER
conway3Mike Conway celebrated his first LMP1 victory as part of the Toyota Racing team last weekend in Bahrain, was just tabbed by the Japanese marque to drive in the WEC season finale at Brazil, and could arrive in Sao Paulo with a newly signed contract in hand.

The 31-year-old Englishman also has two Verizon IndyCar Series wins to his credit this season. Sharing the No. 20 Chevy with team owner/driver Ed Carpenter, Conway contested all 12 road and street courses, winning at Long Beach and Toronto while Carpenter tool over the controls on the ovals.

Splitting time between IndyCar and the WEC was possible for Conway due to friendly calendars for both series, and as a winner for his respective employers, the race is on to retain his services in 2015.

"It's hard to answer (where he'll sign) right now; I'm still waiting on some things to get a full answer on what I'm doing," he told RACER. "I've got to wait a few days to find out."

conway2Carpenter wants Conway back, and it's believed Toyota is heavily interested in making him a full-time driver.

"I love IndyCar, I love everything I've done with Ed Carpenter Racing, and I also love LMP1 with Toyota. Getting to do the road courses and street courses with Ed this year turned out amazingly; we both won races and I think surprised a lot of people," he said.

"I love living in the States; that's where I've been the past five years. And I love the Le Mans 24 Hours and what I might be able to do there and elsewhere in the WEC, so it's hard to make a clear-cut decision."

Where Conway has been able to enjoy the best of both worlds this season, he might need to choose one series next year.

"I've got equal love for both, I know it will be hard to do both because the schedules don't really line up like they did this year," he explained. "That clearly made it easy to race Indy cars and sports cars, but that might not be the case anymore.

"There's a certain date I have to wait for to know which direction I'll go, and it's great to be in this position of having multiple offers to choose from. It was only a few years ago where I was wondering if I was done when I didn't want to do ovals – if I'd have to go get a real job."

And what line of work would he choose outside of racing?

"Well, I did see that movie 'Magic Mike' and that gave me some ideas...I'd like to think I've got the body for it..." he said with a laugh.

Thankfully, it appears "Magic Mike" Conway will continue as a paid racing driver next year in IndyCar or the WEC, and with his win at Bahrain, Toyota could be ready to take him off the market by the end of the week.

Marco-leadRobin Miller says…

After leading 30 laps and finishing third in the Indianapolis 500, Andretti stood fifth in the Verizon standings and was looking like championship material. The third generation driver had a second at Barber to go with an eighth at Long Beach and he’d qualified in the Top 10 three of four times on street and road courses.

Maybe, in his ninth season driving for his father’s team he was about to make that long-awaited breakthrough.
But, from the Midwest swing starting in Detroit until the west coast finales, things went south for the 27-year-old native of Nazareth. He managed only three eighths and a pair of ninths in another disappointing Marco-Indyseason that was represented in his ninth place in the rankings.

It’s a mystery how he can look like a world-beater one minute and just another guy the next but the lack of consistency has been Marco’s constant companion. He’s got the Andretti genes on ovals but road race/street course qualifying remains his biggest detriment. It looked like early in 2013 he’d made big strides but was back to his old self in 2014 – his average starting spot was 16th for the last eight races when forced to turn right and left.

If the season ran 10 times on the oval at IMS, he’d be a contender every year because he’s always in the lead pack. But, until he can get a handle on the bulk of the races, the Month of May will have to be his Holy Grail.


Marshall Pruett says…

History would suggest Marco Andretti is the seventh, eighth or ninth best IndyCar driver since his rookie season in 2006, and I’d have to agree.

Nine years into his IndyCar career, Marco has ended up seventh, eighth or ninth in the standings on six occasions – 66 percent of the time. It makes his ninth-place finish in 2014 less of a surprise, and more of a confirmation that it’s where he belongs.

Granted, I’m not saying his talent is limiting him to P7/P8/P9--we know he's better than that, but it is where he tends to settle at the end of most seasons. The anomaly, of course, was 2013, when he made a spirited run to fifth in the championship. As many of us chronicled at the time, he spent the off-season receiving coaching to address his shortcomings, and responded by landing on the podium at Round 1, another podium at Round 4, and captured seven top-6 finishes.

His biggest strides were made on strMarco-HondaLogoeet courses, yet in 2014, it looked like most of his hard work was undone. Those storming drives were rarities this year, other than a fine run to second at Barber and another third-place at the Indy 500.

If I’m honest, I don’t remember much of Marco’s season, and that’s not due to forgetfulness; it’s because it wasn’t particularly memorable. He was rarely that far off the pace, had Danica-like consistency with eight top-10s, but like his former teammate, the numbers are misleading: Six of those eight top-10s were finishes of eighth, ninth or 10th.

It all added up to a decent average—enough to place Marco ninth in the standings, but in a field of 21 full-time entries, being slightly better than the bottom half of the field isn’t what I expect from the 27-year-old. He finished one position behind his rookie teammate Carlos Munoz, which is another statistic that should serve as an embarrassment and a motivator.

One thing that wasn't Marco's fault took place in the engine bay: If there was smoke trialing from someone's exhaust pipes in 2014, it tended to be Marco's No. 25 Honda. Minus the explosions, he could have finished higher in the standings, but keep in mind that those ahead of him also had blowups or crashes that left points on the table. Regardless, engine reliability wasn't on his side.

Marco gave us a brief glimpse of what he can achieve when he humbles and applies himself. P5 in 2013 wasn’t a fluke, which makes his regression in 2014 yet another reason to be frustrated with his inconsistent output.

I don’t know what he’s planning for next year, but his Indy 500-winning teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay will be in title contention, and Munoz will have a year of experience to draw from as he stalks bigger prey. For Marco’s sake, and for Honda’s sake, I hope Andretti finds the magic he briefly held and managed to lose.

 


Marco-Barber-actionDavid Malsher says…

The eternal enigma, Marco Andretti frustrated his fans again by looking mediocre some times, excellent at other times and not capturing a win. He remains his own fiercest critic, which is admirable, but Marco’s got to accept that the guy on the team doing the winning – in this case, Ryan Hunter-Reay – is going to be the one leading the team’s development direction. Therefore if Marco can’t make RHR’s setups work for him, he’s going to have to plow his own furrow, find his own way to get to the front.

I was told by one ex-driver this year, “You know, what Marco does is honestly not bad. He’s missing something in qualifying [on road and street courses], but his racing and finishes are strong. Bobby Rahal spent a decade like that, and won championshipMarco-Carlos-RHRs!” I grinned and accepted this guy’s point but it’s honestly not going to be a successful ploy in this era. With spec cars, no makeweight drivers and ever-more sinewy and tight courses, it’s harder to get to the front from mid-grid. Only once this year (Milwaukee) was Marco the fastest Andretti Autosport driver in qualifying and even before mid-season, rookie Carlos Munoz was at his level on most tracks.

Any of the front runners will tell you how hard it is to be consistent in IndyCar these days, so regular top-10 finishes are admirable to that extent. Andretti makes very few errors, and his DNFs this year were largely a result of mechanical issues. Where might he have finished at Texas Motor Speedway or Iowa…and where might a couple of top threes there have left him in the championship standings? But he is still leaving himself too much work on race day. It means his highs can never be as high or as regular as if he was consistently starting from the top six.

He’s a beautifully aggressive yet ethical racer – did you see how he diced with Will Power and Scott Dixon at Barber, side-by-side through a single-file chicane? Not sure either of the Antipodeans would have trusted any other driver (nor each other!) in those circumstances. And Marco went on to beat them both, too, because when you throw in mixed/treacherous track conditions, Marco’s as strong as anyone. But as Robin and Marshall mentioned, it’s time for Andretti to make another leap as he did pre-2013. He’s still a work-in-progress, but that progress needs to be ongoing and significant.

Marco-Detroit

 

lat levitt fon-1013 02050Simona de Silvestro packed her bags and returned home to Switzerland at the end of the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series season with one goal in mind: Reaching Formula 1. Ongoing financial issues within the F1 paddock, and specifically with the Sauber F1 team she worked with, put an end to her aspirations of landing a race seat in 2015.

With four years of IndyCar experience to draw from, the 26-year-old says the wants to pick up right where she left off.

"We tried this year to my dream of F1, and that dream turned out to be too difficult to achieve for a variety of reasons," she told RACER. "I spent the year in the factory, training every day, on the simulator, did some F1 testing and was very quick, so I've been busy and improving myself throughout this process.

"But the one thing I haven't done, which is kind of weird for me, is I haven't raced this year. I've been racing non-stop since I was a kid; I first came to America in 2006 and raced there every year through 2013, and it's important for me to get back to IndyCar next season. With all I've learned this year, I think I have more to offer a team than ever before. I took one year away, but America is where my career has been and where I want it to be."

Financial and contractual disagreements between de Silvestro's management and the Sauber team ultimately led to both sides parting ways. Despite her disappointment with how the Sauber F1 experience ended, de Silvestro sounded energized and motivated to make IndyCar her long-term priority. 

De Silvestro has also recently parted amicably with her management team, and is representing herself while seeking opportunities in IndyCar. 

"I really have to thank Imran [Safiulla] for all he's done for me over the last eight years, and we agreed it was time for us to start new chapters on our own, so I'm handling things myself right now. And I'm also talking to some people who might be able to help me on the management side," she said.

"Every driver has to go through this at some point, and I'm happy to make more decisions on where my career goes in the future. I think this is going to be a good thing, and maybe it will make some things a little bit smoother for me."

simona HoustonDe Silvestro spent three of her four years in IndyCar with cash-strapped teams, and was even saddled with a Lotus engine in 2012. Her move to KV Racing in 2013 produced immediate results, and while the team was still in a rebuilding phase, de Silvestro managed to deliver nine top-10s, three top-6s, and a fine second-place finish at Houston (LEFT).

Her specialty is road and street courses, but she also showed promise on ovals with KV, ending the 2013 season by placing eighth at the 500-mile finale in Fontana. According to de Silvestro, who served as one of IndyCar's most popular drivers, she's ready to head back to Indianapolis and believes her streamlined approach will complement any team in need of a promising young veteran.

"It was really nice to drive with a team like KV, and I think it showed a lot of what I'm capable of as a driver," she added. "We had very good results in my first year with them, and I know I improved a lot on ovals; Jimmy Vasser and everyone really helped me pick up little things I was missing before, and it was my first time having a teammate with TK (Tony Kanaan), and that was also big for me.

"Of course we could have done better – you can always do better, but I know I ended the season really feeling comfortable and ready to take that next step up in IndyCar. I think where I'm at now, after learning a lot by being involved with a Formula 1 team, and by simplifying things on my side as far as management and such, I can come back to IndyCar and go to that next level. I'm ready to bring me, and my helmet, and have a fresh start."

Vettel: I'm joining F1's greatest team

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Sebastian Vettel said the lure of joining "the greatest team in the sport" drew him to the Ferrari Formula 1 squad even though he was happy at Red Bull.

Ferrari finally announced ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Thursday that Fernando Alonso would be leaving and Vettel taking his place for 2015. The deal had been widely anticipated in the six weeks since Red Bull revealed Vettel's departure.

Vettel reiterated that leaving the organization that brought him into F1 and to four world championships was not easy. "I think it felt like the right time," he said. "It is not an easy decision to make, I've been with Red Bull for my entire life since I was 12 years old, supported by them and I have a very, very strong link to all the people in Austria.

"It has been an incredible journey but at some stage you feel like you want to take on a new challenge and something different. I don't have to mention the history of Ferrari. It's probably the greatest team in the sport. So I am very excited and very motivated to try to do my best, put my heart in it and obviously be successful."

Red Bull had Vettel under contract to the end of 2015, but he said his desire to move on over-rode that agreement.

"Obviously my wish was to leave, and I think it is not a good thing to stop people when they want to leave and force them to stay, or try to convince them, because ultimately they want to leave," said Vettel. "It was not a decision against the team or Red Bull, but a decision for my future.

"Big decisions are not easy, but you listen to yourself, listen to your heart and go with that."

 

 

Originally on Autosport.com

 

US GP start 2014, Austin

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Formula 1's cost crisis could come to a head at the December meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council, with the way open for the governing body to take a stand.

Calls for help from Force India, Sauber and Lotus to bring down costs or raise income have fallen on deaf ears, with the big teams, Bernie Ecclestone and CVC all appearing to have little interest. Force India team principal Vijay Mallya is a member of the WMSC and has pledged to ensure situation is brought up for discussion if there has been no movement by then.

"I am sure there is going to be a debate on recent events at the next WMSC in Doha," said Mallya. "From Austin to today, F1 has been hogging the headlines following the sad disappearance of two teams. So it is clearly of concern.

"What my friends in the financial world cannot figure out is how a sport that generates $1.7 billion in revenue cannot sustain 11 participating teams."

Mallya knows that there is a chance he could be a lone voice in the WMSC but says he will do so because he is worried more about the future of the sport than the fate of his team.

"I am in a hopeless minority, but I can state my case," he said. "I will speak about what is good for the sport  – I will not speak about Force India.

"I have been a corporate board director for 40 years and I know what conflict of interest means, so I will not champion the cause of Force India before the world council. I will say and express my views about what is good for F1. As the [FIA] president constantly reminds us: F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and is the pinnacle championship of the FIA, so the FIA should be equally concerned about the future of F1.

"I am sure everybody in the FIA will agree with me –  it is not a question of teams just going to the commercial rights holder. Teams have also approached the FIA as well on issues like a cost cap to make it more affordable.

"So either you have the cost cap which then addresses the problems of the smaller teams, or the commercial rights holder makes a little bit of extra distribution of funds to the three smaller teams to cover the incremental costs that have been imposed. This new power train is more than double the cost of what it used to be, and that was an initiative that the FIA also blessed..."

FIA OPTIONS

Jean Todt

Though president Jean Todt has yet to comment on the matter in public, the FIA did issue a statement at the United States Grand Prix stating that Caterham and Marussia's plight had highlighted potential problems with the "economic balance" of F1.

It said: "As such, the FIA, in close cooperation with FOM and the different stakeholders in F1, will continue to work towards maintaining the attraction of the championship and the equitable participation of the teams in it in the years to come."

There are several options open to the FIA. It could seek to simply play a more active role in pushing for cost cuts, but could also chose to reject any regulation changes that are put to it following imminent F1 Strategy Group and F1 Commission meetings.

On a more extreme level, should the WMSC feel that F1 is not in a healthy state because of its financial situation, it could even elect to reject the 2015 F1 calendar until Ecclestone has sorted things out. As one FIA source told AUTOSPORT recently: "If we are dissatisfied with the regulations proposed for what is, after all, our world championship, then why should we approve the calendar?"

For now, the hope is that things do not have to go that far and that some positive news will be forthcoming from Abu Dhabi this weekend, with the small teams having made another plea for talks.

If not, all eyes will be on Doha.

 

 

Originally on Autosport.com

 

photo 3Chevrolet revealed its Chaparral 2X Vision Gran Turismo (VGT) concept – "a revolutionary interpretation of the ultimate racecar," on Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Developed exclusively for the PlayStation 3 racing game, Gran Turismo 6, the prototype was developed as part of the Vision Gran Turismo project, which celebrates the future of automotive design and innovation. the Chaparral 2X VGT concept is inspired by the innovative racecars that Jim Hall's Chaparral Racing and Chevrolet partnered on more than 45 years ago.

Gamers can race the Chaparral 2X VGT this holiday season by downloading an online update for Gran Turismo 6, the latest iteration of the best-selling PlayStation franchise that has sold more than 72 million copies worldwide since its 1998 debut.

"This concept is an audacious and ambitious vision – and one that demonstrates to a new audience how Chevy's engineering and design teams challenge norms and explore the technologies of tomorrow," said Clay Dean, executive director of advanced design. "It also an ode to a unique partnership that pioneered ground- breaking technologies that are in used today, on the track and the street."

Known for unconventional, boundary-pushing racecars that shook up the motorsports world, Texas-based Chaparral Racing partnered with Chevrolet Research and Development more than 45 years ago, pioneering now-standard methods and materials used in contemporary racing and production vehicles, including the composite monocoque chassis, lightweight-alloy powertrain systems, automatic transmissions for racing and progressive, active aerodynamics. The partnership also spawned ground-breaking vehicle data acquisition technology. Chevrolet continues to use racing programs to test and develop new technologies and materials.

photo 2The Chevrolet Chaparral 2X VGT channels that spirit of innovation into a vision of what the future of racing could hold, with a radical form and an advanced, laser- based propulsion system.

"It was created in a no-rules atmosphere to challenge designers and test engineers to deliver the most exhilarating sensations. This is a fantasy car by design," said Frank Saucedo, who oversaw the team that worked on the concept. "Like the original Chaparral racecars decades ago, the Chaparral 2X VGT weaves advanced aerospace technologies into the design to help achieve its performance goals."

The Chaparral 2X VGT's concept propulsion system is inspired by technology derived from advanced work targeted at space travel and future aircraft design. It features a mid-mounted laser, beamed-energy propulsion system, which pulses beams of light that focus in a shroud, creating shock waves that generate tremendous thrust in the lightweight racecar.

With a 671-kW laser, powered by a pack of lithium-ion batteries, and an air- powered generator to provide 900hp of thrust, the Chaparral 2X VGT will be capable of a 240-mph top speed in the video game, with 0-60 acceleration capability of 1.5 seconds.

The propulsion system's position in the composite chassis complements an unconventional yet highly active prone driver configuration – face down with the driver's arms and legs splayed toward the wheels. In fact, the race car's propulsion and suspension systems are built around the driver, enabling progressive strategies of active and driver-adjustable aerodynamics.

photo 5"Think of it as adapting a wing suit to a racing car, where the driver's movements control certain aspects of the aero package," said Saucedo. "In many ways, the Chaparral 2X VGT is like racing wing suit, with a protective fuselage for 'flying' very low to the ground."

The driver-enabled aerodynamics eliminate the need for large, conventional wings and other aero devices used to generate grip-enhancing downforce – an attribute that helps minimize the overall mass of the Chaparral 2X VGT's minimalist structure. Only essential elements are on board, with instrumentation, for example, projected on the driver's helmet visor.

Additionally, lightweight chassis components reduce the sprung weight of the race car, enabling the car to provide tremendous cornering grip with a relatively small footprint. It rolls on 17-inch front and rear wheels, all wrapped with racing tires.

"The Chaparral 2X VGT is a vision of how advanced technology may shape the look and driving experience of racing," said Saucedo. "Chaparral's racecars and methods were seen as outlandish four decades ago, and with the innovative spirit still burning at Chevrolet, the Chaparral 2X Vision Gran Turismo might just be a harbinger of motorsports in the next four decades."

Other manufacturers have developed concept racecars for the Vision Gran Turismo project, but Chevrolet is one of the few to transfer it from the digital world to a physical concept vehicle.

The Chevrolet Chaparral 2X VGT concept is on display at the Los Angeles Auto Show through Nov. 30.

tk1Farewelling a legend like 9-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen is a daunting task. TK amassed wins, championships and accolades at an alarming rate, and came to define sports car racing in the same way Michael Schumacher personified Formula 1.

tk1bHis achievements include nine wins at Le Mans from 18 attempts – a staggering 50 percent ratio – the honor of winning on his first appearance at La Sarthe and 14 total podiums since his debut in 1997. The 2013 WEC P1 Drivers' championship, six overall wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring, a win at Petit Le Mans, American Le Mans Series champion in 2001, Japanese F3 champion in 1993, German F3 champion in 1991, and a race winner in the BTCC, DTM, Formula Nippon and F3000.

Kristensen's notoriety as a sports car driver often comes at the expense of his early years spent chasing the dream of reaching Formula 1. He placed sixth in the 1996 F3000 championship despite missing four rounds, and while driving for a team that was less than stable. He took seventh on his return in 1997 with an unheralded outfit, and turned an unexpected Le Mans invitation from Joest Racing into a career path that set his future stardom in motion.

Lacking the funds and opportunity to land an F1 seat, TK was drafted into the defending Le Mans-winning Joest program for Le Mans to replace Davy Jones. The American, who won the 1996 event with Alex Wurz and Manuel Reuter in Joest's TWR Porsche WSC-95, suffered from the lingering effects of an Indy Racing League crash during the off-season, and despite his best efforts, was unable to take his place in the Joest team at Le Mans in 1997.

From Jones's unexpected absence, Le Mans was gifted a future legend.

"Hey, I would have loved to return and gone for a second win in a row with Joest," Jones told me a few years ago. "And I'm sure we could have done it with me in the car if I wasn't hurt, but Tom got the drive and he did the job perfectly."

As much as Jones hated to miss out on another chance at victory, he looks back at the situation with admiration for Kristensen's achievements.

"Look, it happens in racing all the time," he said. "I got hurt and he was ready to step up and made the most of it. Tom hasn't won Le Mans all these times because I got hurt; he's won because he's earned it."

From his formative days watching and learning from his late father Carl-Erik Kristensen – a national rallycross champion in Denmark, to his swift move up the open-wheel ladder to his emergence as the most prominent sports car driver of his generation, the Great Dane is set to retire atop the sport.

He'll turn his final laps at the WEC season finale in Brazil on Nov. 30, and with so much history to contextualize, I reached out to those who raced with him, covered his unrivaled career, and forged special bonds with the 47-year-old to honor his career in a proper manner in the pages that follow.

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TK5TK's retirement follows the same decision made by his Audi teammate Allan McNish late in 2013. Together, they formed one of the greatest partnerships in sports car racing – the fastest driver paired with the ultimate winner. Kristensen's razor-sharp wit, wry sense of humor and laser focus will be missed and, as McNish told me this morning, their similarities made for a powerful combination. With the lighthearted Latin charms of Dindo Capello (middle, ABOVE, with McNish, at left, and Kristensen) serving as the catalyst, Audi had a peerless lineup on its hands.

"I think Tom and I, we're very, very similar; too similar in some ways and we needed the antidote of Dindo to make it work," he said. "But when Dindo finally retired, we had kind of worked each other out. There's only one other person I've met in my career that had that same strength of emotion running through his veins before the start of a race, and that was Tom. I felt it on the grid at Le Mans in 2006.

"We were on pole, and pole position started off on the left-hand side as we lined up. He came across and shook my hand and he was physically shaking. The intensity – like superhero's eyes – coming out of his eyes like laser beams. That moment in time I thought, Christ, you've got the same feeling towards this as me. And I'd never felt that with anyone else before."

Racer-turned-commentator Calvin Fish became TK's personal good luck charm at Le Mans after he went on to win after Cal performed a pre-race interview for SPEED TV. Afterward, it became a tradition for Fish to interview Tom before he climbed into the car for the first time, and as he shares, their friendship quickly grew beyond the confines of motor racing.

"Personally, one of the great things about staying in motorsports through broadcasting has been the ability to watch the top guys from a very different perspective," he said. "As opposed to competing on the track, I have gotten to know teams and drivers through the network in the paddock. I feel privileged to be in a position to have insight as to how the top guys operate. Tom reached out at an early Petit Le Mans to say he remembered me from my FF2000 years in the early '80s, when I raced against a few Danes who he followed. We seemed to click and became friends. I have always been impressed by what a normal guy he is, with a cheeky and wonderful sense of humor.

"Initially, our paths crossed regularly in the ALMS and obviously at Le Mans each year. He always gives me and all our team at FOX great access and willingness to be available for interviews at our big races. To be the star that he is and make time with no fuss makes a huge statement about the man and his character. Watching from inside the pits for many years, observing his ability to deal with the huge pressure that LM brings is what stood him apart from the rest.

tk2Kristensen calls BS on Leigh Diffey's golf score as Fish (middle) looks on."With his success, you would expect confidence, but he never took anything for granted and made sure his preparation was perfect and his teammates were comfortable. He recognized that to have success, all three guys had to be able to execute at the highest level, not just one. In recent years his increased fitness regime showed that he was not backing down or cruising, but trying to remain a target for the 'kids' to chase. I have spent a bit more personal time with Tom in the later years, and seen he is a great family man and loves a good match on the golf course.

"Whatever path his career now takes, I know it will be with the same level of commitment that earned him nine wins at Le Mans. He loves the challenge and the competition. He relishes the different disciplines of the Race of Champions, for example, and has had other ideas he's wanted to explore. His record number of Le Mans wins is remarkable and crazy to comprehend, but he could have had more when you look back! The fact that he was always on the podium when he's finished is another tremendous stat I'll never forget."

John Hindhaugh, better known as "the voice of sports car racing," called most of TK's career while covering Le Mans, the ALMS, and the WEC for Radio Le Mans. Few people have witnessed the breadth of TK's sports car career in such a comprehensive manner.

"I'm delighted to say I met Tom's dad at Spa a few years back," he said as he started a weaving narrative. "Carl-Erik was gentleman in every sense of the word‎ and, of course, a rallycross champion. We swapped old rallycross stories and he was very funny and delighted in telling me – in deliberate earshot of his son and with a twinkle in his eye, how Tom not winning anything in rallycross was a constant disappointment.... Tom clearly had heard this many, many times!

"The mutual respect and pride between father and son was clear and heartwarming. This has nothing to do with Tom as a driver, and everything to do with the human side of one of the greatest ever in our sport. If you want stats, well, Tom's wins at Le Mans equate, in time, to the length of 108 ‎grands prix, and his start/win ratio at the world's greatest race is almost double that of the most successful Formula 1 driver. And that's just Le Mans. Look at his Sebring record: We should call him 'Mr. Sebring,' too.

"But that's just the numbers. Tom's personal touches are championship worthy as well. Tom, a staunch Liverpool fan, would always‎ ask about my soccer team, and tell me how he scored past Fabien Barthez, the French national goalkeeper, knowing I would reply that in all the times we played in Press vs Driver games, he never put one past me...

"The statisticians and history‎ books can have the numbers and the records. I'm exceptionally privileged to have met a genuine, generous, thoughtful man who is rightly known in our sport as Mr. Le Mans."

IMSA president Scott Atherton presided over the ALMS from its inception, bore witness to some of his mercurial performances, and paid tribute to Kristensen's legacy.

"In the world of endurance sports car racing, I believe Tom Kristensen is one of one," he said Wednesday morning. "His remarkable accomplishments, not only at Le Mans, but across the entire category of our sport have confirmed him as a giant – not only in auto racing, but in sports in general. He has achieved a list of career accomplishments that I don't think will ever be duplicated – certainly not in our lifetime. On top of that, he is a genuinely nice guy – always quick with a smile and generous with his time; a class act on and off the track.

"I am sad that his career is coming to an end, but very happy for him and his family that this decision is on his terms and while he is at the top of his game. I would like to thank him for 15 years of great endurance racing memories and wish him well in his new role within the Audi family. He will be missed in the role he has had behind the wheel, but it's good to know we'll still have him actively involved."


tk3My friend and colleague Graham Goodwin from DailySportsCar.com chose the trying circumstances surrounding last year's 24 Hours of Le Mans (ABOVE) as the defining example from TK's career.

"There are so many drives to consider, but for me the memory was the post-race press conference at Le Mans in 2013," he said. "Tom had lost his dad some weeks before Le Mans and had made it clear he would dedicate a win to him. In the winners' press conference after the race though, having also lost his friend and countryman Allan Simonsen moments into the race, he said, with tears in his eyes:

"'This victory is very special to me. I recently lost my father to cancer. Before his death he told me, that I would win Le Mans this year with my teammates. He gave me the strength and passion for motorsport and has been in my thoughts throughout the race – therefore this victory was for him. But my father can wait. This Le Mans success I am dedicating to Allan Simonsen. A friend and a great fellow countryman.'

"It was, hands down, one of the most emotional moments I have experienced in the sport and it summarized Tom for me beautifully: A proud racer, but always grounded, always with a human side."

I asked McNish to pick Kristensen's most impressive race and, like Goodwin, he offered Le Mans 2013.

"I think that's Le Mans last year. He kept it together under very, very difficult circumstances. He was absolutely pinpoint accurate, as always. But then to be able to execute the drive that he did, as in on-circuit, which was a tight fight with us and Toyota, then to stand up on the podium and be so magnanimous in the circumstances, I think that showed two or three sides of Tom. One, it was the strength of character – the strength of racer we know. But in terms of his ability to focus on what he had to do at that moment in time and focus with an intensity of emotion for the losses he felt, that was huge," he said.

"Then afterwards on the podium and subsequently later on, we saw the human side of Tom, the family man. That, to me, was probably one of the best examples of the man, if you like, insofar as what he did on the circuit but also what he did off the track as well, was absolutely perfect on both occasions. So in very sad circumstances, 2013 was probably one of his hardest but also one of his best-ever Le Mans and drives in general."

Veteran broadcaster Leigh Diffey cites another event at Le Mans – a drive into history – as his favorite moment.

"I was fortunate enough to commentate 10 consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans, and I have so many wonderful memories to reflect upon," he said. "The overwhelming one is calling Tom Kristensen across the line in 2005 to become the greatest ever at Le Mans with his record-breaking seventh victory. Jacky Ickx's mark of six wins seemed so unattainable but on that sunny afternoon in France, TK did the unthinkable and rewrote Le Mans history. These days, to be able to call him a friend and share a round of golf with him and my old mate Calvin Fish is almost surreal."

tk6"How fitting: the nine-time Le Mans winner had Seat 9A.” Regis Lefebure photo.Sports car photographer Regis Lefebure's enjoyed a kinship with TK that dates back to the early days of the ALMS.

"I have so many memories of TK, all of them revealing his great characteristics. Here are two. Washington, D.C., evening of July 21, 2002: John Brooks and I are sitting with Tom at a bar outdoors in Georgetown, overlooking the Potomac River. Tom is quite fashionably dressed all in creamy yellow – I presume to match the blond highlights of his hair. Even his shoes, surely Italian, look soft as butter and sharp as a knife, are yellow, in two tones, like his hair. John and I are taking the piss with Tom.

"Brooksie, in a lovingly referential tone for Tom's Italian teammate Dindo Capello, says: 'What's with the clothes, Tom – Dindo rubbing off on you?'

"Then it was my turn, introducing Tom to the bartender: 'Tom finished second in today's race at RFK Stadium. He was the first loser,' and on and on it goes.

"Tom throws his two-toned feet on the bar in fun, and the bartender fired back: 'Down. No loser gets to put his feet on my bar!' Tom, supremely confident in his demeanor just as he was in his driving, laughs and smiles through it all. He picks up the bar tabs, as well as the tab for dinner with the style and poise of a champion.

"Next, it was Le Mans, France, Jun 24, 2013: It's Monday morning after a dark, difficult week at 'Le Circuit de la Sarthe.' I'm sitting on the train that's aimed at Paris to catch my flight home. Literally seconds before the train is to leave, I see the winner of yesterday's race run past my window. Tom Kristensen, unprecedented, the newest nine-time champion at Le Mans, is late and running to catch the same train to Paris.

"We cross paths as I made my way from the bar car. How strange, how bittersweet, to offer congratulations and condolences in the same breath. Later that morning at Charles de Gaulle Airport, we wind up in the same queue at a security checkpoint. We talk more. He is with a couple of Danish friends. Tom offers to get coffee from Starbucks. Thinking he's asking me, too, I say yes please, cream, no sugar. His quick glance, eyebrows raised, tells me he wasn't talking to me. Five minutes later, he returns carrying four cups of coffee and hands me mine.

"Tom Kristensen, always a friend, and always with the grace, style and poise of a champion. And how fitting: TK, the nine-time Le Mans winner, had Seat 9A."

FOX's Bob Varsha paid tribute to Kristensen by honoring the totality of his contributions to the sport.

"The term 'consummate professional' is overused, but it perfectly applies to Tom Kristensen," he said. "And not just on the track. I work with a lot of drivers doing media training, and I often point to TK as the kind of guy who's the whole package. His tenure, particularly at Audi straddling their domination at Le Mans, is a testament to this. He's always ready, he's championship-quick and smart, he's approachable for the fans and wonderful to work with in the media. And then there's his place at Le Mans.

"Our old colleague David Hobbs always says you have to be good and lucky, and Tom's been both. He raced with McNish, Biela, Pirro, Capello, and so many other teammates at Audi, and he's the one out of all of them to go the longest, win the most races at Le Mans. He's a timeless talent, a timeless champion. I'm struggling to imagine what it will be like at Le Mans next year without Tom on the grid. He is Le Mans for so many people."


2014LM24PruettWeds61114 003

Understanding the man behind those nine wins, and getting a feel for what made Kristensen stand out among his rivals and teammates at Le Mans, happened during our earliest interactions. I've probably shot a dozen videos with Tom over the years, and each experience was absolutely unique from the hundreds of other driver-related videos I've filmed.

Most drivers surrender to the process – they go where they're told, give interviews, make speeches, contribute to debriefs, sign autographs, and perform a dozen other tasks that involve taking direction from others. The one and only place they control is the cockpit of a racing car. Except for Tom.

He was the director of our videos, despite never asking me if I actually wanted his direction.... If Tom didn't like the angle of the shot, the background, or any other aspect of how he'd be represented, he insisted on changes that met with his approval before recording commenced.

Often, even after we'd find something that suited him, he'd keep directing – asking more questions – between takes as he found sublte adjustments to make.

TK: "One step to the right would be better, don't you think? And I'm not sure the lighting is OK."

MP: "Sure Tom, one step to the right...stronger lighting..."

Just for grins, I held my ground last year on one shoot--Tom thought the background was ugly, I didn't, and we stared at each other for about 30 seconds until he realized I wouldn't budge. Like his winning percentage at Le Mans, Tom also dominated the win column when it came time to film and he was begrudginly gracious in allowing me a single victory in seven years of video interviews.

Those interactions were a pain at times, but also provided insights that wouldn't have come from traditional sit-down interviews. Kristensen never surrendered, was in control of everything he did – even the little things – and held those around him to exacting standards. It's no mystery why the man became the greatest driver at the world's biggest race. Nothing left to chance, no stone unturned.

tk4When I think of Tom's greatest drives, one stands above all the others: Le Mans 2008 (ABOVE).

Peugeot's rocket-fast 908 LMP1 diesels made Audi's R10 diesels look antiquated, and with the French manufacturer running away with the race, it took a torrential downpour around 3 a.m. Sunday morning and Kristensen's inch-perfect, attacking style to claw back the big lead held by the Lion.

I'd nodded off at my desk overlooking the front straight, and once TK started taking chunks out of Jacques Villeneuve's lead, my friend Sam Collins nudged me and told me to keep an eye on the timing and scoring screen. The lap times being produced by Kristensen were simply unbelievable, and with his comeback performance at night in the driving rain, win No. 8 was all but certain.

"That year we knew we had one time to have a half a chance and that was it," McNish explained. "What Tom did through the night was he stuck the knife in, but he also twisted it as well. Pulled back a deficit to Jacques and then overtook him. I think it's unfair on Jacques because, clearly, the Peugeot wasn't that good in the wet conditions. But the opportunity was there. Tom grabbed it and he ran away with it very, very quickly and left Jacques to struggle and left Peugeot on the back foot.

"It was that through-the-night period was when the race swung from being theirs to being ours. We were the chasers taking the big risks and then suddenly it was six in the morning, they were the chasers taking the big risks. It was a stunning display, no question about it. That's one area where I think Tom had a skill: to be able to drive and suit himself to the circumstances. He's very agile. I would say he's was very adaptable in that respect. That is what you need at Le Mans. That is what I think he had in an absolute abundance. That was an example – it was bloody wet, big rivers. The car was nice to drive, but in those situations you were hanging on all the time. There was not a second in the car where you were relaxed. Like I said, it was a fantastic example of Tom doing what Tom does."

TK's retirement severs the final strand to Audi's original group of Le Mans drivers. We're doing more than saying farewell to TK; we're farewelling the last active member that launched Audi's history-making Le Mans program. McNish, as usual, placed the perfect exclamation point and period on the conversation.

"It's an end of an era, no question about it," he said. "It was always coming. It came I think at the right time; I'm very pleased for him, actually. Very proud that he was able to get out on his terms in the way he wanted to do it with the speed that he had this year, which was pretty bloody impressive.

tk8"I think we had something very, very special. Me, Tom, Dindo – the three of us; it was superb. 12 months ago when I retired, I said it's like the closing of the chapter of a book. It's not the closing of the book; it's a closing of the chapter. But at the same time, you also need to let the young blood flourish and come through. There's a new crop of guys coming through and it's good to see that. They need the opportunities as well.

"As much as you look and think, yeah, I'm sad that era's gone, there is an element and always will be of when it lasted it was absolutely superb, but it must come to an end. That is where we are today. Less than two weeks' time, that whole era will definitely have come to an end in Tom's last race for Audi. In reality, it started coming to an end when Dindo retired. So it is been a gradual process. We've been weaned off the way of working, if you like, and Dindo and I are very relaxed and happy in what we are doing now. Tom will be, I'm very sure, come the turn of 2015. But he's got one more race to go before that so he's got a get his backside in gear.

"He knows he's got to turn that chapter and look towards the future. Whatever that brings for TK, I know he's still going to be involved with Audi, there's no questions about that, in a similar way that there was very little questions that Dindo and I were still going to be involved. I just want to be able to sit down with him and Dindo and have a beer at Le Mans and enjoy it without having the intensity of one of us having to get in the car."

And when might that happen for TK, wee Allan and Dindo?

"Well, we're going to start drinking at the beginning of the race!" he said with a laugh. "3 o'clock, that's a good time to crack it open."

Thanks for the memories, Tom.

{igallery id=6227|cid=241|pid=9|type=category|children=0|addlinks=0|tags=|limit=0}

TK-lead

Tom Kristensen's retirement at the end of this season will close the career of one the greatest sports car drivers in history.

Initially, open-wheel racing was his forte, as he succeeded Michael Schumacher as German Formula 3 champion in 1991, and two years later nailed the All-Japan F3 title. However, the fact that Kristensen was at the same level for three seasons is significant: like many talented single-seater racers of the time, he was always struggling for a budget.

Similarly blessed/cursed drivers like Alain Menu and Rickard Rydell had taken the touring car option, but TK opted to stick it out a bit longer in open-wheel cars. In 1994, he graduated to Formula Nippon in Japan, and the following season, finished third in the championship. He was thus well prepared for his return to Europe for Formula 3000 in 1996, and over the following two years clocked a win and several podiums.

But it was during that second year that he made the biggest impression, and it wasn't in a single-seater. It was driving a sports car in Europe's most famous race…

BELOW: Winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans as a rookie in the Joest-run TWR Porsche WSC 95 he shared with veterans Michele Alboreto and Stefan Johansson.

97LEMANS01

BELOW: Two Le Mans campaigns with BMW in 1998 and ’99 promised much but delivered nothing. The cars were withdrawn in the first of these two years after a wheelbearing problem, but defeat in the ’99 race is one that Kristensen describes as "my biggest disappointment at Le Mans." The Schnitzer BMW V12 LMR had won the 12 Hours of Sebring with TK, Jorg Muller and JJ Lehto sharing driving duties and it was leading Le Mans by almost four laps when the throttle stuck open at the Porsche Curves with Lehto at the wheel, and crashed out.

98LM28

BELOW: Kristensen visited the CART paddock at Mid-Ohio in ’99, watching fellow Dane Jan Magnussen who was driving for Patrick Racing in the second half of that season.

1999CART-with-Magnussen


2000LM24

(ABOVE) The Audi R8 in which Kristensen, along with Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro, conquered both Le Mans and Sebring in 2000.

(BELOW) Displaying his versatility, TK also campaigned a Honda Accord in the British Touring Car Championship in 2000. By the end of the season he had three wins (BOTTOM) and four other podiums to his name, ending the year seventh in the BTCC points standings. Here he's flanked by Anthony Reid and Jason Plato.

2000BTCC

2000BTCCpodium


2001ALMSMosport

(ABOVE) North American sports car fans were able to see Tom in action several times a year at the start of this millennium, with Audi Sport ermbarking on an American Le Mans Series campaign. This is TK in action at Mosport in 2001 in Audi Sport North America colors, while (BELOW) in 2002 at Sonoma he's seen in the Champion team car.

2002SonomaChampionAudi

(BELOW) At the end of 2002, Dr. Don Panoz presented Kristensen and Dindo Capello with the American Le Mans Series championship title.

2002ALMSbanquet


2003Bentley

(ABOVE) The Volkswagen Group had no works Audis entered in the 2003 Le Mans 24 Hours, but it did have a pair of Bentleys, the EXP Speed 8 having come of age in its third year. They finished 1-2, with Kristensen in the lead car along with Capello and Guy Smith.

(BELOW) Kristensen started racing in DTM in 2004, driving an Abt Sportsline Audi A4. By mid-season he was a race winner…not long after he'd matched Jacky Ickx's Le Mans record with his sixth victory (BOTTOM), this time driving a Team Goh Audi R8. 

2004DTMShanghai

2004LM24GohAudi


2005LeMans

America's ADT Champion squad ensured the by-now legendary R8 got a fitting send-off in 2005, with Kristensen, Lehto and Marco Werner clinching victory in both Sebring and Le Mans (ABOVE).

(BELOW) Third in the DTM championship in the Audi A4 in 2005. But if DTM wasn't enough to demonstrate his versatility, Kristensen has long been one of the true aces at the Race of Champions (BOTTOM) each year. He's finished runner-up three times and in ’05, he and Mattias Ekstrom took home the Nations Cup for Scandinavia.

2005DTM

2005RoC


2006Sebring

(ABOVE) One hell of a race debut for the new R10 TDI (BELOW)! Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello didn't conquer Le Mans in ’06, but 12 Hours around Sebring is no less grueling.

2005DecR10launch

(BELOW) Top Audi driver in DTM in 2006, Tom [on right] was beaten only by Mercedes-Benz pilots Bernd Schneider and Bruno Spengler.

2006TopAudiDTM


2008LM24

A monster shunt in DTM was the worst part of a relatively quiet year results-wise for Kristensen in 2007, but the Le Mans defeat – when his car lost a wheel while four laps in front – was the biggest disappointment. Yet TK, Capello and McNish were back to win the event in 2008 (ABOVE), and this same trio scored the new R15 TDI's first victory on its debut at Sebring the following year (BELOW).

2009Sebring

(BELOW) Tom's sixth and final win in the Sebring 12 Hours in 2012 was also the new R18 TDI's debut…

2012Sebring


2013LM24

(ABOVE) The subdued atmosphere on the Le Mans podium in 2013 despite his amazing ninth victory was because Tom's Danish compatriot Allan Simonsen had been killed in a big shunt in an Aston Martin at the start of the race. Co-drivers McNish and Loic Duval are similarly downcast, while Dr Wolfgang Ullrich's face reflects the combination of pride/relief and the sorrow/compassion of a naturally empathetic character.

(BELOW) The FIA World Endurance Championship – here pictured on their way to second at Fuji – was something McNish and Kristensen were almost desperate for in 2013, Allan because he was retiring at season's end, Tom because he wanted to be able to add the title "World Champion" to his list of achievements. They and young partner Duval succeeded in their quest, and headed for the FIA's annual prize-giving ceremony in December (BOTTOM).

2013WECFuji

2013WECChamps


2013GdwdGalaxie

Whether he's muscling a Ford Galaxie 500 (ABOVE) or curving neater lines in Jaguar E-type Lightweight (BELOW), Kristensen has become a very popular attendee of the Goodwood Revival. But he will always be most famous for matching and then surpassing the Le Mans record of the great Jacky Ickx (BOTTOM).

So from RACER, happy retirement to the great Dane, Tom Kristensen, a proper modern legend of auto racing. We'll try to remain unbiased but secretly we want him to win one of his final two races…

2013GdwdE-type

2013WithIckx

 

 

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