Tom Kristensen holds the Le Mans 24 Hours record for nine wins, most of them with Audi. He was Grand Marshal at the weekend’s Daytona 24-hour race, and we used it as an excuse for a natter to see how retirement is treating him, and to pick up his top tips on beating an endurance race.
You are Grand Marshal at Daytona. Yet you’ve not raced here…
I’ve always followed the 24 hours here, and it’s one I’ve always wanted to be involved in. But loyalty to manufacturers has never allowed me to.
Before this weekend I had never driven this track, and never raced here. My very first lap here was on Friday doing hot laps in a new Audi R8. While I’m determined in my decision to retire, if I was going to be tempted back, then the Rolex 24 would be a fitting race.
So do weekends like this make you miss racing?
Once a racer, always a racer. And I think it would be bad if I didn’t miss it.
I remember last year at Le Mans, I was at the golf course at Mulsanne corner on the Saturday evening. I was eating a very nice steak, and drinking some red wine, and it was getting dark. And then… [Tom makes noises of cars and their sequential gearchanges whizzing past] …then I really envied them.
Does that mean night stints were your favourite?
Yes. I’m old enough to have raced when there was no floodlights, and I have also been through halogen, xenon, LED and laser lights with Audi. The lights have improved as my age has perhaps made my eyesight worse!
At night, it’s very important to go out, push early and really get into the zone. I think the night is key to endurance racing: when you emerge well from it and you’re in contention to win, there’s lots of determination in the team.
When the drivers are jumping in and out, and everyone is focused intensely – positively – that’s a great feeling. That’s why I love sports car racing above anything else.
You must have developed lots of tricks for tackling endurance races…
When you go to or leave the circuit, the drivers should all be in the same car; it’s a little thing but for me it is a must. You communicate: good things, bad things and sometimes issues pop up. You need that respect, honesty, camaraderie between each other.
Oh, and drink a lot of water. But make sure there are some toilets around the way when you walk around the paddock!
‘That’ can be an issue in the car. The worst thing is under yellow flags. They take the stress and adrenaline away, and you can relax a bit. And you know what happens when you relax: ‘it’ can happen! The yellows can be called yellows for another reason…
Each Le Mans (and Daytona) winner gets a Rolex watch as a prize. Is your arm big enough for nine?
I don’t have all these watches in a certain war chest waiting for me, I share them with people who have been important: friends, family, people who have been key players to me.
I can tell you a lot of stories about the watches I’ve won. I cherish them. A Rolex watch is something you give at a certain event – passing an exam, when you get married, have a child – things that make you happy. To get a watch in sports car racing is something special.