CAR interviews Le Mans-winner Allan McNish

Published: 03 September 2010

The 2010 Le Mans Series reaches its climactic finale at Silverstone on September 10-12 when the gruelling 1000km of Silverstone race takes place. And CAR has some fabulous money-cannot-buy tickets to give away – including full VIP hospitality and pit walks – that will get you into the new Silverstone circuit and up close with the cars and the drivers.

Click here to see the competition prizes

Not only is the race set to be a nail-biting end to a thrilling season, but it will also act as the curtain-raiser for the new Intercontinental Le Mans Cup that will see the teams visit Road Atlanta in America for the Petit Le Mans, and a six-hour race at Zhuhai in China. The Silverstone round is going to be an epic race, which is why we caught up with Le Mans winner Allan McNish for the lowdown on tackling the new layout at Silverstone and the thrill of driving the formidable Audi R15 TDI Plus.

CAR: What it’s really like pedalling the Audi R15?

McNish: ‘Driving a modern sportscar is like nothing else I have ever done in my life, whether it be one of the gravity defying roller coasters, a blast on a Ducati Moto GP bike, a run down the Salt Lake Olympic track in a four-man bob or a low-flying trip in an RAF Tornado.  

‘When you have just 930kg of car, bags more torque than an F1 car and a top speeds of well over 200mph, the straights are very short to say the least. Then you hit the carbon brakes – causing them to reach 700-degrees Centigrade – and the deceleration pushes you forward into your safety belts as you push up to 100kg of pressure through your foot onto the brake pedal. As you steer through the fast series of bends at Silverstone you’re pulling 4g laterally, which means you have to hold your breath to stop your organs being squeezed into your ribcage, or in other words, your head suddenly weighs 32 kg. That’s one corner and there are about 15 more to go before the end of the lap with over 30 cars on track . A race-prepared Ferrari 430 is one of the slowest car on the track, so it’s like driving flat out on the M25 at rush hour threading your way through all the traffic. Kind of fun really!’

CAR: What’s it like being a team of drivers rather than just one driver?

McNish: ‘Working with your team mate is critical. Some years I have seen my team mate as much as I have my family. With all our testing and races (in 2007, for example, I spent over 230 nights in hotels), you need to be both be fast, determined and selfish but also intelligent enough to know you must get on if you are going to win.’

CAR: Talk us through the race weekend ahead…

McNish: ‘We arrive Thursday at the track. I generally run the track in the afternoon just to see if anything has changed since I was last there – kerbs, bumps, that sort of thing. I then have a meeting with my team and engineers to speak in detail about how we approach the weekend before our main Audi Sport team meeting. I’ll try to see the physio now to treat any previous war wounds before the circus all starts.

‘Friday, after administration checks you have a driver briefing – a bit like assembly at school – but we get the chance to bring up problems at previous races. Sometimes it gets heated and there’s a bit of handbags at dawn, but it’s all part of the game. Then it is into practice sessions and debriefs. Being a race driver is a multi-faceted job. Driving talent is not enough. A modern driver is a business man, an image for international companies, a sound bite for the media, an athlete, a 200-strong team motivator who leads the direction of engineering of the car, tyres and engine. 

‘Saturday’s sessions are split focused on the race and qualifying and getting a front row slot for the race. When it all comes down to it the tyres are at their peak for just one lap. After that there’s a press conference and team debrief wheer we discuss how was it in qualifying but also what do we do for tomorrow. Finally we practice some pit stops with my team mate. Then a massage and off to bed.

‘Sunday is race day, race face but also media face and sponsor face. After warm up in the morning I will visit all three of my personal sponsors who are at this event. Everyone needs the insight, the dedicated autograph, the photo, the driving tip. Then it’s the official autograph session and then off to see the many Audi guests who all want to see another Audi victory. Nothing like expectation! I then get to change into my race overalls and get my race face on, check my two helmets, grab some pasta and even more of that yellow-looking drink from our team doctor before hopping into the car and taking it to the grid before the start.

‘Another banana and then a final trip to the loo before a hand shake here, a short interview for TV or radio there and then finally with about seven minutes to go I get my radio earpieces in, my balaclava on, my helmet and HANS strapped on and then my custom-made gloves and slide down into my office, my private world, check the 15 knobs and switches I have on my steering wheel and displays that change the car. Then a last tighten of the seat belt to prepare for the defining moment, when that flag drops and the bullshit stops!’

CAR: Silvertone’s new layout – good or bad?

McNish: ‘I’m very much looking forward to getting onto the new Silverstone circuit. Silverstone’s been a bit part of my career since 1987. My first ever car race was there and I’ve seen many generations of the track as it’s evolved, but I’m particularly looking forward to getting onto the new one. It has retained a lot of its character with the first sections through Copse and Becketts and down towards Stowe. But now it’s been added to there’s more of a requirement, a balanced requirement between aerodynamic and suspension setup because of the new slow speed section.’

CAR: Any tricky bits?

McNish: ‘There’s some bumps in there and the bumps will require you to be very precise in your driving but also work very hard with the damping of the car. I think from a racing point of view as well there’s hopefully a couple of extra overtaking areas. And because of the multi-class format we have, overtaking is something that is key to winning the race, but it also creates a lot of excitement so the fans will definitely have a very entertaining weekend.’

CAR: Are you nervous tackling the new track?

McNish: ‘From my point of view, going to the track is going to be a learning experience; I’ve watched the Formula 1 GP and also driven a little bit on part of the circuit. The other thing is, from Audi’s perspective as well, we’re going there with a theoretical setup. So it’s going to be very much learning it all on the first day of practice, seeing whether everything we think is actually like that in reality. Either way it’s going to be a fun weekend and it’ll be good to be back on home turf.’


The Prizes     

First Prize
A pair of three-day grandstand tickets, plus VIP hospitality courtesy of the Le Mans Series and access to the exclusive grid walk before the 1000Km of Silverstone – wander among the cars as they line up on the grid – and access to the pit lane walkabout.

Second prize
A pair of three-day grandstand tickets including access to the pre-race grid walk

Third prize
A pair of three-day grandstand tickets

Click here to enter our competition

If you’re not lucky enough to win, tickets are available by calling 0844 3728 260 or visiting Race day tickets cost £21 in advance or £25 on the day.

This competition closes on Wednesday 8 September 2010, and the prizes will be ready for collection from Silverstone from 10 September 2010. This competition, and all of CAR Magazine and CAR Online’s future competitions, will be run through Great Competitions, a sister website to Sign up now so you can enter all our future competitions. Good luck!

By Ben Whitworth

Contributing editor, sartorial over-achiever, HANS device shirt collars