mr. le mans

tom kris­tensen will al­ways be hailed as the con­queror of sarthe

Top Gear (Philippines) - - Full Throttle - Words by SHARLEEN BANZON il­lus­tra­tion by VIN­CENT ASEO

out of 18 en­tries at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Tom Kris­tensen won nine times, failed to fin­ish on four oc­ca­sions, and took ei­ther sec­ond or third in his other runs. And yet, asked by Au­toweek in a 2016 in­ter­view if he feels like the “best, great­est” racer to com­pete in the event, he replied: “No, no, no. I’m a part of a great tra­di­tion, great teams, and great co-driv­ers.”

En­durance rac­ing, af­ter all, is very much a team sport. It doesn’t mat­ter who you are or what you’ve achieved else­where; if you want to suc­ceed here, it’s the team game you have to play. Kris­tensen went on to re­late his first Le Mans ex­pe­ri­ence in 1997, as a last-minute re­place­ment for the in­jured racer Davy Jones at Joest Rac­ing: “I joined two ex­pe­ri­enced driv­ers with con­sid­er­able suc­cess in For­mula 1. When I showed up, Michele Al­boreto took me aside, and I was ex­pect­ing him to tell me, ‘You must do this, and this.’”

His team­mate’s next words sur­prised him: “In­stead, he said, ‘We’re ex­pe­ri­enced, we think we can win this year, but with you join­ing us we’re even bet­ter. We think you are go­ing to help us win.’ And I thought, ‘Are you re­ally talk­ing to me?’ But it gave me the right foun­da­tion, and it built my self­con­fi­dence.”

One week later, the Dane took his first Le Mans ti­tle. It only served to strengthen his spirit. Shrug­ging off two fruit­less en­tries with BMW, he joined Audi in 2000 and went on to tri­umph at the Cir­cuit de la Sarthe for a record six con­sec­u­tive years. Five of the wins were with Audi, but in 2003 it was with Bent­ley, which is also un­der the VW Group. Dur­ing this pe­riod, he also clinched the Amer­i­can Le Mans Se­ries championship, and amassed half of what would be a record six 12 Hours of Se­bring wins.

Kris­tensen ex­pe­ri­enced a scare in 2007, when a big crash at the Hock­en­heim­ring threat­ened to pre­vent him from com­pet­ing at Le Mans. He said the ac­ci­dent led him to have an “even big­ger fo­cus on phys­i­cal train­ing.” While his Audi team failed to fin­ish at Le Mans that year, he was back on top in 2008, ex­tend­ing his tally to eight wins. His ninth and fi­nal vic­tory came in 2013, along with the World En­durance Championship ti­tle.

Still com­pet­i­tive in 2014 and fin­ish­ing sec­ond that year at Le Mans, Kris­tensen nev­er­the­less de­cided to re­tire. “I am proud of my ca­reer, what I have achieved, and for the mem­o­ries that I will have for­ever,” he said. “I feel priv­i­leged to have worked with so many in­spir­ing and tal­ented peo­ple. I have driven with the best co-driv­ers on the best teams in the world. If I could do it all again, I would not change a sin­gle de­ci­sion in my ca­reer.”

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