Have-a-go hero: Brad Jones
The Aussie tin-top star accepted an unlikely, last-minute sportscar call-up
“THE ADRENALIN AND EXHILARATION, EVEN TALKING ABOUT IT NOW, I CAN TASTE IT”
Held on New Year’s Eve at Adelaide, the 2000 American Le Mans Series finale, dubbed the ‘Race of a Thousand Years’, is perhaps best remembered for the ‘crocodile’ livery sported by the winning Audi R8.
Although drivers Allan Mcnish and Rinaldo Capello swept to a 21-lap victory in the 5h45m race, securing Mcnish the title, the car’s Australian connection went beyond its scaly paint scheme.
On the eve of his last start for Audi before moving to a Formula 1 test role with Toyota, Mcnish twisted his back on the Friday – reportedly while stepping out of a kilt after a media event. With the Scot in doubt for the race and no time to summon a substitute from Europe, Brad Jones – a then 40-year-old V8 Supercars driver – received a surprise call-up.
Jones’s eponymous team had run Audi Super Tourers in Australia during the 1990s, but as a long-time touring car driver he faced a big step up to the R8.
“When I first got the phonecall, it was about 6am on the Saturday and I thought it was a joke,” he recalls. “It took a second call for me to book the flights to Adelaide!
“During the seat fitting at the circuit, [Audi head of motorsport] Dr Wolfgang Ullrich asked how I fitted. I replied ‘perfectly’, even though my head stuck out a fair way and my legs were up to my armpits. I drove in two practice sessions and it was just amazing. The adrenalin and exhilaration, even talking about it now, I can taste it. It felt so fast.”
Although within five seconds of the pace after a tentative 25 laps of practice, the local hero didn’t actually contest the race, as Mcnish elected to power through his discomfort.
“The emotions were up and down all day,” reflects Jones. “At one point I was going to drive for the finish, but in the end the team thought it was too risky when the car was leading and going to win.
“They wanted me to get on the podium and I wouldn’t do it, which in hindsight was stupid, but I felt like without driving the car you didn’t deserve to be there.
“But it’s something now that I look back on with a lot of fondness.
It was just such a special thing to be able to drive that car.”
Jones (r) and Rinaldo Capello wait for Mcnish