Jethro’s mixing with the stars of WEC. So what are these guys really like?
‘I never thought I’d be bugging Kubica, Montoya and Fisichella for interviews’
LIFE TAKES YOU IN UNEXPECTED DIRECTIONS sometimes, and for 2022 my surprise twist has been working for Eurosport, covering the World Endurance Championship. I never imagined doing live TV. As somebody who finds their own race weekends deeply boring except for those magical moments in the car, rubbing door handles with other competitors, I certainly never imagined doing race coverage. And I never thought I’d work with people like Tom Kristensen (nine-time Le Mans winner) and Anthony Davidson (former F1 driver, Peugeot factory driver in the LMP1 programme and WEC champion with Toyota in 2014), or be bugging the likes of Kubica, Montoya and Fisichella for interviews.
It’s been an intriguing year. The new Hypercar category – the top category and designed to replace the wonderful but complex and hugely expensive
LMP1 class – is starting to find its feet, and with new cars coming from Ferrari, Porsche and Cadillac, next season should be spectacular.
Let’s forget the hype for a second, though. I want to talk about the good guys. Because you never know, do you? Maybe Mr Le Mans is actually a bit of a pain in the backside. Maybe the happy, brilliantly insightful Ant you see on Sky F1 coverage or Eurosport for WEC is sulky and demanding when the camera switches off. Maybe Fisi is just going through the motions and doesn’t really care. Perhaps Jim Glickenhaus isn’t as eccentric as his wildly ambitious race and road car programme would suggest. No, that one I can put to bed quickly. He’s one of the world’s great motorsport madmen. No more column inches necessary.
I think the story that best sums up Tom Kristensen happened at Le Mans this year. We decided it would be cool to do a piece on the official safety cars, a pair of very tasty 992 Turbo Ss modified by Manthey for even greater track performance. The idea was to run through the supplementary screens inside and the information displayed, how communication works between race control and the safety car team, to talk about how they need to control their pace during recovery situations but also go hard enough to keep the racers behind up to operating temperatures. A real peek behind the curtain.
Tom settled down behind the steering wheel alongside regular driver and former F3000 and sportscar competitor Pedro Couceiro. They spoke for a short time but at a standstill. In fact, Tom covered all the things we asked him to discuss but, because of a delay on track, the light at the end of the pitlane remained red. Two guys in a stationary car is not as dynamic as we’d envisioned. But no matter. This was like a rehearsal. The lights went green. Pedro grinned, Tom pinned the throttle and basically did a qualifying lap. Two, in fact. No more words were spoken. Tom was buzzing when he came back in. Saying how fast the Porsche was, how he’d hit 300kph and nearly lost it through the Dunlop chicane. Pedro was laughing and happy to have been in the car at full flight with Mr Le Mans. They clearly couldn’t help but go flat-out. Which I couldn’t help feeling very happy about indeed. We couldn’t use the video but we had the adrenaline-fuelled Tom for the rest of the weekend and he provides stories and insights that are literally priceless. TK is a legend. And I’d say that even if he hadn’t won Le Mans nine times.
Anthony Davidson is a right miserable git, though. No, that’s not true. There is no evil gossip to spill. He’s bloody brilliant. I could listen to him talk for hours. Not only is his enthusiasm for sportscar racing and F1 undimmed, he has a rare knack of seeing the bigger picture but knowing every tiny pixel of that image in fine detail. Ask him anything and he has not just an opinion, but one rooted in real experience and a deep technical understanding of whatever you happen to want to know about. Plus, he’s still working with Mercedes on the simulator on a regular basis and even gets to drive recent F1 cars from time to time. Which, by the way, are ‘absurdly fast’ and almost impossible to wrap your head around. So too the speed that Lewis can generate through the faster corners.
The WEC paddock just seems a happy place. Kubica – who is a genuine motorsport hero in my book, not just a bloke who can drive quickly – is so relaxed and cool about everything. Fisi loves to compete and doesn’t see any reason to stop. Kevin Estre is quiet and calm, the very opposite to his driving style on the Ring! And up and down the pitlane, from amateurs to ex-f1 drivers, there’s a shared sense that life isn’t too bad at all. It’s serious business but people take the time to enjoy it. Whether this jovial attitude remains when Porsche, Ferrari, Peugeot, Toyota, Cadillac and others are slugging it out in perfectly matched Hypercars remains to be seen. I hope to be there. Race weekends, even when you’re not racing, can be really good fun. That’s the biggest surprise of all.