Allan McNish determined to drive out demons of Le Mans horror crash
Four Scots will tackle the 80th running of the world’s most demanding race this weekend, the Le Mans 24-Hours. For two of them it’s a day to dispel the demons of previous crashes, for another it’s about setting a new benchmark in motorsport.
Twelve months ago, Allan McNish grabbed all the headlines at the race. The then 41-year-old from Dumfries somehow, miraculously, walked away from his horrific 140mph crash.
Just 50 minutes 43 seconds into the race, the Scot had just darted down the inside of team-mate Timo Bernhard’s Audi, which had slowed behind the Ferrari 458 of Frenchman Anthony Beltoise, to take the lead. Seizing his opportunity, McNish also went to overtake the Ferrari.
Clearly unsighted and unaware of McNish, Beltoise turned-in just as the Audi swept past him. The front right of the Ferrari tapped the rear left of the German car sending it spearing sideways across the gravel towards its inevitable collision with the tyre wall.
The resulting impact was explosive, sending a million shards of carbonfibre skywards. One wheel which sheered from the car narrowly missed a photographer, while the tyre wall stopped the car careering into a packed grandstand.
Miraculously, after marshals managed to right the upside-down wreckage, McNish emerged winded and, unbelievably, with a only a bad graze to his shin. As he rested yesterday before tackling this year’s race, at the famous 8.46-mile circuit — which sees the cars reach speeds in excess of 200mph on closed-off public roads normally used by cars, lorries and tractors — the Scot reflected on 12 months ago.
“It was a case of just holding on,” he said, before adding, rather unbelievably, “but with hindsight I don’t see it as actually being too big a crash. I’ve never done anything in an accident except press the brake pedal as hard as I could, hold on to the steering and wait. When you are flying you can’t control anything. You’re out, that’s it. You just wait for it to stop. Outside there were pieces flying everywhere. But in the car there wasn’t any of that. There was a rearward impact; there was a bit of dust flying around, and then the car was upside down, and stopped.
“Then it was a case of just waiting till it was righted; no wheels on the wagon, so I couldn’t get it back to the pits, which was my immediate primary goal. I popped the door, hopped out and was off to hospital for a check-up.”
Those words, of course, would do well to be analysed by a psychologist. They are clearly part of the mental healing which allows the driver to climb back into a car, and again put his life at risk at over 200mph. Let’s remember; when the devastation had stopped, McNish’s Audi R18TDI was a mangled wreck. That he emerged minutes later was testament to the solidity, and inbuilt safety features, of the Audi. “I don’t think about the crash too much,” he admits, not too surprisingly. “I still go down through the Esses and have exactly the same thought as before the crash: they’re still flat-out for me. I’ll take them flat in the wet, and take them flat in the dry. That’s the way it is.”
This year McNish and his Audi team are further pushing the boundaries of technology. For the first time they’re running a pair of diesel-electric hybrids, and the Scot is favourite to claim victory in his Audi e-tron quattro.
“It’s the future,” said McNish, who lines up fourth on the 56-car grid behind the other polesitting e-tron quattro of Audi team-mate Andre Lotterer.
“But today I’m focused on the present. It’s been a long 12 months waiting to get back here, and I’ve got some unfinished business to do.”
For Fifer Peter Dumbreck, it’s been a longer wait: 13 years. Now 38-years-old, the Kirkcaldy racer will drive a prototype racer for the first time since his Mercedes CLR became airborne at 200mph in 1999 and landed in the trees. Though Dumbreck returned to race in the famous 24-Hours race at Le Mans in 2006, it was in a lesser-powered GT car. This year it’s a prototype. The natural question is: does he have any fears? “It’s not something I really think about,” admitted Dumbreck, who will partner Aussie David Brabham and Indian F1 driver Karun Chandhok in the JRM Honda HPD ARX and starts 11th.
“I’ve been back to the Le Mans 24-Hours three times in a GT car since I had the accident in 1999, and it’s not really something that’s on my mind.”
While Airdrie’s Ryan Dalziel starts the race ninth in the LMP2 class, and 22nd overall in his Starworks Honda, most eyes will be on Marino Franchitti’s innovative Nissan DeltaWing. The 33-year-old from Bathgate starts a hugely impressive 29th.
Impressive because the DeltaWing weighs half what the 900kg cars weigh, uses a 1.5-litre Nissan petrol engine, and the team aims to complete the race using around half the fuel of other cars.
“We’re a class of one, so we can’t win and we can’t lose,” he said. “The car is essentially a rolling science experiment. It’s going to be a blast.”
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 10 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east