The 43-year-old from Dumfries is Scotland’s first motorsport world champion since Colin McRae lifted the world rally title in 1995, and the significance of his latest achievement was huge for McNish.
“Colin was – is – an icon in world rallying, and to bring another world championship to Scotland, our wee nation, is a massive achievement,” the newly-crowned winner of the FIA World Endurance Championship said in China yesterday.
“We came here with a very clear job to do and did what we had to do,” added McNish, who was partnered by Dane Tom Kristensen and Frenchman Loïc Duval in the Six Hours of Shanghai.
“We were totally risk-averse today, just to gain the position we needed to put it in the bag. It’s a season’s effort and I am very proud of what we did, very pleased.”
McNish and his team-mates had already claimed three victories – including the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, and three second places in the opening six races – and started the penultimate round with a virtually insurmountable 40-point lead.
The Scot – knowing just a fourth-place would seal the title – started the race in his Audi R18 e-tron quattro hybrid from fourth on the 28-car grid at the 3.39-mile F1 Chinese Grand Prix circuit. McNish quickly realised, however, that his car was fitted with the wrong compound of Michelin tyres for the opening 93-minute stint, yet he managed to retain his fourth position in the 28-car field.
With his team-mates handling the next two stints, it was left to McNish, with his Hunting MacInnes tartan band round his race helmet, to bring the car home over the final 75 minutes, finishing third to seal the title.
“It’s absolutely fantastic,” McNish, already a three-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, continued. “I’ve got a massive big warm feeling inside.
“I’ve been waiting to win a world championship since 1985. I’ve had three cracks at a world title: in karting I finished third at Le Mans, behind Michael Schumacher – that hurt because it was very close, but no cigar. But then in Formula One with Toyota, there wasn’t really an opportunity: so it’s third time lucky.
“It’s great to finish on the podium and clinch the title, and, sure, it would have been nice to have won, but dropping 40 seconds in the opening stint with the tyre glitch cost us the win.
“But I’m massively proud of what we have accomplished this year. We came out the blocks fighting in the opening race at Silverstone, and went on to also win at Le Mans and in Texas.
“We had a terrific run at the Circuit of the Americas, where we got that last win, and I think that was a big turning point for us this season.
“It was that important result which allowed us to come here today and drive a conservative race, but I’m out to finish the season off in style in Bahrain at the end of the month.
“Crossing the line was very emotional. It’s the cherry on the top of the career cake.”
In addition to his three Le Mans wins and new world title, McNish, widely acknowledged as the world’s greatest sportscar racer in recent years, also won the North American-based ALMS sportscar endurance title with Audi in 2000, 2006 & 2007.
His first single-seater title was the 1988 Formula Vauxhall Lotus Championship, following multiple Scottish and British kart championship titles.
The Shanghai race was won in dramatic style by McNish’s Audi team-mates, Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler.
The Toyota of Nicolas Lapierre and Alex Wurz had looked on course to win, leading going into the last 33 minutes of the race.
But the former Austrian F1 racer was forced into a short fuel-only pitstop, and though he exited ahead of Treluyer, the Frenchman squeezed past two laps later. The Audi, on fresher tyres, gradually pulled away and cruised to a 16-second win.
In the GTE A class, two other Scots finished on the podium. Having finished 20th overall, Oban-born Jamie Campbell-Walter, and Kirkcaldy’s Jonny Adam, brought their Aston Martin home third in class, 25 laps behind the LMP1 race-winning Audi.