McNish wins Le Mans 24-Hours 23 | 06 | 2013

    FIVE YEARS AFTER he claimed his second Le Mans 24-Hours victory, Dumfries racer Allan McNish (pictured, above right, with his team-mates) finally stood on the top step of the podium again at the famous French track.

    The 43-year-old, partnered by Frenchman Loic Duval and Dane Tom Kristensen, dominated the gruelling race which was fought out in ever-changing weather conditions (see more photos of Allan McNish & Audi in action at the Le Mans 24-Hours).

    But while the dark, foreboding, thunderous skies were never far away from the action on the track — witnessed by around 250,000 fans — it was the sombre mood caused by the death of racer Allan Simonsen on Saturday which dominated the weekend.

    The 34-year from Odense had started the GTE Am class from pole position in his Aston Martin, but just 10 minutes into the race, as rain continued to fall, he lost control of his car at the high-speed Tertre Rouge right-hander.

    His Aston Martin speared into the barriers lining the left-hand side of the 8.45-mile track. Simonsen's death was confirmed hours later by Edinburgh's John Raw, managing director of Aston Martin Racing.

    "On behalf of all of us at Aston Martin Racing," Aston Martin Racing's Edinburgh-born team principal, John Gaw said, "I would like to extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the individuals, and families whose friends or loved ones were involved in today's terrible tragedy."

    The race was a major challenge for Kirkcaldy's Peter Dumbreck. The 39-year-old was a member of the same Aston Martin Racing team as Simonsen.

    The Fifer, partnered by England's Darren Turner and German Stefan Mucke, finished third in the GTE Pro class. But he admitted result was completely dominated by the events of Saturday afternoon, and the podium ceremony, with a Danish flag flying prominently, was understandably understated.

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    "After I was told of Allan's death, I still had a few hours before I was due to get into the car for the first time," he explained. "I know it sounds clinical, but had to be professional about it.

    "I was torn up inside, because Allan was a really nice guy, and a mate. I gave myself a few minutes to sit on my own and take it in. Then I had to get on with it. It's what Allan would have wanted. But it was tough."

    Simonsen's death overshadowed McNish's third Le Mans victory. Like Dumbreck's podium ceremony, that of the overall winners lacked the traditional whoops of delight and celebration.

    "When I was told after I got out of the car following my opening stint, I just felt a horrible, sickening hollowness deep inside," McNish, who started the race from pole position, said.

    "You're reminded when a crash like Allan's happens that it could so easily happen to you. And I know, from bitter experience, how aggressive this place can be."

    The Scot survived a horrific, violent high-speed crash in the race two years ago, and the fact he was able to crawl out of the wreckage was testament to the strength of his Audi.

    "We all have the feeling that it won't happen," he continued, "but what happened 10 minutes into the race on Saturday was a reminder that it can.

    "In a way, the best thing to do — and it's the what I would want in the same circumstances — is for everyone just to get on and keep racing in the sport we all have a love and passion for.

    "Drivers are like brothers. It doesn't matter where it is: which part of the world it is. We all feel the same as each other; we're all part of the same group."

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    For McNish, Simonsen's death was all the more pertinent: his team-mate in the No2 hybrid-diesel Audi R18 e-tron quattro, Tom Kristensen, is not just fellow countryman of Simonsen, but the pair were close friends.

    "The race was tough for every driver in the race after Allan's death, but it was perhaps most difficult for Tom," McNish, whose car finished one lap ahead of the second-placed Toyota of England's Anthony Davidson, explained. "They were great friends, and I know it's hit Tom really hard."

    Kristensen, whose father died in March, mentored Simonsen through the early part of his sportscar career. He dedicated his Le Mans win to his friend.

    And McNish admitted the weather, which dominated the 90th anniversary running of Le Mans, made the race one of the most difficult he's ever contested.

    "Even when the rain stopped, the circuit never seemed to dry fully, and that meant you never knew exactly what level of grip you had," McNish, who previously won in 1998 and 2008, said.

    "All three wins have had there own different levels of difficulty, but this was certainly the most emotionally draining."

    There was disappointment for Bathgate's Marino Franchitti. Driving the Level 5 Motorsport Honda in the LMP2 class, the car struggled in the build-up with handling problems.

    And early in the race, it was clear there was a further problem with the car's engine. As it sat stationary during its pitstops, flames would lick from the rear of the car as the engine burned off fuel fumes.

    Eventually it had had enough, and it was retired to the garage with around five hours remaining. The team though did get it back on-track with 15 minutes to go to ensure it roused the finish line.

    "It's been a difficult week," Franchitti admitted. "We came into this race confident we'd be able to fight at the front of the LMP2 field, but for a number of reasons it didn't work out. But we intend to be back next year fighting even stronger."

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    Jim McGill


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