They call me Mister Sebring
Words and photos By: John Brooks
In the world of motorsports photography and PR, John Brooks is one of the greats. We came to know John during the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans, and truly enjoyed the experience. This is an excerpt from the full interview, which is available at John’s site. Enjoy!
Tom Kristensen has been at the head of the endurance racing grid for the past 15 years, since he burst on to the scene by winning the Le Mans 24 Hours at his first attempt in 1997. That famous victory in the Joest Porsche led to a factory drive with BMW the following year and that led the Dane to Sebring in 1999. Tom has gone on to score a record further seven wins at La Sarthe and to many he is known as Mister Le Mans. However a good proportion of the temporary population of Highlands County each March would claim that another nickname would be more appropriate, Mister Sebring. So why is that so? Let’s find out what Tom thinks himself.
Recently I caught up with Tom and discussed with him his experiences at Americas greatest sportscar race.
JB: 1999, your first time at the 12 Hours of Sebring what do you recall?
TK: My first race was with BMW in 1999, with Jörg and JJ. We had tested at Homestead the week before to prepare our new car, primarily for Le Mans but also for Sebring. We had a problem with differentials, we did not have enough spares, and I know that BMW were not very keen to race at Sebring. However the team at Williams Grand Prix, who had designed and built the car, particularly John Russell, pushed very hard to go on as planned. In fact we had some new differentials flown in as late as Thursday as all we had were the units that were actually in the cars.
Then we got to the race and it was certainly an eye opener for me to drive on the historic circuit. I remember that there were quite a lot of Yellow Flags, a lot of cars had problems and went off. I recall that the whole section of the track from Turn Ten to Turn Fourteen was full of sand towards the end of the race. Of course James Weaver was pushing very hard, he is a guy who never gives up and really put pressure on me. I drove the last stint to finish the race and we scored the début win of the BMW V12 LMR, which was a big step forward from the previous car. So that then became a trend for the manufacturers to go to Sebring both to race and test in preparation for Le Mans. One thing I do remember about 1999, we were waiting I think for the arrival of the spare differentials and we went with a certain photographer, I guess it was Regis, I’m not sure (actually John Brooks), out to meet the fans and especially to Turn Ten. They are true fans of life and true fans of Sebring, it was nice to receive such a fantastic welcome. I always try to wave to the crowd there, either under a yellow flag period or on my in lap, to show my appreciation of Turn Ten.
JB: Then we move on to 2000, and your first race with Audi…………….
TK: In December 1999 I was at Sebring again driving an Audi, it was an interim car between the ’99 car, the R8R and the R8, which went on to be so successful. The interim car had the rear end of the R8.
JB: One thing that I remember from 2000 was during one of the practice sessions you burying the R8 into the tyres at Turn Three, do you recall that?
No, that happened in Qualifying. It was the first lap in Qualifying and I locked up avoiding another car that had just come out of the pits and I went in heavily to the barriers under the foam sacks. Of course Dr. Ullrich was standing at that corner, he saw everything and jumped over the fence to help shift the sacks off the car. At that time I was on the radio to the pits to say that I have just had a small off, and of course Dr. Ullrich had the headset on and could hear this while pulling the foam away. It is not the perfect situation when it is your boss trying to dig you out and you are trying explain that it was only a small off…………