April 9, 2010

Tom Kristensenís exclusive Le Mans countdown - part 6
Source: Audi of America

Ingolstadt, - In a weekly column Le Mans record winner Tom Kristensen gives some exclusive insights behind the scenes of the worldís most famous endurance race and the preparation by Audi Sport Team Joest.

"Bonjour from Le Castellet! Thereís some good news to report: on Wednesday I was finally able to drive the new Audi R15 plus at Monza. As you know, I tore the heel tendon in my left leg in January while playing badminton. Even my doctors were surprised that Iím able to sit in a race car again just twelve weeks later.

After just a few laps I really felt comfortable in the cockpit again and I had much less of a problem than in 2007 after my serious DTM accident. The lap times were immediately right and I reeled off the short program which the guys from Audi Sport Team Joest had given me.

Using the clutch was the most painful thing for me to do because I canít properly push down the pedal yet. Iím sure you can imagine that it takes a lot of force to depress the clutch pedal in a LMP1 TDI car. Youíve got to push 50 kilograms each time - and in my case with an injured left foot that was heavily swollen after the test.

Thatís why Audiís doc Christian John, the team and I decided yesterday that I will not race at Le Castellet this weekend. Especially because Iíve been making such good progress with my recovery we canít take any risks - and, whatís more, the tests on the agenda for the next few weeks are a lot more important for Audi and me than the race at Le Castellet. Le Mans continues to be our big aim and we mustnít lose sight of that.

Now donít get me wrong: itís not that the race at Le Castellet isnít important to Audi - it is, but itís not the same as the season opener of a racing series. Weíre not competing for the championship here. Instead weíre using Le Castellet to get to know the R15 plus in racing conditions as early as possible and to get the team to gel.

Tests and races are simply like two pairs of shoes that complement each other - we need both of them. We can try out a lot of different things while testing. Itís easier to analyze and make corrections. On a race weekend thatís impossible because everything has got to fit to a T. Thereís no second chance and there are no excuses. You drive in traffic and keep pushing the limits. Itís simply in the nature of things that humans can use their potential to a greater extent when theyíre in a competitive situation.

Thatís why I also take my hat off to the race mechanics who work at the Le Mans 24 Hours. Theyíre on their feet for over 36 hours on both race days and canít afford to make the slightest mistake even under extreme stress. They train and practice too - but with the adrenaline at a pit stop during the race the situation is surely different. You can see that in the DTM or in Formula 1 as well. You can practice each move a thousand times - but under the pressure of race itís always possible that a couple of things go wrong.

Itís no coincidence that the guys from Audi Sport Team Joest have been known for their fast and reliable pit stops and their great job at Le Mans for years. Thereís an incredible number of little things and details which are crucial at Le Mans: strategy, the right timing with the tires, monitoring and quickly analyzing telemetry data, communication with the drivers and much more - Iíll be telling you about that in more detail over the next few weeks. Just so much for today: you could hardly wish for a better crew at Le Mans. Theyíve had a part in six of my eight Le Mans victory. In June, weíre shooting for another one.

Even though I wonít be driving at Le Castellet, Iíll be at the circuit for the whole weekend. Iíll closely watch all the activities, attend the technical meetings and do my part to make sure that weíll learn as much from this weekend as possible. And, fortunately, thereís no Starbucks close by. Allan and Dindo are being taken care of by our great catering crew and donít have to mooch off me ..."

Tom Kristensen

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