FIA WEC hot laps with Allan McNish are hard to top

McNish (center) flanked by Duval and Kristensen. Photo: Getty Images
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If you’ve seen Truth in 24, you get why there’s probably no one better in the world of sports car racing describing a single lap of a circuit than Allan McNish.

McNish’s vivid, incredibly detailed, yet passionate description of the 8.4-mile Circuit de la Sarthe is one of the film’s highlight moments.

So imagine that scene, except getting a first hand account from the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship World Champion and three-time Le Mans winner when you’re strapped in the passenger’s seat of an Audi S3 with him behind the wheel.

As he’s driving.

Media rides are something you still have to pinch yourself when you get to do them. And in the past, I’ve had rides with Johnny O’Connell, Alex Figge and Kevin Estre (the latter at Mid-Ohio this year) in the Pirelli World Challenge series, an IndyCar two-seater hot lap earlier this year and McNish’s longtime Audi teammate Dindo Capello last year at Circuit of The Americas in an RS7 last year at COTA.

If you want a description of the track in basic form, I’ll leave you to my words riding with Capello from last year.

But to augment that, I’ll add McNish’s thoughts of describing the track as he was driving on this go around for three ferocious, flying laps, again thanks to the FIA WEC.

McNish notes how Turn 1 offers so many different lines for corner entry.

“Way too many options. You can gain or lose so much time depending on where you apex,” he explains.

Like Capello a year ago, McNish gives the esses – the run out of Turn 2 from Turns 3 through 7 – sincere praise.

The first lap again takes some getting used to, to just feel the change of direction as it’s happening between left, right, left, right and so forth.

“You have to hit this curb (sounding like keehhhh-rb) just at this moment to nail the apex,” McNish says of one of the right-handers in this sequence. “Any further off and you’ve lost it for that lap.”

Turns 8 and 9 are hard, but important ones, before the left-hand Turn 10 kink and the Turn 11 hairpin.

“The grip level through here is just insane!” says McNish at the hairpin, noting the rubber buildup on apex entry.

A run down the backstraight follows and McNish notes how important track limits will be at the 3.427-mile, 20-turn circuit. In the technical Turn 12-15 section, drivers in the FIA WEC have to be careful to ensure not to run wide on corner exit. The FIA WEC race enforced track limits at the runoff areas, while IMSA did not.

McNish wasn’t as over-steery as Capello through the carousel, Turns 16-18, but he did note how bad the lighting would be from about 6:45 to 7:15 p.m. or so on the back half of the track with the sunset pretty much in the drivers’ eyes.

The highlights of the ride actually came on the second and third laps. Lap two saw a tire pressure sensor light come on… which didn’t faze either of us. McNish was just extracting the maximum of the car.

And then on the third lap, McNish took the time on the back straight to reflect on the fact COTA marked his final win in sports car racing before his retirement at the end of the 2013 season.

“We’d survived a challenge from the Toyotas and the other Audi, and Loic (Duval) and Tom (Kristensen) had been great in their stints,” McNish said.

“It also vaulted us into the lead in the World Championship, and we never looked back.”

Nor did I after this run, another thrill and a highlight of the weekend. My hair wasn’t long for the ride, either (photos here and here).

Might “Mr. Le Mans” be an option next year to cap off the trio of lap following Dindo and “Nishy?”

Sincere thanks to Fiona Miller from FIA WEC and Teresa Pass from Audi for the opportunity.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III