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.”
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.