McNish (center) flanked by Duval and Kristensen. Photo: Getty Images

FIA WEC hot laps with Allan McNish are hard to top

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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.

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”