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World Champion Allan McNish Retires: A Personal Appreciation

Posted: 17/12/2013 16:58

Some pieces of news come as a shock but it's not long before you've processed the information, stored it and moved on. Others can hit you like a sledgehammer and although you know you're being irrational, you can be left in limbo, wondering what on earth is going to happen next.

As a racing fan and a Le Mans nut I read the tweet that announced Allan McNish's retirement with disbelief and then denial. The avalanche of messages that followed made it clear that the three-time Le Mans winner was indeed quitting while at the top of the sport, just 45 days after clinching the 2013 World Endurance Championship title in Shanghai with fellow Audi drivers, Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval. I was stunned.

As well as his 24-hour successes, McNish, who turns 44 later this month, is a three-time American Le Mans Series champion, the reigning WEC champion and has racked up 29 race wins from 89 races since joining Audi in 2000. He also spent two years in Formula One with Toyota. So with racing credentials like that, if anyone deserves a retirement from racing it's him. And good luck to him and thanks for the fantastic memories.

But, that doesn't help the empty feeling I've still got in the pit of my stomach. Le Mans is one of motorsport's biggest events, nearly a quarter of a million fans make the annual trip to northern France every June for a week of petrol and more recently, diesel-fuelled entertainment and in its 90 years Le Mans has attracted the greatest drivers in the world. McNish will go down in history as one of those drivers, not only for his three wins but because of his passion, his commitment behind the wheel, his devotion to the team and his bravery. Anyone who saw his huge crash at Le Mans in 2011 and feared the worst will acknowledge that.

Although not one of the press corps that covers sportscars and the WEC full time, I've been fortunate to interview McNish on a number of occasions, usually ahead of Le Mans or the Six Hours of Silverstone with one particularly memorable time when he was entertaining the media with spins round the Silverstone circuit in an Audi R8 (V10 for those of us keen on detail). I always marvel at the cool composure of top class racing drivers and as we hit 80mph before the corner of the old Silverstone pitlane, I settled in for a few minutes of high speed octane thrills whilst my driver made it look as though he was out for a Sunday drive.

McNish was always someone who could talk for Scotland about the sport - and often would. On another meeting I took along an old copy of Autosport which featured his maiden Le Mans win in 1998. He excitedly relived the race from more than a decade previously, laughed at how young he looked and signed the copy for me with his trademark line, "always flat out". It's one of my most treasured pieces of automobilia and a reminder of how following motorsport is as much a passion for me as writing about it. I could live without the latter but the passion to watch racing will never go.

Watching McNish and his team-mates, particularly Dindo Capello and Tom Kristensen, were invariably demonstrations of a team in harmony. Results may not have always gone their way but their commitment was always there and goes a long way to demonstrate why Audi put its faith in them. One of my abiding memories came at Silverstone this year and the first round of the WEC. The battle for victory came down to the wire after nearly six hours of racing when McNish overtook the sister Audi R18 driven by Benoit Treluyer with just 10 minutes to go.

The pair fought and fought until McNish took the chequered flag, winning by just over three seconds and picking up the historic Tourist Trophy in the process. He was clearly exhausted afterwards, something that Kristensen recognised: "It was a remarkable drive by Allan, it showed his strength."

Always flat out.

 

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