Tom Kristensen on Le Mans: “The biggest pain I’ve ever had was retiring from a four lap lead”
For the latest episode of WEC Talk and in the run-up to round four of the FIA WEC – the 24 Hours of Le Mans – it seemed only fitting to speak to Mr Le Mans himself: Tom Kristensen.
Born in Hobro, Denmark, Kristensen is the undisputed legend of Le Mans having won the world’s most gruelling endurance race a total of nine times, six of which were consecutive years. Nowadays, he is a successful TV pundit, historic car racer as well as current President of the FIA Drivers’ Commission.
When asked about his first Le Mans victory by WEC Talk host Martin Haven, Kristensen explained: “My first Le Mans victory in 1997 was so good for my career… I suddenly had offers from lots of different manufacturers who wanted me to drive for them.”
As any driver will attest to, Le Mans is a rollercoaster and one can experience the highs just as much as the lows – a feeling that Kristensen knows all too well…
The 54-year-old Danish legend explained: “The year 1999 hurt the most, the biggest pain I’ve ever had was retiring from a four lap lead. That same car, I had spent a lot of time in helping and developing. Our sister car won after our retirement. That was a hard one to swallow and that defeat bit me so hard even after I joined Audi taking six victories in a row. I could still personally taste that bitterness of not having won in 1999 – for years afterwards the loss in ’99 kept me motivated and I did not accept anything until we reached the chequered flag.”
The following year, Kristensen joined Audi in what was a hugely successful streak as he won Le Mans from 2000 – 2005.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Kristensen made the following comments about his move at the end of the noughties: “Deciding to join Audi was my wisest and best decision of my working life... I really felt at home with the people, with their ideas and targets.”
When discussing milestones, Kristensen commented: “I had a call from Jackie Ickx when he was watching from home – he left a message on my answer machine as he was watching and cheering me on with his girlfriend and champagne! When it comes from someone that has lived the spirit and legend of Le Mans, to have that feedback from a man like him it tells a lot – that was very important to me. When you get the thumbs from your hero, it’s very nice.”
On being President of the FIA Drivers’ Commission, Kristensen explained: “I joined when Jean Todt and the team at the FIA invited me to be President and after I had been a steward at some Formula 1 races. It’s always important to give something back to the sport… Having been President for several years and working with many big names in motorsport, our main purpose is to give all drivers around the world a voice.”
Don’t forget to listen HERE. On the same link, you can also find last month’s chat with Juan-Pablo Montoya as well as several other in-depth interviews with various drivers and key names from the world of endurance racing.
About WEC Talk
Available on various platforms including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Deezer, the WEC’s official podcast promises fans a unique insight into the exhilarating world of sportscars.
With exclusive interviews from drivers, team members, management and legendary figures involved in endurance racing, fans across the world can get their regular sportscars fix by tuning into WEC Talk.