23 March 2009
Biela admits he'll probably never return to Le Mans
Frank Biela has confessed that – after no fewer than five triumphs in the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours – he is unlikely ever to return to the round-the-clock French classic in a prototype to try to add to that impressive victory tally.
After almost two decades with Audi, the German was dropped from the official works line-up following last year's event – the culmination of a series of errors, the most serious of which being running out of fuel just 15 laps into his stint in the 2003 race, a misjudgement that put the #10 Arena Motorsport machine he was sharing with ex-grand prix aces Mika Salo and Perry McCarthy out of the action on the spot.
Though he would return to the top step of the podium in company with Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner in both 2006 and 2007, with Audi increasingly nurturing a stream of young guns to eventually replace the 'old guard', the writing was on the wall.
“I don't think so,” Biela told Crash.net Radio, when asked if he would one day go back to La Sarthe in an effort to add to his 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006 and 2007 successes there. “The thing is, I've been with Audi for 18 years now. First of all it's difficult, and the second question is does it make sense to change?
“I really don't want to throw the relationship I've developed with Audi away just to continue motorsport at this level for maybe one or two years. It's hard to tell, but I don't think so. Maybe if we go there with other categories or other cars, but in a prototype I don't think so.”
Indeed, over the course of those 18 years, the likeable German has not only enjoyed glory in sportscars with the Ingolstadt manufacturer, but he has also clinched a trio of touring car crowns – in Germany (1991), France (1993 – remaining to this day the only non home-grown driver to prevail in the series) and Britain (1996). He even won the 1995 Touring Car World Cup. There have been too many happy memories, he insists, to pick out just one.
“Everything I have done has been very nice and more-or-less successful,” he acknowledged, “so it's hard to say what have been the highlights. If we're talking about the toys or tools, the prototype was probably the most interesting thing, which means the five Le Mans wins were the most important stuff.
“On the other hand, though, without all the other things I did before, I wouldn't have been involved in that project. Overall it was a great time, with a lot of success and a lot of fun, and that's the main thing.”
The 44-year-old now has another project on his hands – that of helping to develop Audi's new R8 GT3 machine for privateer use – and if he admits that his competitive appearances will henceforth be fewer and further between, it is clearly a situation with which he is far from unhappy.
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