The man who has won the Le Mans 24 Hours more times than anybody else in history – and has thereby earned himself the sobriquet 'Mr. Le Mans' – Tom Kristensen, has warned to 'expect the unexpected' in the 78th edition of the legendary round-the-clock La Sarthe classic this weekend, what he tips to be 'the fastest ever'.
Kristensen has triumphed in the race dubbed 'the toughest in the world' on an incredible eight occasions – surpassing in 2005 the record long-held by former F1 and sportscar hero Jacky Ickx – but he and Audi team-mates Allan McNish and Rinaldo 'Dindo' Capello have qualified only sixth for the 2010 event, sandwiched on the starting grid by the sister R15 Plus TDis.
That said, the Dane remains confident that having closed the gap to the pace-setting Peugeot quartet from Wednesday night qualifying to Thursday, the Ingolstadt manufacturer has more than a fighting chance of turning the tables come the race and re-instating its dominance since the turn of the Millennium.
“Dr. Ullrich (Audi Motorsport boss) is very good with the drivers,” Kristensen told Crash.net
ahead of the race. “He gives everyone [equal] opportunities and the right materials, and we try to work together to optimise the cars with different programmes regarding tyres, suspension or aerodynamics. That's what it's all about, to narrow the gap down.
“Honestly, we are all racing drivers and we all want to be fast, but the mutual respect in sportscar racing is very good – it's the perfect place for good racing drivers to perform. In that sense, I see as always a great atmosphere between the Audi drivers and also within the Audi crew.
“[From Wednesday to Thursday] we worked our programme and we got better, there's no doubt about that. We were impressed by [Peugeot's] speed, but on Thursday we optimised the car to the track – it has more bumps this year, it seems, even though through the Porsche Curves there's more grip. We were impressed that they (Peugeot) went faster than we had expected, but that's the challenge and we love challenges.
“We have been trying to work on the race, because that's what counts – it's 24 hours where we have to be incredibly efficient and incredibly consistent, and anything less than a 2m30s average we don't want to talk about. This could maybe be the fastest Le Mans ever, and in that sense we all know that the winning car is the best car – and we will work very hard to make sure that's ours.”
Dismissing the likelihood of rain to perhaps aid Audi's cause – with the R15 Plus TDi having appeared generally more at-ease in inclement conditions than its French 908 rival – Kristensen went on to acknowledge that there is no longer any such thing as an endurance mindset for Le Mans, well aware that what used to be survival of the fittest is now a flat-out sprint from lights-out to chequered flag.
“It's an intelligent sprint race,” the 42-year-old reflected, “and that has developed over the years. Putting in mind that this could be the fastest race ever, we need to take that approach. There are a lot of rookies this year and obviously in practice they had their first laps, which sometimes created some quite interesting moments, so in that sense all of us – in the faster or in the slower category cars – have to be really alert, always expect the unexpected and fingers crossed. Good luck and God speed.”