This interview with Allan was conducted by Junior Torque editor Richard back in 2009.
Allan Mcnish has been there, done that, got the nomex and won the trophy. He has been competitive in everything from single seaters to sports cars, and is twice Le Mans 24 hr winner as well as an ex Toyota F1 driver. He has won at Le Mans, once in 1998 and then once again in 2008, and will once again take up the greatest challenge in Motorsport this summer driving for Audi.
We had the opportunity to speak to Allan this month, quizzing him over his career, his greatest experiences in racing and what he thinks of LMP cars compared to F1 cars.
So sit back and enjoy a huge in depth interview with one of Scotlands greatest sporting talents.
Current Road Car?
Favourite Holiday Destination?
Malaysia or Thailand
If you weren’t a driver, what would you be?
I’d probably have something to do with the family car dealerships.
Most embarasing sporting moment?
Probably Petit Le Mans last year where I binned it on the formation lap.
Hi Allan, we’ve had lots of questions sent in by our university students so be prepared for a grilling… our first question is you’ve had the opportuinty to drive in both F1 and in sports cars. What do you think is the best route through the lower formulas of racing these days?
Hmmm…. that is a tough question because there are so many opportunites and options. Formula Renault is a fantastic base to start with no question. Then after that it all depends on funding but my best piece of advice is to go where the money is. If you’ve got a major sponsor then I would head into Euroseries F3 or GP2. As much as everyone wants to be in F1, there is less seats available for that than in all the premiership football teams in England. The chances of making it are very unlikely and you would be one of the very very very fortunate few.
Do you see any value in going to Formula Ford straight out of karts, as these have no slicks or wings and are not relevant to higher levels of racing anymore?
I think if you’ve got the opportunity to go straight into Renault, it’s definitely an easier step than going into Formula Ford because the grip / power / weight ratios are very similar to what you’ve done before. Thats not a general rule, and it’s not to say Formula Ford is not a good idea but the standardised route right now is through BMW/Renault.
With the budget limitation suggested for F1, and the ban on in season testing, do you think this presents less of an opportunity for new drivers to break into F1?
I think the testing being banned does yes because when I started testing with Mclaren back in 1990, testing was unlimited so from my point of view in that first year I think I did 30 test days, that’s more than a seasons worth of testing nowadays. However on the other side then with budgets hopefully being restrained a little bit more then they’ll be less focus on names that can and could bring sponsorship. I think its’ definitely more difficult now that its ever been to break into the top flight.
You got the chance to drive a Mclaren at Estoril with Ayrton Senna. Do you still carry anything from this day with you now?
Yeh the first thing was it was a daunting experience at 19 years old to be suddenly sitting in a Formula 1 car and next door is your teacher for the day if you like, who was Senna. I’d met him before but actually meeting him on a sort of social level as well as a professional level was quite inspiring and also something that will stick in my mind because he’s not here anymore. The car wasn’t difficult to drive, the steering was lighter than a Formula 3000 car, the throttle response was very good and gradual out of the V10 Honda and it was comfortable. The two major things was that it was very physical because of Estorial having such long fast corners, so basically my head fell after about 40 laps. The second thing was there was a hell of a lot more power, i’d gone from 180bhp to something over 600bhp, thats alot of horsepower!
How do F1 and LMP cars compare, what are the Aero, Speed and Performances differences?
Well in terms of technology, a sports car is ahead of an F1 car. Theres no question about that because we’re allowed traction control and we’re allowed unlimited tyre testing in so far as we can develop constructions and compounds as we want, not as a tyre supplier gives us.
Aerodynamically the cars have a floor area thats roughly 2 metres by 3 metres which gives the designers alot of scope to produce some fantastically big downforce. Power wise we have restrictors on them to pull us back, but in the last year we’re not that far away from Formula 1 performance.
We also have a hell of a lot more Torque so in terms of real power then it’s very very similar. The biggest single difference is the weight because they (F1 cars) have to be 605 kgs, and we have to be 900 kgs, so we’ve got 33% more weight than they have so that means the car is slightly more docile in chicanes for example, but in every other way then the performances aren’t that far away from each other.
What are the Diesel LMP cars like to drive compared to their Petrol counterparts, and do you think Diesel belongs in Motorsport?
Well I think diesels are fantastic things for the sport, not because i’m advocating Audi diesels, but purely because when we won in 2006 at Sebring (the first purpose built diesel engine to win an international race) then it opened up alot of peoples eyes to think that there was an alternative to petrol engines. At that point it was still historically thought of as not having much power, they weren’t sporty and I think that’s been proved totally wrong now. Now the next thing is hybrid technology so it’s pushed open the doors to allow that as a possibility in Motorsport. If you look at the General Motors situation in America and what the American government are stipulating for GM if they are going to help them financially, then they have to push ahead with more forward thinking fuel sources es, instead of big old V8 gas guzzlers. Motorsport is a great tool to build and market new technology thats directly related to road cars that everyone buys, and so it’s more critical than ever to be developing these new fuels.
So are you saying that we (Motorsport) have to lead by example?
Well do you know that seat belts were first started at Le Mans? Wind screen wipers were first used at Le Mans, so thats two instances of safety features that were started at Le Mans. Again not beating the Audi drum but the TDI technolgy we use now or even the FSI we used on the old legendary Audi R8 engine, is all directly fed into the road car. There is a relationship between Motorsport and road car development down through the ages that has directly influenced road car development on power, but also on safety.
We’ve actually got one of our students and Torque editor racing FIA GT3 this year…
He’s sent in this question…. your two Le Mans victories have come in two very different eras, how do the two compare in terms of not only the nature of the race but the difference in the cars? (The late 90’s GT1’s being my favourite racing cars)
Yeh i’ve got to be honest I agree with him on that side of things because the late 90’s cars were very pretty and sculpted and now they are all more aero dynamically lead rather than styling. The eras were very different because when I won Le Mans in 1998, it was the last of the ‘conserve the car’ period, because from then on you could basically just drive them flat out. Admittedly the average lap then was something like 3.46.00 for the race and 3.37.00 in qualifying. These days you definitely drive flat out absolutely no questions asked with no consideration of anything apart from lap times. I think last year the Peugeot did a 3.18.00 or something in the race and we did a 3.22.00, so thats 20 odd seconds a lap faster, meaning we’ve gained around 2 seconds a lap per year considering they’ve pegged back our power and pegged us back on the aerodynamic side aswell. The years in between my Le Mans wins have made me realise that Le Mans is alot harder than what I initially thought in 1998, and so in 2008 I was much much more appreciative of the win and I realised it was probably the worlds hardest motor race. We were standing on the podium in 1998 thinking ‘phoare this is easy, exellent we’ll come back for abit more of this’ and then the next year I was leading when Thierry Boutsen had an accident with a back marker and unfortunately broke his back and so that was one of those things, that was racing.
Le Mans is such a special race, what is it like to be a part of such an event with such rich history?
When you stand there, and I would advise anyone whether they are racing or spectating or whatever, to stand there at the end of the pit lane on qualifying on a Wednesday night at 7pm when the cars roll off and you see 48 cars going off into the countryside, you’ve got the the old historic grandstand from the old Steve Mcqueen film, it just tells you about the history of the place, and you get a shiver down you spine. The whole pit lane thunders because of the way the pit lane and pit boxes above it are designed and the noise reverberates in there. That is one of the best things because it’s combining everything from the past, but it’s in a modern day environment as well and I don’t think anybody appreciates Le Mans totally until they’ve been there. Until you’ve been there, until you’ve seen it, until you’ve tried to do it then you realise the first thing is you have to beat Le Mans, then you can think about beating the competitors.
Do you find a similar atmosphere at circuits such as Spa?
Yeh well they’re all historic circuits that’s the thing, and when you’ve got an old historic circuit then you obviously have got as well as a natural feel about it with the type of corners and the type of circuits that they are and that’s something that you definitely feel at Spa as well as Suzuka, which is the reason why I also love Suzuka as well. I mean one corner there has been there since 1964 since the place was built, it’s the way it should be and not this anaesthetic television designed circuits that we’ve got sometimes today.
Am I guessing correctly that your not as big a fan of the 130R anymore though? (Shunt in 2002 F1)
No! Actually when they changed the corner I was disappointed, I said to them why did you change the corner, it wasn’t the corners fault I crashed there! Everybody knows the risks, I agree with safety evolutions but I do think that we also have to have a little bit of talent. Going through Eau Rouge before they moved the barriers back to somewhere near Brussels you actually had to be very precise through there, now you go through there flat and if the car doesn’t do it then you just release the throttle a little bit, straighten the steering and your fine, you’ve got no penalty for not having the capability or the precision and I think there is a little bit of an element of that now. However on the other side of it I’m certainly one of the first to jump up and say when I think something is unnecessarily dangerous.
With regards to your training, how many days a week do you train and can you give us a quick summary of your training programme?
I train pretty much every day, the problem is the travelling because most years I’m travelling for about 225/230 days a year and so in that respect then it’s more based around what I can do when I’m travelling, so no bicycles but more running. More things you can do in a hotel room or hotel gyms but certainly there’s obviously the strength training, more so now than ever my training schedule is more akin to a Formula 1 training schedule than it is pure endurance. This is because we’re pulling similar G Forces to them and the seating positions are also very similar. The fact we’re in car for nearly double a Grand Prix distance at point’s means that it’s more a combination of strength and endurance.
If there was one thing about Motorsport you could change Allan, what would it be?
Ok if your talking about F1 then I would change two things, I would change the access to the paddock so that the public can have more access to the drivers and see the cars and things and not get shuffled about like sheep, because I was a ten year old kid once looking around getting autographs and I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of those autograph hunters. The second thing I’d change is I’d ban the stupid blue flag rule that everyone within 2 seconds behind someone they have to move over because that just stops people overtaking and I think that’s ridiculous.
Ok so what do you think of all these penalties being applied in Formula 1, especially in the past two years with a lot of contentious penalties being applied to what seem to be racing incidents?
Well I think penalties should be applied, that’s no question, if you break rules then you should be penalised, simple. I’ll say one thing, Lewis at Spa in 2007 I think they were entirely right, entirely right. He wouldn’t have overtaken if he had followed Kimi through; if there was a wall on the outside of the track then he would have crashed into the wall so he’d been out of the race, so it’s because there was a safety run off area that he tried that move on, so therefore he was able to take advantage of something that wasn’t the circuit and was only there for safety.
Brilliant, thanks for talking to us Allan, all thats left is to wish you luck for the rest of the season.
Thank you very much and could you also wish everybody good luck with their careers and tell them the single piece of advice I would give to every single one is to enjoy it, you have to enjoy what you do, and I’ve had over 25 years of total enjoyment, a lot of heart ache, a lot of pleasure but total enjoyment when I sit back and look at it.
Author: Clerk of the Course
The Clerk of Junior Torque. Administrator, Editor and Dictator!