Andy Wallace - Le Mans Win Stands as His Greatest Racing Moment
Braselton, GA - (Many racing teams and drivers that regularly compete in the American Le Mans Series will be racing in the 72nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de La Sarthe in France June 12-13. The ALMS is associated with and based on the 24 Hours of Le Mans and annually builds its schedule of events around Le Mans, giving teams that wish to compete at Le Mans the opportunity to do so. The ALMS will return to action June 25-27 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. This is the first in a series of feature articles on ALMS drivers and teams with their thoughts on competing in the world's most famous endurance race.)
Andy Wallace has a succinct way of describing the 24 Hours of Le Mans:
"It's the Super Bowl of sports car racing," Wallace said. The British sports car racing veteran won Le Mans in 1988, and ranks the victory as "still my greatest moment in racing." This June, he will go to Le Mans for the 16th time in his career and will drive a new Zytek Prototype in the LMP1 class, teamed with veterans David Brabham and Stefan Johansson. Two weeks later, he will return to the American Le Mans Series with the Dyson Racing Team and compete at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Wallace talked about his Le Mans experiences, among other subjects.
Q: Why is Le Mans still so special to you after all your years competing there?
Wallace: "It is still the aura around the event. You stand there on the grid and you see all those people. You can smell the atmosphere. Once you get there, you think to yourself, 'This is what it all means in terms of what we do.' You have to keep in mind that the team you are driving for, they have been preparing for Le Mans for a full year. If you are actually the one who starts the race, that can be a terrible weight. You don't want to do anything wrong and get stuck in the gravel at the beginning of the race."
Q: How do you approach the start of the race?
Wallace: "You go into it full blast. Ideally, you can pick off a few and get into good position. All during the week, you are trying to set the car up for maximum speed, but so it isn't bouncing around."
Q: Through the years, you've done well, over and above your win in '88.
Wallace: "I have had a very few near-misses (of winning more). Second, third, fourth, I've actually finished in every position in the top eight more than once."
Q: You mentioned a lot of events that go on around the race. Are you able to get the proper rest leading up to the race itself?
Wallace: "You want to get to race day (Saturday) with a couple of good nights' sleep. It's difficult, because on Wednesday night and Thursday night, you're on duty (practice) until 1:30 in the morning. I just try not to think about things too much. During the race itself, you can get some quiet time. It depends on how you divide the driving. If you do a double stint during the day, there's more time off."
Q: The Dyson Lola-MG in the ALMS compared to the Audi R8. Do you ever feel as though it's David against Goliath?
Wallace: "Yes, it has been. You don't have the resources a factory team would. We are a very small team, close knit, and we work very hard. I first raced for Mr. (Rob) Dyson in 1995. I've been good friends with (teammates) Butch (Leitzinger), James (Weaver) and Chris (Dyson). Each of us is continually thinking about the next race, no matter which continent we happen to be on. Everyone's on the same page, and that is of such importance. If you are running two cars (as Dyson does), you help the other car along, and sometimes they help you along. When you're out on the track, you're constantly making mental notes. 'What happens in this corner? How do you brake in that corner?' If you tell the story correctly, the drivers in the other car will be on the same page as you. It is something quite special to sports car racing. You cannot ever win the race on your own, as you can in other forms of racing. You have to rely on your teammates and crew."
Q: Maintaining home base in your native U.K., how much traveling do you do for races and tests?
Wallace: "It's amazing. I just got home from racing in Canada and it was the 18th time since the first of the year that I've been across the Atlantic. That number will probably be 40 by the end of the year. Many times, I will go directly from one event to another. That's not such a bad thing. There is no substitute for driving the car. The more you drive, the more you learn."
Q: How do you pass the time in the air?
Wallace: "Well, I'm not very good at sleeping on planes, so most of the time I jot down my thoughts about the race just completed. I try to do that while it's still clear in my head."
Q: Are you also your own travel agent?
Wallace: "Yes. As much traveling as I do, I have to rely on myself. I do it all online. Either the online travel groups like Orbitz, or I just deal directly with the individual airlines. I live about an hour from Heathrow (airport) and an hour and a half from Gatwick."
Q: When you're in your own car, do you like to 'let it out' on occasion? What do you drive?
Wallace: "An Audi A3, and I don't know what you mean! The simple answer is yes. Driving on the open road, you don't know what everyone else is thinking, as compared to a race, so you want to be well on the side of safety. You can go to the Autobahn, and it has no speed limit. I did have the opportunity to go to Germany for a magazine article, and while we were there, they gave us a Pagani Zonda to drive. Found some nice parts of road and we got it up to 200 miles an hour on a public road."
Q: What will you be doing leading up to Le Mans?
Wallace: "We will be testing at Paul Ricard, in France, next week, and we also have some testing planned in England. Then it's off to Le Mans. The plan is to arrive on Sunday evening, the 6th of June."