McNish, Russell School search for new talent

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McNish, Russell School search for new talent

Call him "Professor McNish." It is worlds apart from his day job in the American Le Mans Series wheeling the latest rocket ship on wheels, the latest Audi Le Mans prototype, the R15 TDI, but Allan McNish is now focused on his newest ...

Call him "Professor McNish."

It is worlds apart from his day job in the American Le Mans Series wheeling the latest rocket ship on wheels, the latest Audi Le Mans prototype, the R15 TDI, but Allan McNish is now focused on his newest gig.

LMP1 podium: Allan McNish.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

McNish, the two-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, three-time winner of the 12 Hours of Sebring and four-time winner at Petit Le Mans, has announced the 2010 Future Driver Search in conjunction with the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School.

"Very simply put, we have got to be proactive and develop the stars of the future," McNish said. "We can't leave them to come in by chance, so we will work with the program with the desire to ensure that this happens."

McNish chose working with the Russell school based on its history and its ability to provide the tools and tips necessary for the modern driver.

"I think if you go back in time, the Russell racing school has a fantastic name," McNish said. "The names are legendary. But today's world in racing is a very changing and different world. With the school's championship that has been running, as well as developing the drivers, there were ones that maybe never had that opportunity."

McNish will head up a judging panel to determine two drivers worthy of a full season in the 2010 Jim Russell Championship Series, racing the school's FJR-50.

"We needed to be in a position to try and help provide an opportunity for the drivers, and develop all their capabilities," McNish said. "This is where the search comes in. They will be assessed on many levels, not quite who wins the finals."

"We will see where their attributes lie," he added. "Every one of us here has 20 odd years of experience, and different levels and skills. We want to select the right two drivers, and the two that pop out and be able to progress up the ladder."

The competition runs December 19th through 22nd at Sonoma, Calif.'s Infineon Raceway. There, McNish and a group of the Russell school's instructors are training will undergo a rigorous test of not only their driving capabilities, but the entire package of what makes a modern driver well-rounded.

McNish admitted he has been fortunate with the way he grew and developed into the caliber of driver he is, and felt a sense of responsibility to owe it to the next generation of drivers coming through the pipeline. Mainly, he said he wanted to provide the chance to younger drivers he was blessed with in his upbringing.

"I think that I was in a fortunate position when I started in karting," he said. "I had the opportunities to develop that speed. I'd learned from David Leslie, who had been to Le Mans, and podiumed and won in the British Touring Car Championship, who gave me some pointers and info. The karting structure in Europe allows drivers to make the transition in car racing, but it's not that strong as much in America."

He added that by the end of the four-day program, the cream should begin to rise from the crop. McNish and the panel of Russell Racing School instructors are looking for both speed and growth in their abilities.

"We will have some real talent at the end of December," McNish said. "There might be one driver who's well-rounded in showing speed, skill on track, presentability and marketing because that's a big part of it, not necessarily polished, but certainly has a feeling of it."

"Sometimes we have a situation where they're stunningly quick but not polished at all," he added. "We have two seats through 2010 year that they can be developed during the year, on and off track, but it is really looking for the next three to five years. As I said, the talent is here. They haven't been developed in correct ways."

The hope is the development is there to get to a level where McNish is, in time. This past weekend he once again showcased his skills in the torrential rains at Petit Le Mans, making an outside move for the lead on the opening lap but later being caught out by the conditions.

"It was wet at the beginning, after then it was spraying rain," McNish described the conditions at Petit. "It dried out for a period, but then it was torrential, unbelievably wet. There's nowhere for water to go, which the red flag was a surprise. An even bigger surprise was that we didn't restart."

Start: #2 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R15 TDI: Rinaldo Capello, Allan McNish, #1 Audi Sport North America Audi R15 TDI: Lucas Luhr, Marco Werner battle for the lead.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.

McNish and Peugeot's Franck Montagny surveyed the Road Atlanta circuit in a safety car but the conditions were such there was no chance of resuming. The whole event was highly unusual in being red flagged after fewer than five hours of racing, although it was not officially given the checkers until four hours later as efforts were made to see if the race could resume.

"The weather's one of the variables that makes it interesting, but it threw a lot of curveballs," McNish said. "It stopped us so suddenly. The big losers were not us but the fans. Unfortunately we had five hours still to run of real cutthroat racing with the Peugeots."

McNish also added the development on the R15 TDI, a first year car and a second-generation diesel car, is on par with, if not a little ahead of, Acura's ARX-02a in its first year. This of course was the R15's first race since Le Mans in June and it had the measure of the Acuras, if not the "Pugs" as the amiable Scotsman referred to the French manufacturer.

"In 2006, our first year in the R10, it was a wieldy beast," McNish said. "Peugeot was quick but after half an hour, but if you look at Acura, their first year with us, the R15 is doing a pretty reasonable job. In Le Mans we missed the setup to be slightly honest about it. Petit we were right in the fight. The more experience we get with this, we can utilize it to its maximum performance."

Wrapping up there was one other thing that came out of the conversation with McNish, his countryman Dario Franchitti.

I had a chat with Franchitti in the morning about his prospects of winning the IndyCar Series title next weekend at Homestead and upon mentioning McNish's name, Franchitti said, "Oh, he owes me a phone call. I think I'm calling him Professor McNish now!"

To which McNish cleverly responded, "I'm not paying for the call!"

All joking aside, the longtime friends have raced against each other at Sebring and Petit this year, and McNish said if the right opportunity comes along there's no doubt Franchitti will join his brother Marino in racing at Le Mans in the future.

It's a wish that McNish and the Russell Racing School's Future Driver Search will also produce some Le Mans-worthy drivers in the future.

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