Eight-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen is about to take on a new 24-hour challenge at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. His regular co-drivers Allan McNish and Dindo Capello are not here – instead, he's forming a new driver partnership with two-thirds of this year's Le Mans winning line-up: Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler. In an exclusive interview with Motorsport.com ahead of tomorrow's race, he discussed driving the Audi R8 GT3 car for the first time, as well as the recent news that his long-time LM P1 co-driver Dindo Capello is stepping down from driving prototypes.
Q: Is this your first Spa 24 Hours?
TK: “Technically, yes. I entered in a Group N Honda Integra back in the race's touring car days, but the car retired before I had a chance to drive a stint.”
Dindo's just a fantastic driver: he's fast and consistent, plus he drives with his heart and his mind.
Q: How do you approach driving Spa in a GT car as opposed to the R18 TDI prototype?
TK: “It's totally different. There's a few things which you do that are similar, but not much. I think what helps me more is having raced a DTM car here – I finished third at Spa once. You're able to do a little bit more kerb-riding and straight-lining of the corners in a GT car. But it's a big difference, the lap times are slower in GT3 than DTM. So I'm being careful not to enter corners too fast, and not to over-drive the car.”
Q: How big a part does aero grip play in a GT car?
TK: “It's doing something, but as it's based on a road car, you get a lot more weight transfer than with a prototype. The way the front splitter and the rear wing work together affects the ride height and how the weight transfers. You can easily get the car out of shape, but you're not travelling so fast, so the consequences of that are easier to control compared to a prototype getting out of shape!”
Q: Spa has no long straight like the Mulsanne at Le Mans – does this give the race a different rhythm, seeing as the driver has no chance to take a brief mental break?
TK: “Yeah, you're travelling a little bit slower than Le Mans, but Spa is never a resting circuit. You do Eau Rouge, and then you have a small breather, but then you have one of the hardest braking points on the circuit for Les Combes. The rest is corners, from Stavelot to Blanchimont its constant cornering, trying to find the line.”
Q: How will you be dealing with traffic here, given that all the cars are of the same type, unlike the multi-class racing of Le Mans?
TK: “In practice it felt nice, because you're driving alongside cars of more or less the same speed, and you might gain a bit in the braking zone only. All the sessions went well so far, and I think I found the right rhythm in qualifying last night, so now I just need the consistency. I've done very few laps, so it's a steep learning curve.”
Q: Dindo Capello has recently announced his retirement from driving prototypes. What did he bring to the partnership with you and Allan [McNish] and what will you miss most about working with him?
TK: “Dindo's just a fantastic driver: he's fast and consistent, plus he drives with his heart and his mind. He's a very nice team-mate, too: not political and always in a good mood. As a human being and a driver, he's tops – he's the kind of guy you always want to have around you. But whenever he goes and whatever he does in future, he should also think about having me and Allan, or somebody else, with him on his travels, because he always gets lost – I worry about him travelling alone! So he'll surely be missed as a driver on the works team, but you never know, he may help us out with other things as well in the future – he's truly an Audi man.”
Kristensen, Lotterer and Fassler line up 13th on the grid for tomorrow's race in the #6 Audi Sport Team Phoenix Audi R8 GT3.