Allan McNish ready for the 2002 season

Mcnish's Long Racing Journey Finally Reaches F1 INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2002 - This may be his first season in Formula One, but Toyota's new driver Allan McNish is an F1 rookie in name only. The 32-year-old Scot has 14 years of auto ...

Mcnish's Long Racing Journey Finally Reaches F1

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2002 - This may be his first season in Formula One, but Toyota's new driver Allan McNish is an F1 rookie in name only.

The 32-year-old Scot has 14 years of auto racing experience, and another six seasons in karts before that. Along the way, he has racked up some impressive honors, including winning the 1998 Le Mans 24 Hours and the 2000 American Le Mans Series championship.

McNish makes his F1 debut 12 years after he first drove a F1 car. Back in 1990, he worked as a test driver for McLaren, and he also was a test driver for Benetton in 1993, 1994 and 1996. By 1997, he thought that he might never make it to F1, but racing sports cars gave him an unexpected break.

"In 1997, when I signed for Porsche to drive sports cars," McNish said, "the perception was that sports cars were not the route toward to F1. But I have to be honest and say at that point I was very happy with the deal I did with them. Sports cars gave me a heck of a lot. As well as the opportunity to come back to F1, it also gave me a lot of satisfaction and success.

"Personally, I developed a lot more in the last four years than I did in the early stages of my career. Looking back, from a driver training-ground point of view, it was very good. But it certainly hasn't resulted in what I expected. I didn't expect to be here today."

"Here" is as a driver for the Panasonic Toyota Racing F1 team alongside Finland's Mika Salo.

McNish, born in Dumfries, Scotland, on Dec. 29, 1969, first raced karts in 1981. He made the switch to cars in 1987 and finished second in the British Junior Formula Ford Championship. The following year, he won the British Vauxhall Lotus Championship. In 1989, he finished second in the British Formula 3 Championship. He competed in the FIA Formula 3000 series from 1990-92 and again in 1995.

He left the single-seater ranks in 1997, switched to sports cars and won three GT races driving for Porsche in America. In 1998, co-driving a Porsche with four other drivers, including 1985 Indianapolis 500 winner Danny Sullivan, McNish won the GT1 class and finished second overall in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Later that same year, McNish co-drove a Porsche to the overall victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours.

In 1999, McNish started the season by finishing second in the Rolex 24 at Daytona driving a Ferrari 333SP, and later that year he raced for Toyota at Le Mans. In 2000, he began working as a test and development driver on Toyota's new F1 project. In 2000, he also drove for Audi, finished second in the Le Mans 24 Hours, and won six races on his way to clinching the American Le Mans Series championship.

Last year, McNish devoted all his time to testing the Toyota F1 prototype.

Toyota originally signed McNish as a test driver only. But he was confirmed as Salo's teammate for the 2002 season on Oct. 22, 2001.

"Obviously, Toyota wanted the option, if I turned out to be two seconds off the pace, that they did not have to put me in a car," McNish said. "I was quite happy with that situation because I was confident that that would not be the case, and I knew that they would not have given me the testing deal if they did not believe of me."

As for his first season in F1 and the first season for Toyota, McNish predicts both good and bad times.

"I am pretty sure that we will have good races and I am pretty sure that we will have bad races," he said. "The important thing is that when we do have a bad race or bad qualifying or whatever, that we go home, learn about it, lick our wounds, and come out fighting two weeks later. That is the good thing about F1 - you can go out two weeks later and have another crack at it."

McNish raced against Mika Hakkinen 12 years ago and is disappointed that two-time FIA Formula One World Champion Hakkinen, who is taking a sabbatical in 2002, won't be around to race this season.

"Having a double World Champion go out makes it a little bit easier for everyone else," McNish said, "but I am pretty sure that there is enough competition without Mika (Hakkinen). It would have been nice to race against Mika, because obviously we knew each other and raced against each other and spent a lot of time with each other in 1988, 1989 and 1990. But there are a lot of other drivers you have to beat out there. If Mika was on the grid, he would be another driver I have to beat."

McNish has raced against some of the other established F1 stars earlier in their careers, as well.

"There are quite a few of the drivers that I have raced against," he said. "For example, Mika Salo and I raced against each other in Formula 3, but at that time you also had Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Mika Hakkinen, so there were quite a few of the established drivers that I have competed against. As for the young ones, like Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button, I have not raced against them. But it is the same in any category of racing - you have to go in and establish yourself. Sometimes you have to go in and muscle your way through, and F1 is no different."

The Australian Grand Prix season opener March 3 marks McNish's F1 debut.

"At the moment, all I feel is anticipation because I really want to get on with the job," McNish said. "But when I sit there waiting to go out for qualifying and when I am sitting on the grid just before the start of the race, there will be a few butterflies in my stomach. But it is another race, and I have done plenty of races in my career. It just happens to be an important one."

During and after the 17-race season, which includes the SAP United States Grand Prix on Sept. 29 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, McNish plans to assess his performances minutely.

"A good year, from a personal point of view, would be if I came away from it having basically had a good season in comparison to Mika (Salo) and other drivers," McNish said, "and with other people and the media feeling that I had a successful year.

"But from a purely personal view, if I sit on a flight on the way home after the race thinking 'Yup, I covered every option; I personally had a good race; I'm happy with that; I don't think that I could have done anymore,' whether we finish in the points or second last or break down on the third lap, it doesn't matter. If I feel that if I have done that, it will have been a good year."

-ims-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jenson Button , Michael Schumacher , Mika Hakkinen , Allan McNish , Mika Salo , Danny Sullivan
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Toyota Racing , Benetton