Tom Kristensen hasn't said he would be getting back behind the wheel, but there's at least one team owner ready to sign him if he did -- Chip Ganassi.
The 54th Rolex 24 at Daytona, start of IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season has a wonderful ambassador and grand marshal this year.
Tom Kristensen, now 47, who retired from active professional driving following a stellar career in which he won the vaunted 24 Heures du Mans nine times, as well as finding success in DTM, the American Le Mans Series, British Touring Car Championship, International, German and Japanese Formula Three, is an apt ambassador for sports car racing.
Part of an Audi team that also included Allan McNish, Rinaldo Capello, Emanuele Pirro, Frank Biela and Loic Duval, McNish and Duval helped Kristensen earn his ninth 24 Hours of Le Mans title in an Audi R18 e-tron in 2013. It was the end of an era for McNish; Kristensen would finish second in his final Le Mans race the following year.
It speaks for his capabilities, dedication and passion for the sport that Kristensen has only four DNFs at the 24-hour race in France; the Dane also owns five overall victories in the difficult Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, together with a class victory that left his LMP1 Audi R10 TDI third overall.
An owner of several Rolex watches
All of those victories add up to lots of Rolex watches, as the sponsor gives Le Mans victors - and those winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona - a new watch for their victories, whether it be in class or overall. Kristensen claims he still has each one and uses a winder to keep his Rolex watches ready for wear.
Since he left the cockpit, Kristensen has been an Audi brand ambassador, which entails quite a bit of work, including driver coaching and fitness preparation for endurance racing; he is also a brand ambassador for Rolex.
He was grand marshal at Le Mans in 2015, drove at the Goodwood Revival and now enjoys his role as grand marshal at the Rolex 24. “I’m doing fun stuff with a lot of passion that I had for the sport when I was a driver. I’m privileged to stay around with great companies like Rolex and like Audi and [to attend] all of these events. It’s fantastic,” he said.
Always humble, Kristensen talks about all the Rolex watches he’s won through his victories but takes time to remind that they are results of team efforts, not just his own. “They, the watches mean a lot to you and to have the support from Rolex is fantastic. I am very proud and humble to be part of the Rolex family; you try to live in a way in a way that’s part of the excellence they exemplify in producing their watches and promoting their brand.
“They build awareness around our great sport, not just the Rolex 24 or the Le Mans 24 Hours but also the Monterey Reunion, and historic races like the Goodwood Revival. Things like that in our sport are very, very important. It’s great to be working, associated with a company like Rolex,” he said.
Kristensen still has all his Rolex watches - but won’t say how many he’s got - and says there is “nothing sweeter than having won a Rolex watch” for his efforts behind the wheel. “It really makes the win special.”
The heritage of motorsport kindled his passion in racing back when Kristensen began his quest for poles and wins, and that certainly hasn’t changed as he’s grown older and amassed all of his victories, particularly in endurance competition. He always looks to the past but embraces the future of the sport.
Rolex 24: A box never checked off
Although Kristensen always wanted to drive in the season-starting Rolex 24 at Daytona, the manufacturers he drove for in endurance racing - Audi for 14 years at Le Mans with a single, winning drive for Bentley in 2000 - never entered this contest. Audi, of course, started their season, when able, at Sebring and continue to use that venue for Le Mans testing. “It’s never been possible, but to be here as grand marshal for this race will always have a special spot in my memories. Some of the tightest competition is in this race.”
He hasn’t turned 50 yet and still likely holds licensing to drive, but Kristensen has retired. Yet the temptation to put on a helmet and driver’s suit rises at a place like this where there are nearly as many drivers as technicians (and yes, he smiled as he said this, noting the camaraderie in each team).
On Friday night at the grand marshal’s celebration, Chip Ganassi offered Kristensen a ride; it’s almost enough to put him back in a car - and he’s certainly fit enough to do so. TK just hasn’t said yes - yet.
“I’ve been a racer all my life, and although I have retired (from full-time racing), you never say never.” No doubt Ganassi’s offer was sweet to the ears and one he might take up down the road, particularly at this event.
“(Chip) said he would sign me up on the spot… “