RISI'S MEMORIES OF LE MANS Mika Salo has made more than 100 starts in Formula 1, owns 11 American Le Mans Series victories and won the 2007 Series GT2 championship with Jaime Melo. Eric van de Poele is one of sports car racing's most...
RISI'S MEMORIES OF LE MANS
Mika Salo has made more than 100 starts in Formula 1, owns 11 American Le Mans Series victories and won the 2007 Series GT2 championship with Jaime Melo. Eric van de Poele is one of sports car racing's most famous names with numerous endurance victories and a stint in F1 as well. Even with all the accolades, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in which van de Poele owns four class wins, still maintains a certain aura for the two Risi Competizione pilots. They share their thoughts and memories of the world's greatest motor race.
"There's not much to remember really! I was happy to be joining Audi for Le Mans which they'd won many times and also to be in the same car with Frank Biela who'd won the race a couple of years in a row before. They had all this experience in the car and everything was fine. We qualified OK and the race started good and we were running third or something.
"I was waiting, supposed to get in the car second after Frank; the plan was that Frank did a double stint and then I'd get in the car and do a double. So Frank did his first stop fine, and was then supposed to come in for the next one and I was ready with the helmet on, waiting in the pitlane. All we heard on the radio was 'Sheisse, I missed the pit entry,' and we all knew it was all over now because he wasn't going to make it all the way round the circuit again without fuel.
"He stopped on the track on the other side of the circuit, less than two hours into the race. He tried to get in the pits with the starter motor and managed to do about half a kilometer and then stopped. He just disappeared, never came back to the pits, and I think he jumped into his car and drove back to Germany. That was my first Le Mans. I was back in Finland that same night and couldn't even watch the TV because I was so (hacked) off."
Eric van de Poele
"The greatest moment for me I think was the first time on the podium here - it's unbelievable with so many people and the atmosphere. But I have so many good memories from Le Mans; it's a very emotional place. Every year there's something very special.
"I have to say the first time I drove on this track wasn't a good memory because it was the Peugeot 905 and I did my first lap in the night. The car was so fast and I was learning the track in the night - it was very difficult. My greatest moment was probably the podium here with Risi in 1998 and then the podium with Bentley in 2001.
"Of course I remember Jacky Ickx racing here live on TV - I was very small but I remember it. After that I came here with my father who was a marshal. When he was on the straight, I was in the paddock, and I was maybe 15 years old and it was unbelievable. I couldn't believe the speed of the cars, and the chicanes. I had already decided as a 5-year-old I wanted to do any kind of racing, and Le Mans was a big part of that."
The 76th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans runs from 9 a.m. ET (3 p.m. local time) Saturday, June 14 to 9 a.m. ET Sunday, June 15 from the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France. Forty-four drivers will represent the American Le Mans Series, whose teams have captured seven overall victories and 22 class championships since 1999. SPEED will televise the event live, and Radio Le Mans will have flag-to-flag coverage of the race as well as practice and qualifying on June 11 and 12.
The next round of the American Le Mans Series is the American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix. The race is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 12 at Lime Rock Park. SPEED will televise the race from noon to 3 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 13. XM Satellite Radio will air the event live on XM Sports Nation Channel 144.