The Numbers Say Plenty About Tom Kristensen
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Sebring, Fla. – The numbers scream. They put Tom Kristensen in a class by himself in sports car endurance racing. They answer trivia questions.
But, standing in the Sebring infield and looking way cooler than somebody wearing a heavy, itchy driver suit should, Kristensen politely waved off a question about those numbers.
With a wag of his right index finger, he said questions about his place in driving history will be answered only after his career is over.
“When you’re in it, you don’t look back,” Kristensen said, brow dry as the Gobi as on a hot, humid Central Florida day. “You think about qualifying. You know, I have my balls on the table. That’s the whole idea. You only look back when you hang up your helmet for the last time.”
And, judging from results on the track, that helmet will stay on the head for a good deal longer.
Kristensen is Audi Sport Team Joest’s veteran driver. He is in Sebring with Audi’s two-team operation. Along with Allan McNish and Dindo Capello, he will drive the No. 2 Audi R15+TDI in today’s 59th running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Le Mans.
A victory would, well, that’s where those numbers come in.
Kristensen has won Sebring a record five times. He has two other podium finishes. At
the other classic, high-chic, ultra-tough endurance race – Le Mans – he is an eight-time winner.
All told, he is the most successful endurance-race driver in the world this decade. Or is it ever? Don’t ask Kristensen. Ask those around him at Sebring.
Romain Dumas, who is co-driving the No. 1 Audi this weekend, sounds like he leans toward ever.
“For sure, the talent he has,” Dumas said, “to make no mistakes, to be so consistent, to be in the right car at the right time, I have to say, is the way you gain such victories. He is very, very, very very fast. There’s no question about that.”
The Danish-born Kristensen started his racing career the way most Europeans do and with the goals most Europeans have. Touring cars, formula cars and a brief fling as a test driver in Formula One.
About a decade ago, he hooked up with Audi and it’s sports car program. He drove the trend-setting R8s, the R10s and now, the soon-to-be-gone R15s.
Dr. Wolfgang Ulrich, director of Audi Sport, leaning forward with hands clasped while sitting at a table in the Audi compound at Sebring talked about his decision to put “TK” in Audi sports cars.
“He was one of the young guys in sports cars,” Ulrich said. “I also looked at him when
we did Touring Cars, because he was doing the German Touring Cars at the same time. In DTM, he did a good job. So when we were filling up the spots, we saw a chance to get Tom and we gave it a try.”
And the numerical success followed.
The success at Sebring brings a smile to Kristensen’s face, if not an elaborate flood of anecdotes and analysis.
He will gladly talk about today’s race.
“I like it. I like particularly the race,” Kristensen said. “It’s an old school race track. It’s just get on it and don’t complain. That’s the way my dad brought me up and that is an attitude I always try to live up to.”
And he’ll talk about the record field.
“This (today’s race) must be a record with 56 cars on the track. Traffic, you have to take it as a challenge all the time and not take it as an annoyance,” Kristensen said.
“This will be, perhaps, the hardest race, maybe, ever here.”
But, lots of traffic, no traffic, tough course, easy course, none of it matters to Kristensen. They are races and race tracks and for the 43-year-old driver from Hobro; they are merely opportunities to win.
“All the drivers are competitive,” Ulrich said of his driver’s desire to win…and win…and
win. “They always think that way. With Tom, it always shows.”
Talk of his competitiveness, and even a comparison to Dale Earnhardt in that area, brightens Kristensen’s eyes.
Yes, he says, he loves to win.
“But always with a smile. Always with mutual respect. For the respect of the competition as well,” Kristensen said.
So, how long before Kristensen does talk about his career? That is, how much longer does he expect to drive?
Dumas said that Kristensen is an avid – and competitive – runner who is still in top shape.
Ulrich said, “You don’t want to make a decision too soon with a driver and you don’t want to make a decision too late. With Tom now, that’s not even something to think about.”
Kristensen said, well, virtually nothing. No big surprise there.
He did say he looks forward to getting behind the wheel of the new Audi, the closed-top R18 which is being tested in advance of Le Mans down the road at Homestead-Miami Speedway this week.
Better speed, better aero, Kristensen said. It should make Audi more competitive with the Peugeots which have provided his team with its main competition the last couple years.
Kristensen smiled a big smile talking about his immediate future. His long-term future.
He smiled on more time and it was off to qualifying.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment