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How to win Le Mans, from 'Mr Le Mans' Tom Kristensen

Nine-time 24hrs champion gives the current crop some tips

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For us mere mortals, it’s difficult to understand just what it takes to even complete a 24-hour race. There’s the lack of sleep, the relentless pace (even at night), the huge closing speeds with cars in a completely different class, and of course the need to keep your own car in one piece. 

So how on earth does a team of racing drivers beat off competition from 60 other cars to win the damn thing? Well, on the morning of the greatest day-long race on earth, caught up with ‘Mr Le Mans’ himself – nine-time champion and Rolex ambassador Tom Kristensen – to find out. 

“To win it takes a lot of dedication and respect. Although of course the simple answer is you have to be fast,” he says.

“But you still can’t make any mistakes and you have to have the cleverness, coolness and calmness.”

Ah yes, remain cool and calm at 200mph – got it. “Don’t overstep it though, and try to stick to the strategy,” says Kristensen. “Strategy and taking the right decisions with the team are both very important.

“This year it’ll be interesting because you could save a little bit of fuel if you want to make each stint longer. Then with tyres you could maybe change to fresher ones at the beginning of the race to try and get ahead, then save them a little bit towards the end when the circuit srubs in.”

Let’s hope that ex-F1 drivers Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Sébastien Buemi are taking notes, having qualified in second behind their teammates in the other Toyota.

“Another decision to make is about when you might change the splitter, because the aero balance can change during the course of the race due to wear or whatever,” says Kristensen.

“Then, when you do take the decision to change it, the mechanics have to be really fast. They have 20 seconds; if they take 40 then you’ve lost more than you gained.”

Strong words, but this is from a man with more Le Mans 24hrs wins than any other driver in history. So, take heed all, and bonne chance.

Image: Rolex/Jad Sherif/Guillaume Megevand

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