Mr. Le Mans: Tom Kristensen

Tom Kristensen in the Audi e-Tron
Tom Kristensen in the Audi e-Tron at Silverstone WEC in 2014

Can a particular event define a person? Many people would perhaps argue no, however it is probably fair to say that the world’s toughest car race, Le Mans 24 Hours, defines Tom Kristensen and symbolises his story, image and greatness, as to many in the world of motorsport he is known as ‘Mr Le Mans’, having won the race a record nine times between 1997 and 2014 and achieved a podium finish a further five times, driving for Audi, Bentley and Joest Porsche.

In fact, every time Tom Kristensen’s car finished over his 18 years of competing at Le Mans, he was always on the podium, which is a remarkable feat for any sports car driver. He also achieved a record six wins at the Sebring 12 Hours.

Having hung up his helmet and retired from competitive racing, Kristensen looks back at over 30 years of racing, with personal reflections and insights from both behind the wheel and from outside the cars he drove. This book describes the battels and setbacks that at times seemed impossible to overcome, which included a dreadful DTM accident in 2007 which nearly brought an end to his racing career.

Tom Kristensen debut win
Tom Kristensen’s debut win in the Joest Porsche WSC95 in 1997

Available in English for the first time, the book was voted ‘Sports Book of the Year’ when originally published in Kristensen’s native Denmark.

Author Dan Philipsen has been Tom Kristensen’s collaborator on the creation of this book, and is himself editor at TV2 Sporten, Denmark’s leading sports broadcaster. He was also a former sports reporter at the Danish daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten and has published several sport-autobiographies in Danish and won an award with this book in 2018 and previously honoured as ‘Sports Reporter of the Year’ back in 2010 in Denmark.

As he writes in his preface, no one else has been able to win that race [Le Mans 24 Hours] nine times. Prior to that, no one thought anyone would beat Belgian driver Jackie Ickx’s record six wins, however, Tom Kristensen rewrote the record books on numerous occasions. So, “maybe its appropriate they call Tom Mr Le Mans.”

Joest Porsche
Debut win and lap record in 1997 with Michele Alboreto and Stefan Johansson in the Joest Porsche WSC95

Apparently, there was some discussion about the title of the book and the content, with Philipsen and Kristensen not always in agreement. In the Danish edition, Philipsen wanted to focus on “Tom the person – on the journey that motorsport had directed for his life and the personal travails along that path.” On the other hand, for Tom, apart from his family, “motorsport was – and is – more important than anything else.” They found a compromise, and so this book is an updated and much more motorsport relevant international edition of the story of Tom Kristensen. It also includes three of motorsport’s most important writers, Nils Finderup, Charles Bradley and Gary Watkins. Between them, they have evaluated Kristensen’s career from their personal and respected points of view.

The majority of Kristensen’s Le Mans victories were achieved driving for Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, who was director of Audi Sport and one of a number of people, Kristensen credits for his amazingly successful career.

The book opens with Kristensen’s early racing career, from how he got started in karting to become Scandinavian Karting Champion before moving into Formula 3 single-seaters, winning championship titles in Germany in 1991 and Japan in 1993, where he lived for a while and raced in all classes including touring cars and Formula Nippon (F3000). This led to Formula 1 testing roles with Tyrrell, Williams and Michelin but he never made it to Formula 1. The book then goes on to reflect on Kristensen’s successful years with Audi in DTM.

Tom Kristensen at Brands Hatch DTM Race
Tom Kristensen leading at Brands Hatch in DTM 2006

In his first race at Le Mans in 1997, Kristensen won it as an underdog, driving a rather elderly Joest-run privateer Porsche in which he impressed spectators and other teams with a spectacular night-time charge to beat Porsche’s factory-entered favourites.

The book looks at Kristensen’s years spent at BMW where he won the Sebring 12 Hours on his debut before his second Le Mans victory in 2000 on his maiden drive for Audi in the R8, a car that was to become all-conquering on the race circuits. He then went on to win the next five races at Le Mans, four times with Audi, with private teams Goh (Japan) and Champion (USA), as well as once with Bentley in 2003, which was his last victory in this sequence, and which took him past Jacky Ickx’s previous record at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Kristensen’s eighth win came in the all-time classic contest at Le Mans in 2008, which turned out to be a rollercoaster of a race in which his ageing diesel-powered Audi R10 was never expected to beat the favourites works Peugeots, but it did. It was then one more victory with the Audi R18 e-tron in 2013 that confirmed his reputation as a true legend of Le Mans.

Audi e-Tron
WEC win at the Circuit of the Americas in 2013 in the Audi e-Tron

The book also takes a look at other racetracks around the world, including the legendary Sebring in Florida, home of America’s long-established classic endurance race Kristensen won a record six times.

Since retiring from competitive racing, Kristensen continues his role as a Formula One steward, which he has held since 2010, when FIA President Jean Todt asked him to join. He also became vice president of the Drivers’ Commission in the International Motor Sports Federation of the FIA, where he works with 14 other members to improve and optimise everything for drivers, from safety to rules and rights. But when Emerson Fittipaldi resigned as president of the Drivers’ Commission, Kristensen ascended to the role with more than a little input from Jean Todt and to which Kristensen was honoured to accept as he was keen to give something back to the sport he loves so much.

Pretty much everything Kristensen touches these days involves motorsport in some way or another and he a regular at Goodwood. He recently started a company with his son Oliver, who currently manages two talented racecar drivers while still studying at Copenhagen Business School. More recently, Kristensen has become a Testimonee for Rolex, a natural fit as a company that has been a loyal motorsport supporter for many years. He also does a lot of work for sick children as charity work is important to him and works on a number of children’s projects.

On the podium in 2008
On the podium in 2008

The book contains some personal reflections from Kristensen as well as containing contributions from notable observers such as Nils Finderup, who looks at Kristensen’s early years, and English journalists Charles Bradley who reflects on some trying years and finally Gary Watkins, who looks at the golden years, to complete a truly rounded portrait of Tom Kristensen and his remarkable achievements.

The final word should however go to Dr. Ullrich, who sums Kristensen up by saying,

“Tom brought an incredible grandeur to motorsport. I’m convinced that in the future he will continue to give just as much back to the sport that has shaped our lives so beautifully.”

Publication date: March 2021
UK price: £40.00
ISBN: 978-87-972603-0-2
Format: 245 x 170mm, portrait format, hardback
Pages: 432
Illustration: 125 photographs

Mr Le Mans Book Cover

MR. LE MANS: TOM KRISTENSEN
By Tom Kristensen with Dan Philipsen
Foreword by Dr Wolfgang Ullrich
Published by Evro Publishing

For more information on Tom Kristensen, please visit https://tomkristensen.com and to purchase your own copy of the book visit the Evro Publishing website, it is also available at Amazon, WH Smiths and Waterstones.

Author Bio:

Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man Behind The Wheel, a member of The Guild of Motoring Writers, professional photographer and former saloon car racing driver.

Photographs courtesy of Evro Publishing

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