The interesting thing about racing is that nothing is certain. You can prepare yourself and the car perfectly, but then another car hits you or pulls out in front of you, and there is little if anything you can do to avoid the inevitable contact. The unpredictability of racing is unlike most sports, in that besides the weather and the fact that you are strapped into a missile that relies on thousands of parts all working in harmony, you also have the added factor of all the other cars in the field who may act or react in an unforeseen manner.
To rise to the top of any sport as a professional competitor requires skill and commitment, lots of it, and the right opportunity at the right time. Somebody once told Gary Player, the world famous professional golfer, that he was very lucky on the golf course. Player replied that the more he practiced, the luckier he got, which quickly silenced his critic. But you cannot deny that it takes any professional sportsman or woman a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to the top, and for that we can all thank them for the pleasure it brings us as spectators and media, in watching them excel.
It was just a matter of time, though, before Tom Kristensen would publish a book about his extraordinary motorsport career, because he has packed so much into two-plus decades. Kristensen rose up through the ranks in the traditional sense, starting in karting and then moving up to Formula 3 and Formula 3000 single-seaters, before a Formula 1 testing role beckoned.
Then came the chance that changed his life. In 1997, Kristensen’s professionalism and talent came through when, as the underdog and driving an elderly Joest TWR Porsche WSC-95, he won on his first visit to Le Mans. His second Le Mans victory came in 2000 on his maiden drive for Audi in the R8, and this was followed by wins in 2001, 2002, 2003 (Bentley), 2004 and 2005. He had further wins for Audi in 2008 and 2013 giving him nine overall Le Mans victories in total, an all-time record.
With the above in mind, Dan Philipsen, the author and collaborator on Tom’s biography, wrote this in the Preface to the book: “Very few people can claim that a particular event defines them as a person. But the world’s toughest car race, Le Mans 24 Hours, is now synonymous with the name Tom Kristensen. It symbolises his story, his image, and his greatness.” This statement really wraps it up neatly because Kristensen has made his mark in history in the most profound way possible. And if you thought he was just the man for Le Mans, add to this his six overall wins in the Sebring 12 Hours and the countless other top level international race wins.
The Foreword to the book has been written by none other than Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, the head of Audi motorsport and the one who worked with Tom for 16 years. Dr. Ullrich was unflinching is his regard for Tom, praising his professionalism and total commitment to every aspect of his racing career. From his teammates to the engineers, management, medical staff, masseur or team chef, Tom made them all feel part of his universe, and subsequently they contributed the same in return.
The book, Mr. Le Mans: Tom Kristensen, takes the reader on a tour of Tom’s life and times and it includes all the bumps and scrapes along the way. The book is refreshingly candid, revealing and honest, which is a rare quality in the world of ego-driven racing drivers. Too many top racing drivers have an attitude that is off-putting, thinking of themselves as a gift to world who should be respected and admired. Having met with Tom on a number of occasions, he is different, unlike many of the wannabe drivers who struggle to squeeze their helmets over their oversized heads. You can ask Tom for a quick word, a photograph or just a smile, and he has always been obliging. Just as Dr. Ullrich wrote in the Foreword, “…he was and is, most importantly, a quality person. People forget that’s an important trait of a race car driver. You don’t just win races from inside the cockpit, but to a great extent outside it as well. Tom understood the big picture on a racing team.”
An incident that showed just how dangerous life can be for a racing driver, was the night that he received a call from the Audi team’s commercial manager announcing the death of Tom’s close friend and mentor, Michele Alboreto. This hit not only Tom but the whole team, and it brought home the realisation that it could have happened to any of them, after all they were all just human like the rest of us.
The author goes into details that often don’t get mentioned in a biography of this kind. Like the chapter that explains the physical demands placed on the body of a racing driver. These are often overlooked when writing on the subject, but this is all included in this book. Other unseen factors are the demands publicity plays on the modern-day racing driver, and always having to look good despite perhaps having just had a disappointing practice or qualifying session. But one of the things that Tom and his family had to come to terms with was the fact that he was on the road for so much of the time. This meant missing those all-important school plays, sports games and birthdays, but the whole family was signed up to the work and career that Tom followed.
As a motorsport writer, once upon a time, I was in the right place at the right time at Le Mans. It was the Friday evening before the race back in 2011, and I was making my way wearily back to the car park after a long day of photographing, writing and interviewing. As I walked along, I heard the team calling Tom from the Audi team bus in the car park, to hurry up. No doubt there was some last-minute issue that Tom had to discuss with the engineers prior to race day, and he was late for a big evening celebration. Then, from behind me came a shout, “Coming…!” and as I turned to see who the owner was of the last voice, I saw none other than TK pedalling his electric golf buggy like there was no tomorrow. He came around the corner of the paddock on three wheels – if there is anyone who can corner a golf buggy on three wheels, then it is TK – and swingy madly in the airflow behind was his dinner jacket on a hangar. As he whizzed past me he had the biggest grin on his face! That was TK for you, always just one more thing to do and always there to the end!
This book is refreshingly all-inclusive, it is exciting, funny and it is frank. Tom Kristensen won the Le Mans 24 Hours with three different manufacturers – Porsche, Bentley and Audi – but it was in the awesome Audis that he had his biggest success. The book was voted ‘Sports Book of the Year’ when it was first published in Tom’s native Danish tongue. As a motorsport enthusiast, you don’t want to miss out on reading this fascinating story of the greatest racing driver ever to take to the track at Le Mans.
In closing, a quote from Dr. Ullrich would be appropriate, “Mr. Tom Kristensen is a real character.” This brief statement sums up the life and times of “TK” as he was known to many of his friends and fans, and we are all the richer for having witnessed his professionalism and incredible talent.
|Title||Mr. Le Mans: Tom Kristensen|
|Author||Tom Kristensen with Dan Philipsen|
|Page count||432 pages|
|Image count||125 images|
|Format||170 x 245 mm – portrait, hardback with dust jacket|
|Price – Standard Edition||£40.00 GBP|
|Price – Signed Edition||£55.00 GBP|
Written by: Glen Smale