Interview: Mr Le Mans, Tom Kristensen

24 Hour Classic

We chat with Mr Le Mans and Rolex Testimonee, Tom Kristensen, as Ferrari stuns at the 100th anniversary of the French endurance classic.


t would be difficult to have scripted a more dramatic running of Le Mans for the 100th anniversary of the French endurance classic. The centenary event had a bit of everything, starting with NBA star LeBron James flagging the field away on Saturday afternoon. Having made its debut last year, the exciting new Le Mans Hypercar class (LMh) sat at the top of the grid, joined this year by the Le Mans Daytona Hybrid (LMDh) class, bringing total top-class entrants to 16. Toyota, Porsche, Ferrari, Peugeot and Cadillac all looked to claim a famous victory, and in the closest and most competitive battle in recent years, all five manufacturers took turns in the lead during the first lap of the clock. It was a battle that enthralled the crowd of over 325,000 fans.

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By halfway, the number 8 Toyota GR010 and number 51 Ferrari 499P had established themselves as the contenders to beat, frequently changing position over the next 10 hours. Ultimately, it was the Ferrari that prevailed in a well-received and deserved victory after 342 laps of the Circuit de la Sarthe, the brand’s 10 outright victory and its first since 1965!

On the podium, the trio of winning drivers – Alessandro Pier Guido, James Calado and Antonio Giovinazzi – were presented with a specially engraved Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona from title sponsor Rolex. Fittingly, it was nine-time Le Mans winner and this year’s Grand Marshall, Tom Kristensen who presented the winners their well-earned timepieces.

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After the podium presentation, Kristensen remarked, “Standing here alongside the winners of this milestone edition was a big moment for me. My experience of the 24 Hours of Le Mans means I have even more respect for what these drivers and teams have achieved over 24 hours. After all, it is this race that brough me into the Rolex family, and because of that, Le Mans feels even more like home to me.”

Prior to this year’s race, evo Australia had the opportunity to catch up with Tom Kristensen to talk Rolex, Le Mans and races that almost happened for the nine-time Le Mans winner and six-time Sebring 12 Hour victor (both records).

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Q: How did technology evolve over your 18 starts at Le Mans?

When I started with Michelle Alberto and Stefan Johansson with Joest Porsche in 1997, it was an open-top car with no power steering and unsynchronised gearbox. Then we had a sequential gearbox with BMW, but still no power steering. Then when I started with Audi we had power steering and had paddle shifters. With the engine, things evolved with an eight-cylinder engine, then you go to twin turbo, then you go 12 cylinder normal aspiration with BMW, back to twin turbo with Audi R8, then getting the 12-cylinder turbodiesel and in the last race with the hybrid cars. So, in the span of 18 starts I had at Le Mans, it evolved enormously and in terms of driving technique we had to work on our own technique, sometimes left-foot braking, sometimes right-foot braking, or driving with momentum through the corners or just getting the car stopped and pointed.

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Q: Of the Rolex’s you’ve won at Le Mans, is there one that means the most to you?

I treasure all of my winning Daytonas with enormous respect and with enormous reflection for something that we put enormous energy into and which we lived together. Standing on the podium is the peak experience at a Le Mans race. You’ve just received your Rolex watch with your team. You’re relieved, you’re proud, you’re happy. Very emotional.

My Daytonas are emotional possessions and remain as special to me today as when I first won them. They tell the story of defining moments in my career. When I look at the watches, I relive the achievements with my team and co-drivers all those years ago.

My favourite watch is the won that I wear on that day and it can be others, not just Daytonas. I remember, sometimes when I went to meet with the engineers, I’d put on my Milgauss because it would put me a bit more on a level playing field with the engineers.

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Q: Was there an endurance race that you would like to have competed in?

I was close to doing the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring in an Audi TT DTM car in 2003 but that was called off by a phone call from the boss from Bentley because it was only two or three weeks before Le Mans. He really didn’t want me to do it because it was too close to the race and we had an important test the following week.

It was a little bit similar with Bathurst. There was a chance to do Bathurst [12 Hour] one year but that clashed with Audi fitness and team building week and you couldn’t have a key member not taking part.

When I was Grand Marshall at the Rolex 24 at Daytona some years ago, Chip Ganassi and myself wrote on a napkin that we have a deal for the 24 hours at Daytona any day. So, I might do that one day, you never know.

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Rolex Centenary Edition

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Rolex has released a special version on its legendary Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona.

Fashioned from 18ct white gold, the timepiece features a Cerachrom bezel in black ceramic.

The tachymetric scale is emblazoned with the number 100 in red ceramic to acknowledge the 100 years of Le Mans.

Featuring an exclusive movement known as calibre 4132, the new watch allows the chronograph function to operate over 24 hours instead of the usual 12 hours. Much of the movement is visible through the transparent case back, with the oscillating weight crafted in 18ct yellow gold and fitted with an optimised ball bearing.

Like all Rolex watches, this special version of the Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona carries the Superlative Chronometer certification.