on another long distance journey.
“Davy Jones was terribly injured in a
crash in America in 1997,” says Reinhold
Joest, whose team had won the 24 Hours
of Le Mans with Jones, Manuel Reuter and
Alex Wurz in ’ 96. “Tom’s manager called
and said, ‘You have to take him, this is a
very young, very fast guy.’ I said, ‘Fast is
good, but does he have experience?’”
“He was fairly unknown,” adds Audi
Sport Team Joest managing director Ralf
Juttner. “We were looking for a third driver,
and desperately needed money, but Tom
had none. It was back and forth between
Mr. Joest and me for weeks. He’d say we
need the money. I’d say yes, but if you take
an old guy with money, we won’t win.”
In the end, the debate fell in Juttner’s
favor. The Le Mans rookie would get a shot.
But what if Joest had won the argument?
“He was fighting for a gentleman driver,
a guy named Jesus Pareja,” Juttner says
smiling, weighing his words carefully. “We’re
all very thankful about who was chosen…”
The choice of Kristensen over Pareja
was immediately vindicated, the Dane
gelling with Alboreto and Johansson as
the trio delivered Joest a second
consecutive victory in metronomic style.
“Everything is a little bit by luck or
chance,” says Juttner. “Tom’s race in ’ 97
went perfectly, and after winning in his
first Le Mans, the factories pursued him
immediately. It changed his life instantly.”
Two years and two DNFs with BMW’s
Le Mans program prepared TK for the
biggest opportunity of his life as the
Joest-run Audi team came calling in 2000.
Emboldened by his newfound stature,
Kristensen swept into the burgeoning
program like a force of nature.
“He was like a boy [in 1997],” says
Joest, “but he had such power when he
started with Audi. Tom’s power – his
character – was very strong.”
“In 2000, we met up at Sebring after
Daytona for our first tests in the Audi,”
recalls Allan McNish. “I first met him in 1985,
I think, but this was a very different Tom. His
competitive nature was pure electricity. He
wanted to be the fastest, no matter what.
He let everyone know where he stood.”
Paired with Frank Biela and Emanuele
Pirro, Kristensen opened his account with
Audi by delivering the iconic R8 its first
Le Mans win. That began a string of six
straight victories, his dominance impervious
to changes in teammates, or changes in car
(the ’03 win came with Volkswagen-Audi-
owned Bentley). His seventh win, in ’05,
surpassed the great Jacky Ickx’s long-time
record of six, but still there would be more.
Among Kristensen’s defining attributes,
his relentless commitment to improving
every aspect of the team made an impact
well beyond the cockpit, and is a major
factor in his immense success at Le Mans.
“Tom would wake up every morning and
think: I have to win, I have to win, I have to
win,” says McNish. “That’s a big part of TK
as a driver. But he brought that energy to
the entire team, too. It became ‘we have
to win.’ Every person he worked with felt
that push, that enthusiasm from him.”
(ABOVE LEFT) Audi’s
quest for perfection
is matched by its
(LEFT) The death of
fellow Dane Allan
Simonsen in the race
and the recent passing
of Tom’s father made
Kristensen’s final win
in 2013 a somber one.
“[Joest] was fighting for a
guy named Jesus Pareja.
We’re all very thankful
about who was chosen...”
68 MAy 2015