Le Mans 2013: Tom Kristensen Cements Legacy with Ninth Victory at Event

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2013

LE MANS, FRANCE - JUNE 22:  The Audi Sport e-tron Quattro of Tom Kristensen, Loic Duval and Allan McNish drives during the Le Mans 24 Hour race at the Circuit de la Sarthe on June 22, 2013 in Le Mans, France.  (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)
Ker Robertson/Getty Images

Danish race car driver Tom Kristensen helped Audi win the 2013 "24 Hours of Le Mans" on Sunday, further cementing his legacy as one of the greatest drivers in the sport's history.

Driving the No. 2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro, Kristensen shared the top step of the podium with teammates Allan McNish of Scotland and Loic Duval of France. It was McNish's third victory at Le Mans and a career-fulfilling first for Duval, but Kristensen, winning his record ninth running of the race, deserves the greatest recognition for that achievement.

The race, colloquially known as the grand prix of endurance and efficiency, is really just that: an event that tries a driver's mind just as much as his body. Winning takes not just technical proficiency but mental discipline, drivers needing to race fast at times, but also preserve enough speed to last 24 hours. One must find the perfect balance between speed and forethought if they hope to finish on top.

Driving in teams of three, racers, at times, have to manage that delicate balance for two-hour-long shifts, spending copious amounts of time on the track before being able to pit and call for a relief driver. If you thought the final immunity challenge on Survivor was a taxing feat of endurance, this event might be too daunting for you to even watch.

All of which only makes Kristensen more impressive. Granted, by definition, this race is a team contest; drivers race in triads, and three men share each spot on the podium. But out there on the track for hours at a time without pitting, it often feels like a solo affair. The race is closer to baseball, a group of individuals competing for one team goal, than basketball, where teammates work together in unison to achieve success.

In winning the 2013 race on Sunday, Kristensen further burrowed his way into Le Mans immortality, capturing the checkered flag for the ninth time in his career. He didn't break the record with this victory—that happened in 2005, where he won his seventh race, passing German Jacky Ickx for the all-time lead—but he further extended his lead in that category, making it more and more likely that he will always reign atop the leaderboard at Le Mans.

Kristensen's victory is also of note because he hadn't won at Le Mans since 2008. He won his first 24-hour race in 1997 before sweeping six straight between 2000 and 2005. He didn't win again until 2008, and this was his first victory since. In other words, since his first victory at Le Mans 16 years ago, this ended the longest drought of his career.

It also gave Kristensen victories in three different decades. In an event that measures microcosmic endurance—that is, how long you can stay sharp over a 24-hour binge—achieving such macrocosmic longevity is just icing on the cake. It reveals the consistency of Kristensen's ability, proof that even over the long haul, he is worthy of the title Le Mans has granted him. He is truly the king of endurance.

According to The Telegraph, Kristensen's father passed away in March. Before he died, though, he predicted his son would end the four-year drought and win his ninth title at Le Mans.

With his and his teammates' remarkable driving this weekend, Kristensen made sure his father's last prediction came true. 


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