Allan McNish: “I know every bump at Le Mans”

Veteran Le Mans ace Allan McNish talks to Stuff about racing self-driving cars, trackside iPads and making 3D ads

Allan McNish is a two-time winner of the famous Le Mans 24-hour race, driving for Audi. Here, he talks to Stuff about cars, gadgets and driving really fast...

I’m feeling pretty good about Le Mans. We’ve got a new Audi Quattro hybrid car and the testing’s gone really well. There are seven zones on the circuit where you can charge up to 500kJ of energy through the brakes. When I accelerate, that energy is turned back into power for the front wheels, while I’ve still got the diesel powering the rear wheels.

I know every bump on the Le Mans circuit. You build up this bank of knowledge, but when you go there the first time it’s so daunting. And it changes every year – this year they’ve resurfaced the legendary Mulsanne Straight and the chicanes on there, so it’s got a completely different character. The track changes with the weather and over the course of the race, too, like a living creature.

I pack my iPad when I go to Le Mans. It’s a bit of work as well as a bit of relaxation. I make my notes on it, email the engineers, watch a bit of TV at night and maybe catch up on a film. Through the race itself, I use it to listen to the English language radio reports and it’s got the live timing as well so I can see how the car’s getting on even though I’m not actually sitting in the driving seat.

There are a lot of gadgets in the car. We’ve got this digital rear-view camera – where the normal rear-view mirror you’d have on a street car is, you’ve got a digital display. You’ve also got a steering wheel with 20 knobs and switches on it and then another panel on the left hand side with another 20 knobs and switches to play with. We’ve discussed thermal imaging cameras, but you have to be practical.

I don’t think I’ll race a self-driving car in my lifetime. There’s no question that motorsport’s right at the forefront of technological change, but I don’t think they’ll be getting rid of drivers just yet. It’s one thing going from A to B at 40 or 50mph, but for the gladatorial side of motorsport you want someone piloting the machine.

I was in a two-and-half minute Audi ad we shot in 3D. If you saw it at the cinema it was stunning. In 2D it was pretty bloody good, but in 3D it was really, really cool. I was quite impressed. Friends and family going to the cinema said the first thing they saw was me jumping out of the screen at them – I got some scathing comments, I can tell you.

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