Tom Kristensen, a living legend, says farewell to FIA WEC Championship

The great dane departs, Tom Kristensen's faboulus career.

The 2014 FIA WEC season comes to a close this weekend, not only with the drama of the remaining undecided championships but also with the compelling human story of Tom Kristensen’s final professional race.

The Danish racing giant has shaped the landscape of endurance racing over the last two decades becoming a true living legend. His career is rich and varied and we take a two-part look at some of his many, many highlights.

Tom Kristensen – The Master

On 16 June 1997 Tom Kristensen, accomplished a considerable rarity in motorsport, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall on his debut appearance at La Sarthe. Co-driving with Michele Alboreto and Stefan Johansson, they took first place in the Joest Porsche. About to turn 30 years old, Tom had 13 years racing experience by then. But it was his time in Japan as a gaijin in the early 1990s that formed him completely as a driver.

The great man’s endurance racing debut came at Mine, Japan in 1992 when he shared a Toyota TS 010 Group C car with future F1 stars Eddie Irvine and Jacques Villeneuve, taking fourth place.

“I have great memories of those days in Japan with guys like Eddie and Jacques,” recalled Kristensen when he spoke to us at Fuji last month. “Japan was like a big university experience for us European drivers. We did everything together; tested, trained, shopped, partied, etc. There were friends and rivals like Mika (Salo), Anthony (Reid), Roland (Ratzenberger), Jeff (Krosnoff), Paolo (Carcasci) and many, many others."

While Tom has had many illustrious team mates in his momentous career there is one relatively surprising driver who TK holds in the highest regard.

“Kazuyoshi Hoshino. He is a racing legend in Japan and he taught me a lot about being a true professional and how to perform at the top level week in and week out. He is one of the key people I look back on now who really helped me blossom as a racer and mature. I took a lot of inspiration from him.”

Hoshino’s glorious career included not only many domestic Japanese titles but also a third place at the 1998 Le Mans 24 Hours.

In 1993 Tom won the Japan Formula 3 Championship and, again with a Nissan, won another round of the Japanese Touring Car Championship. That series switched to a Supertouring sprint format in 1994 and Kristensen went with a Toyota Corona T190. He scored a remarkable five victories but fell one point shy in the championship to Masanori Sekiya.

He rounded out his JTCC career in 1995 with three victories and fifth place in the standings. Meanwhile, he made a foray into the new All Japan GT Championship, driving a Toyota Supra at one round in 1994 and then all season in 1996. The best results came at Fuji with a fourth place finish, co-driving with F1 refugee Bertrand Gachot. He returned to Japan in 1997 after his Le Mans victory, completing the Japan GT season in a Supra.

Tom maintained a parallel life in single seaters as well. He drove in Japanese F3000 throughout 1994 and 1995, recording a victory with Team Cerumo in 1995. He then juggled his Japanese work with the International Formula 3000 series in 1996 and 1997, winning one round at Silverstone.

While his professional and thorough approach made for great endurance racing, few would have guessed that his 1997 Le Mans victory was just the start of a remarkable sports car career. In typical Kristensen fashion, sports cars were not enough and there was always a Touring Car series to conquer. Apart from a stint as a test driver for Tyrrell, Williams and Michelin, he would henceforth concentrate on closed wheel cars.

While Tom Kristensen’s legacy remains firmly rooted in sports car racing, his record in Touring Cars is impressive too. In 2000 he drove an Accord for Redstone Team Honda in the British Championship, taking several victories and seventh in the driver standings. He also had a one-off drive in the 2000 Spa-Francorchamps 24 Hours, the last time that it was a pure Touring Car event. After becoming an Audi works driver Tom entered the DTM, racing an Audi A4 GTM at many of the rounds from 2004 through to 2010. His best years were 2005-2006, ending third on both occasions; he would win a total of four DTM rounds.

Before there was Audi, Tom was a works BMW driver in 1998-1999. His race performances were limited though as prototype racing was just finding its feet again after a few years in the wilderness. Kristensen had less luck with Le Mans in 1998 when the BMW V12 LM of Kristensen, Steve Soper and Hans Stuck retired.

Then, with Kristensen, JJ Lehto and Jörg Müller, BMW took on the challenge of the Sebring 12 Hours in 1999 and won. It would be the first of seven victories for Tom at the grueling Florida circuit and, as with Le Mans, he won on his debut appearance. There would be another retirement at Le Mans and then for 2000 Kristensen joined Audi.

Sports car racing has not been the same since as he set about re-writing the record books!

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