Tom Kristensen »
Tom Kristensen - Le Mans 2003
Tom Kristensen is quite simply a celebrity in Denmark. And even outside Denmark he is well known - at least if you talk to a motorsport enthusiast.
But in the beginning of his career Tom Kristensen faced the same problems as any other talented young driver. He has been karting since he was 10 years old and won 2 Danish Championships in karts. But when he graduated to cars he soon ran into trouble: No sponsors means no money and that means you don't get anywhere.
It seemed as if Tom Kristensen's career would end before it began. He got a job in a bank and was about to quit motor racing when he - in 1991 - got an offer to drive in the German Formula 3 Championship. He grabbed the opportunity with both hands and when the year ended he was German Champion in Formula 3.
The next step should have been Formula 3000 in 1992. But once again: Not enough money! Instead Tom Kristensen - via old friends - got an opportunity at Toyota in Japan. The first year in Japan was difficult but he ended the season at a high with a victory in the Formula 3 race ahead of the Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix. This was the beginning of a succesfull streak. In 1993 Tom Kristensen once more became Formula 3 Champion. This time in Japan.
The following years Tom Kristensen raced everything in Japan. He did not win any more championships but became runner-up in the Japanese Touringcar Championship in 1994 and in Formula Nippon in 1995.
In 1996 he returned to Europe with a contract to race in Formula 3000. But his team was a mess and it shut the doors halfway through the year. Tom Kristensen managed to stay in Formula 3000 and in 1997 he had another year racing on a shoestring budget.
But in the middle of 1997 something decisive happende. A few days before the Le Mans 24 Hours race Tom Kristensen was offered a seat in a Joest Porsche. He said "Thank you very much", jumped into the car, broke the track record and won the race.
This was the break Tom Kristensen had been waiting for. In 1998 and 1999 he was a part of the BMW works prototype team and was racing for Honda in touringcars. He retires at Le Mans both year, but in 1999 he had dominatede the race completely before retiring and he is now reckoned as one of the best sportscar drivers.
He joins Audi when they make a full scale attack at Le Mans in 2000 and in the following 6 years Tom Kristensen and Audi rewrite the history books at Le Mans (with the minor twist that the car in 2003 was a Bentley but with a whole lot of Audi beneath the bodyshell). 6 victories in a row smashes all existing records at Le Mans and has secured Tom Kristensen a place in motorsport history.
You tend to forget that Tom Kristensen also drove anything outside Le Mans in those years. But he did - he actually spent thousands of kilometers behind the wheel of Formula 1 cars. In the year 2000 Tom Kristensen was employed by Michelin as a testpilot and he tested lots of tires ahead of Michelin entering Formula 1. But despite his huge experience with the tires the testing did not lead to a Formula 1 race contract.
Instead Tom Kristensen increased his racing in the Audi prototypes and in 2002 he won the American LeMans Series and since 2004 he has been a part of the Audi DTM team. The DTM is exactly the opposite of Le Mans. At Le Mans you have to be patient - in DTM you must be agressive and take chances. But still Tom Kristensen is also a frontrunner in DTM.
In 2007 he had a very serious accident in his DTM-racer and for some months it was uncertain if he would ever return to the racetracks. He did, however, and with another victory at Le Mans in 2008 he proved he was still one of the best sportscar racers.