On Saturday, Le Mans will roar (or rumble, in the case of the diesels) off once again, bringing with it plenty of drama and everything from excitement to heartbreak.
But while many of the fans and competitors will be fired up with adrenalin and living on their nerves, for the professional drivers it is slightly different according to Audi’s Allan McNish.
“Our job is to win; it’s what we get paid to do,” says McNish. “Anything less means we haven’t done our job, and even a victory, no matter how hard won, is really the culmination of us doing our jobs rather than anything more heroic.”
McNish concedes that winning Le Mans is slightly different to winning any other motor race he’s had the pleasure of triumphing in, simply because of the amount of work and preparation that goes into it. Even so, he says the joy of winning remains fleeting.
“When you’re at the top of your sport you’re expected to win, so you’re always analysing what could be better or done differently,” says McNish. “After every race everyone in the Audi team will write five or six pages of notes looking at things we could have improved. You can always improve something.
“To be honest, when I win a race other than Le Mans, my mind usually turns to the next race pretty quickly afterwards. Le Mans you can savour for a bit, but usually by the next morning I’m thinking about the next race again.
But what if it all goes wrong? “It depends how big the loss is,” admits McNish. “It took me 15 years to get over losing the karting world championship!”
And is it better or worse to be beaten by your team-mates or a rival team?
“Losing’s losing, but in many ways it’s worse to lose to team-mates. That’s honest, and it may sound strange, but as people we are designed and built and employed to be selfish. I guess if my team-mates win then I’m happy for them, but that doesn’t ride above the fact that I’m disappointed for myself.
“If I’ve been beaten fair and square and they’ve done a better job, then I can take it better than if we’ve done a good job and something stupid has lost us the race. If we’ve done our best in our car then I can accept that someone else has been faster, but if something stupid has happened then that annoys me.”
McNish’s car was qualified fourth last night, but he’s making very positive noises about his race set-up. We’ll find out what emotions he’s feeling come Sunday afternoon.