Aiello: you can smell the hotdogs!

Allan McNish may have hogged the limelight in qualifying, but his team mate Laurent Aiello is happy in the knowledge that for him, the real fun starts at 1600 (1500 BST) on Saturday afternoon. While McNish was the man tasked with taking Audi's first Le Mans pole, reigning British Touring Car Champion Aiello and fellow Frenchman Stephane Ortelli were happy to concentrate on set-up work on their Joest Racing-run R8 - just as they had when the same trio won the race in a Porsche 911 GT1 in 1998

Aiello: you can smell the hotdogs!

'We knew in advance that Allan would be the man to qualify the car and we'd be preparing for the race,' says Aiello. 'You need to do both and I'm very happy with the way we split it. Okay, from a driver's point of view, maybe it's better that you start the week by bolting on a set of soft tyres, finding the limit, then working your way back to find the best race pace with a heavy fuel load and scrubbed tyres, but I've got good feedback from Allan and I'm confident of knowing the limits, and he's happy with the set-ups from Stephane and myself.'

That mutual appreciation society paid dividends in 1998, but it's easy to see why the trio work together so well. All three are of the same (slight) build, all eschew ego for the greater good of the team and all three like the same type of feel in a race car - separated at birth?

'For sure, it's good that we like the same thing,' agrees Aiello. 'But it's more than just feel: we all like to sit in the same position and we all hate too much understeer or too much oversteer. If Allan or Stephane or me finds something that improves the car, we know the others will like it too.'

In qualifying, McNish was able to ride the kerbs and generally gun his machine to pole, but conserving it for 24 gruelling hours requires a different style of driving.

'It's not that we are pushing less,' explains Aiello. 'It's just that with a full fuel load and old tyres, it's not possible to go as quick as in qualifying. The only real difference is that we won't subject he car to unnecessary stress - we won't ride the kerbs, for instance.'

McNish will start the race, with Ortelli scheduled to do the second stint and Aiello hopping in as third driver. That's when the Frenchman begins to really get into his groove, but it's when night falls that the real magic of Le Mans begins for Aiello.

'The night is such a nice feeling,' he smiles. 'It's a little difficult to start with, but when it's you all alone with the car, going down the Mulsanne straight with just your rev counter lights for company, it's very exhilirating and very personal. It's amazing how the atmosphere changes and your senses change: in the pits, it's magical and when you go under the Dunlop Bridge, you can even smell the hot dogs.'

As a Frenchman racing on some of France's holiest ground, a Le Mans win is a special achievement to put on the CV, but Aiello tries to keep it in perspective.

'It's good to win it, because as you say it's such a special race,' he says, 'but you've got to keep it in perspective. It's just one race and if you have a problem, it's over. It's not like racing for a championship where you might have one bad race then make up for it with three good races, or whatever. And at Le Mans the pressure only lasts for a week, not a whole season. But maybe that's the reason why it is so special - it is such a one-off.'

Audi plays it cool for one, two, three, click 'here'.

For a full list of qualifying results click here.


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