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 the 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.

shares
comments
Starting grid & combined qualifying times

Previous article

Starting grid & combined qualifying times

Next article

Around the classes: part deux

Around the classes: part deux
Load comments
The understated Le Mans legend who has earned a testimonial Plus

The understated Le Mans legend who has earned a testimonial

OPINION: After 24 Le Mans 24 Hours participations, 50-year-old Emmanuel Collard will be absent from the grid this year, stuck at the mercy of his gold driver grading. But, while he's not motivated by breaking start records, the French veteran is determined to return to the field next year

WEC
Jul 24, 2021
How glitches left Toyota 'worried' about losing unbeaten WEC streak Plus

How glitches left Toyota 'worried' about losing unbeaten WEC streak

The World Endurance Championship's long-awaited return to Monza posed the sternest test yet for Toyota's new hypercar. Although the Japanese marque's GR010 HYBRID remains unbeaten, the victory for Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi was far from plain sailing

WEC
Jul 19, 2021
How the next step in the IMSA and WEC convergence can reunite multiple fronts Plus

How the next step in the IMSA and WEC convergence can reunite multiple fronts

OPINION: Following the latest convergence connection permitting Le Mans Hypercars from the World Endurance Championship to compete against LMDh entries in the IMSA SportsCar Championship from 2023, it could open up enticing options not only to manufacturers but also for the calendar and race formats

WEC
Jul 13, 2021
How overlooked Mazda produced one of Le Mans' greatest shocks Plus

How overlooked Mazda produced one of Le Mans' greatest shocks

The screaming rotary-engined Mazda 787 is regarded as one of the most popular Le Mans 24 Hours-winning cars, but until its surprise success on this day 30 years ago it was never regarded as a likely victor. But that reckoned without a new technical partner, some canny political manoeuvring and a rival's bizarre self-inflicted weakness

WEC
Jun 23, 2021
How Alpine's stunted Portimao charge helped Toyota to keep clear Plus

How Alpine's stunted Portimao charge helped Toyota to keep clear

Despite going stride for stride for pace at Portimao, Alpine’s grandfathered LMP1 couldn’t convert pole position into a sustained victory fight against Toyota. And due to rules and car limitations that are set in stone, the French manufacturer will be searching for solutions in its own battle of endurance

WEC
Jun 14, 2021
Toyota hits the ton — charting 100 world championship sportscar starts Plus

Toyota hits the ton — charting 100 world championship sportscar starts

The Japanese manufacturer is celebrating its 100th world championship prototype start in this weekend's Portimao 8 Hours round of the World Endurance Championship. Here are the major milestones on the road to three figures since the earliest low-key days of its entry into the Group C arena nearly 40 years ago

WEC
Jun 12, 2021
The philosophical problems the WEC's new Hypercar class is already facing Plus

The philosophical problems the WEC's new Hypercar class is already facing

OPINION: Most of the column inches after the World Endurance Championship's opener were centred around the relative pace of the Hypercar class and the LMP2s, but there's another question that needs addressing in order for the new division to have a successful future

WEC
May 7, 2021
How stumbling Toyota drew first blood in the WEC's new era Plus

How stumbling Toyota drew first blood in the WEC's new era

Amid concerns that the new Hypercar class would be upstaged on debut by the spec LMP2 machines at Spa, Toyota delivered the pole and victory that the vast majority of observers expected. But neither car had a clean run, which gave the grandfathered Alpine LMP1 an unexpected shot at glory

WEC
May 4, 2021