Horror crash survivor McNish vows to race again in three weeks

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The Independent Online

Allan McNish, survivor of a dramatic high-speed crash at the Le Mans 24-hour race, defiantly declared last night: "I'll be back."

The 41-year-old Scot was able to walk away from the wreckage of his Audi R18 coupe virtually unscathed after it hit a GT class Ferrari, smashed into a barrier and flipped into the air. Track marshals and photographers also escaped the shower of wheels and body parts from the car.

McNish admitted: "Watching a replay of the accident was worse than sitting there in the car while it actually happened. But the monocoque did its job perfectly. There's not a scratch on it. I'm just pleased everybody else is okay because there were a lot of photographers in that area. I'm not bad, considering. Just a bit of muscle pain and a grazed shin from climbing out."

Despite the horror of those pictures and the fright endured by his wife, Kelly, McNish insists he will race on. He said: "I'll definitely be back at Le Mans next year. In fact, I'm already looking ahead to racing at Imola in three weeks.

"Straight away I was thinking I'd have to sort out a new helmet because this one has served its purpose. As a racing driver you accept that you can have situations like this and in the end it was an accident. I know also I have a good car and a very good team behind me at Audi.

"It was quite emotional for Kelly because she didn't know how I was and the radio had broken. But she's fine now. So in no way has my enthusiasm been dimmed. The disappointment is that I believe ours was the car to have here. But we have plenty to look forward to. We've still got a lot of racing to be done this year and we'll have another go at Le Mans next year."

McNish, twice a winner of the French classic, attached no blame to the driver of the Ferrari, Frenchman Anthony Beltoise. "I gave Anthony as much room as possible, but he said he didn't see me coming and there's nothing to be achieved in pointing fingers," McNish said. "He's a good, experienced driver." Amazingly, another Audi driver, German Mike Rockenfeller, was barely injured after clipping another Ferrari and crashing into another barrier at almost 200mph.

Audi were hopeful of taking the first three places, but were left with only one R18 to take on the challenge from Peugeot in a struggle to the finish.

The French team had the better fuel economy, the German marque superior pace and pit stop strategy and the last-standing Audi crew of Marcel Fässler, from Switzerland, Germany's André Lotterer and Frenchman Benoît Tréluyer brought an emotional weekend to a triumphant climax.

They secured Audi's 10th Le Mans victory by just 13 seconds from the leading Peugoet. The German manufacturer had rarely been out of the spotlight at Circuit de la Sarthe over the weekend, but come the climax they could at least claim to be there for the right reasons.

After 24 hours of gripping action, it fell to Lotterer to take the No 2 car across the line – having completed 355 laps – some 14 seconds ahead of the No 9 Peugeot of Sébastien Bourdais, Simon Pagenaud and Pedro Lamy. The No 8 Peugeot of Stéphane Sarrazin, Franck Montagny and Nicolas Minassian completed the podium, with the third factory 908 of Anthony Davidson, Marc Gené and Alex Wurz in fourth.

But for all the action at the front of the pack, the race will be remembered for the massive accidents that befell McNish and Rockenfeller on Saturday.

Once Audi had been reduced to just one car late in the evening, Peugeot immediately sensed their chance and applied the pressure. The French team hit the front during the pit stops in the 14th hour, Pagenaud leading from Fassler, who in turn was enjoying a good contest with Davidson.

The game of cat and mouse continued through the closing hours of the race and the outcome was not settled until the very last round of pit stops with around 35 minutes remaining.

Audi, with around a 35-second lead, took the chance on changing both fuel and tyres while the No 9 Peugeot just took on fuel, but the gamble paid off as Lotterer emerged in front and quickly set about pressing home his advantage on his victorious run to the flag.

Behind the leading LMP1 class, the No 41 Zytek Z11SN-Nissan of Karim Ojjeh, Olivier Lombard and Tom Kimber-Smith claimed the LMP2 honours, while the Corvette C6R of Olivier Beretta, Tommy Milner and Antonio Garcia took victory in GTE Pro.