McNish relishing Silverstone debut

By Derick Allsop
Wednesday 29 January 2014 03:38
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Cut a swathe through the egotism, paranoia and commercial orgy at Silverstone on Sunday and you will encounter perhaps the most uplifting story of this British Grand Prix.

A slight, almost fragile looking figure is about to bring his own definition to "triumph in sport". Allan McNish is unlikely to finish anywhere near the front, but anywhere at all would constitute an achievement he had long since given up on. The old clichés of "a dream come true'' and "the biggest day of my life'' somehow do not seem so corny. McNish relishes the occasion with a boyish enthusiasm – genuine and disarming.

He is no mere boy, which is the point. He is 32, a veteran of motor racing. Six times Scottish junior kart champion, British junior kart champion, British Vauxhall Lotus Champion, he then won Le Mans and distinguished himself as one of the world's best drivers.

Somewhere he lost his momentum and missed the turn. Experienced, respected judges had little doubt he was good enough for Formula One but the right opportunity never materialised and he resigned himself to forms of racing away from the glare of regular terrestrial television coverage.

But his work was noticed, not least by Toyota, who recruited him as a test driver with only the possibility of a race seat. He convinced them he was the man to partner Mika Salo and, four months after McNish and Toyota made their debuts, he is lining up at Silverstone.

Normally verbose, the achievement rendered him speechless, but he eventually found the words. "I have been to the British Grand Prix many times over the years as a spectator and I had reached the stage where I thought that would be as good as it got," he said.

"Certainly four or five years ago I didn't think there was any way I could ever actually race on the big day at Silverstone. When I was younger it was my ambition, but by then the possibility seemed to have gone.

"It will hit me when we go on the drivers' parade, around the circuit, on Sunday morning. Because then I'll see the home crowd and fully appreciate what is happening."

Doubts were raised about his fitness for the race when he had to be helped out of his car at the Nürburgring because of a shoulder injury caused by a new seat, but extensive tests last week sorted out the padding.

Less easy to repulse are the rumours that this could also be his last British Grand Prix because he is about to be replaced. "I suppose I should expect that kind of stuff," he said. "It's not so much upsetting as frustrating because I read certain things that are simply not true. There was something in a magazine that said I retired from a race recently for physical reasons, which was totally wrong.

"All I know is what the team tell me and they say they are very happy with my driving. I am consistently within a tenth of a second of Mika so I think I'm doing the job that is expected of me.

"I want to enjoy it and I'm sure I shall: the occasion, the atmosphere, the crowd, every single thing about it. If I can actually score my first Formula One point at Silverstone then that would be... well, just a fairy tale." Sometimes only a corny old cliché will do.

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