Inevitably, when you say “Tom Kristensen” most people think of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the endurance race he has won more than anyone else. The Danish driver’s career also includes six wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring, titles in the German Formula 3 in 1991, Japanese Formula 3 in 1993, as well as the American Le Mans in 2002 and the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). In his last ever race, the 2014 WEC in Brazil, he achieved yet another podium finish. At the recent Goodwood Revival we talked with Tom about his views on the similarities between racing and watches, his favourite watch and his role as Rolex Ambassador. After the historical overview on the link between watches and Formula 1 and the interview with non-other than Sir Jackie Stewart, this is our third report about watches (in particular Rolex watches) and cars.
Tom Kristensen and his Rolex GMT-Master II (photo: courtesy of Rolex)
When we read about Tom and his distinguished career, the first question that came to mind was “how does a man like Tom, who had been in the spotlight since 1997, and performed at the highest level with a constant flow of adrenaline during races, cope with the transition to the life of mortals like you and I”? Tom told us that first and foremost feeling at peace with the decision to retire helped. It was only late 2014 that he decided to stop racing at the end of the 2014 World Endurance Championship in Brazil. In hindsight his thought process about retirement was triggered by two main events in 2013: the death of his father, to whom he had dedicated his win at Le Mans that year and the death of Tom’s friend, Danish driver Allan Simonsen in that same race. Nevertheless, the word retirement had not crossed his mind until late 2014.
He wanted to win Le Mans for the tenth time. Ultimately having finished second in a race characterised by rain and chaos, he recalls feeling totally at peace and more so when he followed this result with third place in his last race in Brazil. Feeling at peace was one thing, but that is clearly not enough when you are used to intensely stressful situations. His continued involvement with the industry has helped as well. Tom Kristensen enjoys his roles at Audi, IFA and Rolex tremendously. Being Grand Marshal for the 54th annual Rolex 24 at Daytona on January 30-31 2016, was definitely one of the highlights of his retirement so far. Another highlight was his participation in the Ultimate Gentleman’s 24-Hour Race at Le Mans, featuring the Bat-mobile, Herbie, along with a multitude of special cars.
Tom Kristensen (photo courtesy of Rolex)
When asked about his views on the similarities of watches and cars – especially race cars and more specifically the 24 Hours of Le Mans – it should be no surprise that Tom used the word ‘endurance’ first. After all, races such as Le Mans wear people and cars out. A car and its driver have to perform for an extended period of time flawlessly and the same holds true for watches. Precision is another similarity. Winning Le Mans requires precision in lap times, driving, and performance while the importance of precision in watches is something we are all familiar with. Perhaps the most surprising similarity Tom sees is “teamwork”. No racing driver can be successful without a great team. No watch company can be successful without cooperation between designers, watch makers, and marketeers.
Actually, Tom shared a nice story with us about his first victory at Le Mans in 1997. At the time, Franck Muller honoured the winners with a 24-hour dial watch. Tom gave his watch to the Chief Engineer to thank him for his role and his team’s invaluable contribution to the success. Much later, when the people from Franck Muller heard this story, he received another identical watch.
Rolex becoming Official Timepiece of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2001 enabled Tom to win his first Rolex Daytona the same year, which he describes as being like a dream come true. Of course, he had seen the widely-known advertisements of the watches and the people who wore them. Tom says he has a small collection of mainly Daytonas, the model which also happens to be his favourite. More specifically, the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona in everose gold, black and pink dial, black bezel (reference 116515) and leather strap is at the top of his wish list. Another of Tom’s favoured watches is the platinum Daytona with (ice) blue dial and Oyster bracelet (reference 116506). Being an avid Rolex admirer for most of his life, Tom is proud to be a Rolex Ambassador and to represent the company at events and talk with the press and Rolex aficionados alike.
Tom Kristensen in action during practice for the Kinrara Trophy in the Ferrari 250 SWB (photo: courtesy of Rolex)
At this year’s Goodwood Revival, Tom drove a Ferrari 250 SWB in the one-hour, two-driver Kinrara Trophy race that he won with co-driver Joe Macari. Tom Kristensen in action during practice for the Kinrara Trophy in the Ferrari 250 SWB.
The following day he raced in the St. Mary’s Trophy, this time driving an Austin A35. As a spectator it was magical to see these cars racing across the historic Goodwood race track.
The Austin 35 driven by Tom Kristensen and Theo Paphitis
About Goodwood Revival
The Goodwood Revival was founded in 1998 by Lord March and has since seen an ever-increasing popularity. The Revival pays homage to the classic days and “Golden Era” of car racing. A central theme for this year’s edition was the 50th anniversary of the 1966 world cup match between England and Germany. It is common practice that visitors attend in the 40s, 50s and 60s vintage costume, adding to this truly amazing event, full of camaraderie, nostalgia and joy. A unique characteristic is the opportunity for spectators to see the cars, touch the cars and talk to the drivers and mechanics, thanks to the owners of these often extremely rare cars and to the sponsors.
David Brabham before the Brabham Driver Tribute, a tribute to Sir Jack Brabham that also featured Sir Stirling Moss and John Surtees