A very British car company famous for luxury, class and being the go-to transport for James Bond. A little town in France and the roads around it. And a Danish sportsman who's keeping motorsport in the family. Not much links them, right? Wrong.
The company is Aston Martin - started by an eccentric British entrepreneur, funded by a Lady of the aristocracy and partly named after a hillclimb in the rolling English countryside. The Danish sportsman is Nicki Thiim, who stepped into Aston Martin following the tragic death of compatriot Allan Simonsen and whose father Kurt was a very successful touring car driver. And the little French town – Le Mans. Two words that make up the world's greatest race. Flying through forests and on public roads closed for the event, drivers race twice around the clock on a narrow circuit at huge speed. Nearby villages – Arnage, Mulsanne – give their names to corners at this legendary track. The irresistible lure of headlights through the trees at night, of the history of a race that's happened since 1923 and captivated stars such as Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, and the challenge of racing flat-out for 24 hours brings fans, teams and drivers from all over the world.
Recently, however, the success of John Nielsen in the mad, fire-spitting Jaguars of the 1980s, Tom Kristensen's record 9 wins since 1999 and Jan Magnussen's repeat appearances in ground-shaking bright yellow Corvettes has attracted ever-increasing numbers of Danish fans. Before this year's race, The Copenhagen Post sent Weekly Post journalist Joe Morel to France to explain just how special this race is, and why Denmark loves it so much. He found Nicki, and this is the result.
So, Nicki, Le Mans is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, international sporting event for Denmark. As a Danish driver, how do the famous fans and increased attention from home change the feeling of Le Mans compared to other races?
Yes of course, le Mans is the highlight of the year, especially for us at Aston Martin. On top of that there are between 30-40,000 Danish fans here every year! Every year we visit the fan camps and meet our fellow Danes. Seeing all the flags and fans really makes you realize every time how massive the Danish fanbase and passion is at Le Mans. When you’re wearing your helmet, driving the car out there and you see the Danish flags and banners… this really makes me happy.
Le Mans is more like a week-long festival that finishes with an endurance race. What are your favourite parts of the week?
I would say my favourite part is the whole week! It builds up every day, it gets more and more intense… more meetings, more important stuff to do. We're on track Wednesday and Thursday for practice and qualifying, and it really heats up there. Friday is the calm before the storm on Saturday – when the main event starts. It's hard to say what my favorite part is because there are so many awesome things going on.
What's your best memory of Le Mans?
Definitely my first Le Mans race in 2014 so far. To get there, where everything was an unknown and then to win at your first race at Le Mans is really impossible to beat. I don’t think I will ever be able to beat that one.
You race in the top GT class at the world's greatest race. It's you against the best GTE drivers in the world, Aston Martin Racing against the world's best manufacturers. How do you rate your chances this year, and what do you expect to happen?
Difficult question. I can tell you that on Saturday evening when we know where we are, because everyone is holding back on their full potential until the main race. But I'm definitely sure we can keep with the pace of the top guys. 24 hours is a long time.. We have a great car, a fantastic team and a lot of experience.
Aston Martin Racing has a recent and successful history with the fan favourite 'Dane Train' car. What's it like being part of that car's crew, and do you have any particularly Danish approaches or moments?
The #95 Dane Train has a fantastic chemistry. Marco and I especially have a great relationship with each other. That's something very important when you are travelling around the world and spend so much time racing and working together.
Darren Turner's being made an 'honorary Dane' by the media - are you making him fit in by teaching him 'rødgrød med fløde', getting him to ride a bicycle everywhere, dressing him in black etc?
Darren is one of the best drivers I’ve shared a car with. Experience is key in endurance racing and Darren, 'Mr Aston Martin', has a lot of it. We still have to work hard every day though - he really is the perfect guy for this team and I'm happy that he’s a part of it. After the race we have more time to make him a proper Dane and have fun. Now we are fully focused on the big race.
John Nielsen and Tom Kristensen began the love of Le Mans in Denmark, and Jan Magnussen keeps it up now. How does that support young Danes coming through the ranks and aiming to continue the Danish story at Le Mans?
Of course that's something you get to hear a lot. I respect both John and Tom and their achievements. I know there are some people out there that try to use their legacy for their own personal advantage. Still, I'm not here because of them. Inspired by my father Kurt, I've worked very hard from a very young age to get here. I'm where I am because I had to prove myself in many different classes and cars over the years.
Interview by Joe Morel for the Copenhagen Post