Interviewing Mr. Le Mans: Tom Kristensen Talks Rolex, Racing, and Monterey Car Week
The nine-time winner of Le Mans is a man on the move. During Monterey Car Week, Watchonista caught up with the legendary driver and here’s what he had to say.
To be in Monterey surrounded by the beautiful scenery and even more beautiful cars is a special treat for me. It’s yearly tradition that I look forward to with childlike wonderment. An opportunity to catch up with friends new and old.
So when I had the opportunity to chat with Rolex Testimonee and legendary driver Tom Kristensen, I absolutely jumped at the opportunity. What followed was an in-depth dialog about Kristensen’s colorful career and his special relationship with Rolex. I hope you enjoy!
Watchonista interview with Tom Kristensen
Alexander Friedman (AF) : Tom, Pleasure to meet you. As a top sportsman, legendary driver, it’s obvious that you know that Rolex only does the best… How did you end up partnering with Rolex as an ambassador?
Tom Kristensen (TK) : I believe, obviously, there are peak situations in life, there is peak times in your life. And in my life as a racing driver, for me, the hardest race is Le Mans and the other contests, because when you win, you get handed a Rolex Watch, so it’s something to celebrate in remembrance for that specific time. That for me is the peak situation, you are very happy, very proud and relieved from the pressure it’s a rollercoaster of emotion. Then you get this watch…
The few watches that I have won there, I cherish them all, and I can see a lot of history in them, not only the time, but the race, the situation, the human being, the team, the teammates and lots of things. But of course, that was the first contact. Rolex is the timekeeper and sponsor of 24hours Le Mans. Like the Rolex 24 Hours Of Daytona. So, it sort of came naturally, but I think you have to ask Rolex, since I have been their Ambassador since 2010. When I was still driving, which is in a way unusual and very nice. So I’m very happy for that and privilege. Also, now with the way Rolex is, it’s the heritage of the sport: Formula 1, Le Mans, Rolex 24 but also here at the Concours, or the Goodwood revival, it’s splendid.
AF: From F1 to Le Mans, Rolex is a brand that is synonymous with racing, can you describe the perception amongst your fellow drivers in the paddock to Rolex?
TK: Rolex is the sport, they support the sport. And of course, the few ambassadors which we are now in our sport we are four (Sir Jackie Stewart, me, Mark Webber, and Nico Rosberg). We sort of have a nice umbrella on that. It is a privilege to be part of it. Rolex is the ultimate watch for a driver to celebrate a specific time. For me personally, the timing of a purchase has to come at the right time in your life: a certain situation, a celebration, or something that is very important. For racing, it could be the peak time of winning a race or championship.
Obviously, the watches that I have won are incredibly nice, but the Rolexes that I have bought are, maybe, even a stronger link in that sense. But in driving, it’s the ultimate watch. And I hear for many people when they are looking at different races, sometimes they say: “I’m dreaming about receiving a Rolex watch after the race” to which I respond: “Focus on the race then it might happen!”
AF: After listening to you, I have to ask, how many Rolexes do you have? Because you must’ve won quite a few at Le Mans.
TK: I have raced 18 times at Le Mans, but I have 9 victories and Rolex was not the official timekeeper until 2006. I don’t know how many.
AF: Over the years, you’ve participated in a large number of endurance races, do you have a favorite?
TK: Sebring is a special race track; very bumpy, and I’m not saying dirty, but very challenging because you drive into the night in basically what is a runway (Sebring is an old airfield in Florida). It’s a 12 hour race in the middle of… I’m not saying nowhere, but near the swamp in Florida, it’s very bumpy and driving into the night in March it’s humid and the track is very challenging. There are some races there that for me stand out but also probably because I am in the hall of fame there because I have the record of wins there. I’m saying it’s almost as challenging as the races in Le Mans.
AF: Is there a race that you haven’t done yet and that you would like to participate?
TK: I would like to yes but not now; my heart rate is not the best and the peaks are not so high anymore. My life now is a bit more flat with a more consistent heart rate. I was talking about the peaks, but I also don’t have the lows as I’m right in the middle, steadier. But sometimes you look a bit for the few sparks. I would do something but more for fun, like historical races, like Goodwood. I still work with Audi doing hot laps, presenting or representing new cars. Sometimes I would ride a race car but not really on a race.
Zach Brown from McLaren set the tone: “Next year I would like you to drive.” All these things are always above me. But if it’s for pleasure, it is not for pain and power anymore. I am a racing driver that stopped, some don’t stop. But I stopped, I made sure everyone knew it was a difficult decision. But it also gives me the freedom to say, now I drive for pleasure. Of course, sometimes they can catch me on a car, I am still driving. You cannot take the racer out of me at all! You can maybe not renew your license or not jump in into some cars. I am very careful about what cars I jump in.
AF: This year, you are a judge at Pebble Beach Concours. What is your impression for this first time?
TK: It’s fantastic! It’s different, you meet these owners, their wives, and restorers. I really like the owners that know the history of their cars and drive them and explain it. It’s very different from each car! It would be difficult to follow all the rules alone. With my experience, you have a great team mix in my group to judge with racing divers, journalists, and influencers. We have different ways of explaining. We have to know about racing but also about the restoring it’s beautiful. What we did we started the cars. We choose which ones goes to the lawn. There is a lot of unique cars.
AF: It’s well known that on some of these races a Rolex could be gifted, what’s your favorite Rolex won and why?
TK: I have different types of Daytona’s. But I would say the first Daytona I bought, early 2000, black dial. What I went through before I got it, and the way I got it. That one is very special to me. And the race, it was the first victory for Audi and I was right, Audi was the place to stay and keep my career apart from Bentley. Next year it would be 20 years!