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Forgotten success

Several motorsport titles were decided on Sunday

Reflecting on 2011 - titles were sadly overshadowed on Sunday. (Paz Chauhan)

The motorsport world was busy handing out trophies last Sunday before a lovely day of racing was cruelly ruined by the terrible events in Las Vegas. While I can’t quite bring myself to deliver a full review of each it is worth noting the titles won and lost over a packed yet bleak weekend for the sport.

Formula One saw another Sebastian Vettel victory at the somewhat sterile environment of Yeongam in South Korea. More importantly but no less inevitably Red Bull wrapped up the Constructors Championship with Mark Webber finishing third after a thrilling duel with Lewis Hamilton who came home second after starting on pole for the first time this year, a great effort from the 2008 champion.

Unfortunately Moto GP was a little disappointing for all but the Aussies as Casey Stoner romped to a home win at Phillip Island and clinched the final 800cc title in the process. Good on Casey and Honda who have been the class of the field in 2011, but the edge was taken off the race by the non-starts for Yamaha’s Ben Spies and Jorge Lorenzo, the latter’s hopes of defending his title were left in tatters after a very nasty finger injury on race morning.

Back home at Silverstone the BTCC boys had a refreshingly respectful end to the season despite heading into the final triple-header of the year with five still in title contention. Matt Neal’s win in race one set up an all-Honda duel between himself and Gordon Shedden as Plato and Jackson suffered punctures while Nash just didn’t quite have the ultimate pace although that didn’t stop him taking the indie trophy in his dated Vauxhall Vectra. Shedden seized the initiative with a win in the second race but it was Matt Neal who kept it cool to take his third title in the final race of the day as Tom Chilton won the reverse grid race.

Honda have fought against a competitive field, a certain moaning rival and even against themselves to take the crown with a rich variety of different machinery chasing them. I just wish the final rounds were held at Brands, Silverstone is too smooth and fast to lend itself to truly thrilling touring car racing in the modern era.

Then there is the crown that is destined to be forgotten; Dario Franchitti’s Indycar title. It is a trophy he will barely be able to look at, champagne will be toasted to the memory of a fallen comrade rather than sprayed in celebration. He is the Indy driver du jour, but this isn’t the moment to dwell on that. It was already a rough year for Indycar even before the horror of Sunday, let’s hope for a brighter 2012 for the fastest and friendliest racing series of them all.

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Filed under F1, Indycars, Moto GP, Touring Cars

Another fast-Seb, Danica’s milestone

 

Sebastian Ogier

Sebastian Ogier has the name, the car and the talent. (pic Edgar Gonzales)

Once again it was the USA that brought us most of the racing action this week, but the French provided the flair. Nascar was in action in Las Vegas, Grand Am had a thriller at Homestead and the WRC’s new breed were in Top Gear’s favourite country.

 

Carl Edwards did his somersault celebrations after taking the win in Sprint Cup at Las Vegas, but the Nationwide encounter had more talking points. The last lap saw reigning champion Brad Keselowski leading the way until a puncture sent him into the wall on the final lap gifting the win to 50-something hip hop aficionado Mark Martin.

 

Behind the thrilling events up front a little Nascar history was made by Danica Patrick. She took fourth, the highest for a woman at this level of stock car competition, in what was her most impressive drive to date in Nascar. This was a significant milestone, coupled with the last-gasp spills it means Nationwide in Vegas gets my race of the week.

 

Danica Patrick may have carved out a little piece of history, but the drive remained a solid rather than spectacular effort. To see elbows-out, white-knuckle action you had to head off the tarmac and onto the dust of Mexico or to the ice of the Stade de France.

 

The World Rally Championship with its new itty-bitty cars headed to Central America where a glance at the results wouldn’t tell you the whole story. Sebastian Loeb, one of greatest driving talents at work in the world today, took the win to add to his record-smashing tally, but the real star of the show was another Citroen-driving Frenchman called Sebastian. Winner of one WRC round already, Sebastian Ogier is being groomed to replace the master and he nearly got one over the champ as they tussled against each other until Ogier made a mistake on the final day.

 

The rest of the WRC field lagged minutes behind the two Sebastians despite the Frenchmen starting most stages in seemingly disadvantageous conditions. Sebastian Ogier nearly matched the performance of Loeb, which is enough to earn the young star twoworld’s racer of the week.

 

There was further French frivolity in the Stad de France where the Professor taught the class a lesson in ice dancing as Alain Prost won in the Andros Trophy. He seems to smile a lot more when he wins on ice than he ever did on tarmac, the Paris crowds were happy with the result too.

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Filed under Andros Trophy, Nascar, Rally, Sports Cars

When winning just isn’t enough

Tony Kanaan and De Ferran out of Indycar

Tony Kanaan has been priced out of Indycars (pic ktpupp)

De Ferran Dragon Racing have announced that they are abandoning their 2011 campaign, a sad sign of the times for Indycars and the wider world of racing. A pair of Brazilian Indycar champions with the support of Penske have been forced to shut up shop, while the new management of the series are throwing $5 million in loose change into an effort to recruit a few Nascar stars into a one-off appearance at the end of the season. That’s two signs of the times for the price of one.

Despite a whopping 88 meetings with potential sponsors, Tony Kanaan announced on Wednesday that he is likely to quit Indycars and take his talents into sports cars or back home to Brazil, presumably to Stock Car Brasil. He’s even had Kyle Busch trying to tempt him to try his hand in the Camping World Trucks, but it’s a long slog to the top in Nascar as Montoya, Hornish, et al will testify to. Tony has form in LMP2 and touring cars would be a giggle, but at a time when Indycar needs all the star power it can muster this is a blow to the series as much as to Tony, Gil and their team.

De Ferran Dragon may be leaving the series, but before they hit ebay with all their kit they should take the Las Vegas gamble and run a car for Tony Kanaan at the final Indycar round of the current era. With a $5 million prize for any guest driver taking the win it could be a race that more than pays for itself for the two beleaguered Brazilians. If the yet to be determined criteria for the five guest slots don’t go their way then they could always just gamble their Dallara Hondas in the casinos down the road. The odds may not be good, but with the new Indycar rules kicking in for 2012 they may as well take a punt on the tables of Sin City.

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What’s the point?

 

BSB riders give chase - new points systems are all the rage (pic MSV)

In the past you needed to be Watson the supercomputer to work out who scored what in a Nascar race, now the Sprint Cup has adopted a new points formula that should be easier to comprehend for those like myself whose brains freeze when faced with any more than a couple of digits. So it’s 43 points for the win, a solitary point for last and you can guess the rest. Throw in a point for leading a lap (always a great incentive for action) and another point for leading the most laps (always a well earned point) and there you have the new system. Simples.

So things are easier to follow, but the Sprint Cup is only claimed after the season’s ending series of 10 races known as The Chase. Played out on dull ‘cookie cutter’ tracks, the top 12 drivers have their points almost equalised and only these chosen few can race for the title. Not so simples.

Jimmie Johnson has claimed the last five straight Sprint Cups, timing his push to the top 12 perfectly every time while other stock car superstars are left fighting over the scraps. So can Jimmie still win under this new system? Of course he can, he’s the complete driver with a shrewd crew chief and the best team in the business, but at least we may see some more representative results for strong drivers who have missed the Chase in the past such as win-a-holic Kyle Busch or King of Concrete Carl Edwards.

Last year British Superbikes adopted their own Chase-style system, branded as The Showdown, that saw Riuchi Kionari taking the crown at a thrilling final round at Oulton Park. Nobody doubts the quality of the Japanese rider, so it’s certainly worked for the BSB and looks set to stay. It’s also a hell of a lot better than Bernie’s silly medals idea he keeps going on about ever since he took his little trip to Beijing with the Blairs back in 2008.

For what it’s worth I’m not a fan of a Chase format that freezes out riders and drivers. It’s nice to see a championship develop over the course of a season. But what do I know, I’m still stuck with the opinion that the only proper points in F1 are the top six.

The Chase seems fairly popular on the Nascar scene, so the current talking point is the weird scenario that the top three series are all being led by drivers who didn’t win during Speedweeks as it was part-time interlopers Waltrip, Stewart and Bayne who struck gold. Only giving points to regulars was a response to Sprint Cup drivers scooping the honours in feeder series, such as Brad Keselowski’s title success in Nationwide last year.

I think it’s a truly wonderful thing that Nascar has drivers guesting across its various formulas – it gave us a truly feel-good story with Trevor Bayne’s big win last Sunday. It provides feats to marvel at such as Kyle Busch winning more races in one year than you could count on your fingers and toes. Some of the greatest races on two wheels have been ridden by wildcards, I only wish that F1 would lighten up and allow a Rossi or a Loeb to join the grid once in a while.

Today Indycar announced a massive prize-fund for their Las Vegas season finale to encourage some series-swapping, a move in the right direction for the new management of the series. A cheque for $5 million will be given to any guest driver who claims the win; what price Mario dusting off his overalls? “Oh boy,” tweeted Marco Andretti, “if my grandfather finds this out we will be a 5 car team!”

The Nascar debate about guys who finished second and third leading the way is a moot point – it’s great that they have guest drivers competing in the first place. And the fact we can even have this discussion without picking up a calculator is a success for the simplified points system.

After Nascar hits the desert in Phoenix and Vegas over the next couple of weeks the charts will doubtless look a little cleaner and those sensitive souls who are troubled by the scoring anomalies thrown up by the thrilling events of Speedweeks will have forgotten the current odd look of the tables. However the memorable feats of Waltrip, Stewart and Bayne will be imprinted on the minds of the fans forever.

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Filed under Indycars, Nascar, Superbikes