Why Toyota were the real heroes of Le Mans


Credit: Ker Robertson/Getty Images

Three minutes and 25 seconds.

After almost a day of non-stop racing, that was all that remained of the 84th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans when the leading #5 Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima – which had looked so destined to give the Japanese manufacturer its elusive first win in the famous endurance race – painstakingly ground to a halt on the pit straight of the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Despite the arduous nature of such a challenging race, for a car considered by many as underdogs to be driven so brilliantly for almost 24 hours by Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson, only for a turbo failure to deprive them of the success they so richly deserved while victory was in their grasp was, quite simply, too cruel.

The tweet from the Toyota team in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s race told the story in a single word: “Heartbroken.”

The history books will tell us that the number #2 Porsche of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb won the race, but the true heroes of the weekend were the trio who were denied what would have been the biggest win of their careers.

Toyota’s challenge for victory was borne from two key factors. Their car’s ability to run stints of 14 laps, compared to the 13 that Porsche could manage, and the consistency of its drivers, who were able to produce lap after lap at the same pace, while their German counterparts set times that while sometimes significantly quicker than their rivals, fluctuated wildly and prevented them making any significant inroads.

From the moment that Buemi passed assumed the lead from the sister #6 Toyota of Mike Conway with around seven hours of the race to go, the battle for victory turned into a two-horse race between the #5 and the #2 that looked like it would be settled in Toyota’s favour only when both had completed their final scheduled stops in the final half an hour.

From then on, the gap looked to have settled at around 30 seconds, and when the #2, at this stage with Jani at the wheel, was forced to pit due to a slow puncture with less than ten minutes remaining, Toyota, so often the bridesmaids with four previous second places in this race, looked to have matched the feats of Mazda in 1991 and become just the second Japanese winner at Le Mans.

If Nakajima, Buemi and Davidson’s defeat was the worst way to lose a motor race, then it could also be deemed the worst way for the #2 team to win it. To win at Le Mans is quite rightly considered the pinnacle of any driver’s career, yet for Jani, Dumas and Lieb, the nature of their success will forever be intangibly linked with the drivers whose hopes were dashed by a turbo failure.

Had Toyota’s heartbreak come with hours, rather than minutes, remaining, a fate suffered by the #1 Porsche of Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley, or the #2 had managed to work its way into the lead through sheer pace, then nobody would have questioned the manner of their victory. While no Le mans victory is undeserved and the winning drivers will doubtless enjoy their success as much as if they had finished ten laps clear, the fact remains that they inherited first place just when they had been well beaten.

Even more galling for Toyota was that once Nakajima had conjured his ailing machine back into life and nursed it around the final lap of the 8.5 mile circuit on hybrid power alone, he returned to the pits to find that the #5 car had been excluded for failing to complete his final tour in the maximum time of six minutes.

Rules may be rules, but given the circumstances, would anyone have begrudged the #5 team second place and a spot on the podium, particularly when third place was subsequently gifted to the #8 Audi that did little to justify its position among the frontrunners throughout the entirety of the race.

For 1,437 minutes, Nakajima, Buemi and Davidson outdrove, outfought and outmanoeuvred their way to the lead of Le Mans. That the TS050 Hybrid that had served them so well for so long could not keep going for just three more minutes makes their story one of the harshest in motorsport history.

Stephen D’Albiac

The story of Roberto Guerrero and why to keep every faith in Bianchi’s recovery


Once it was confirmed yesterday that Jules Bianchi had suffered a diffuse axonal injury as a result of his horrific crash at the Japanese Grand Prix, all sorts of facts and statistics began to be perpetuated by some sections of the media.

One such statistic which rankled with me in particular was one that claimed that 90% of people with Jules’ injury never regain full consciousness, and of the remaining 10%, the vast majority of those remain significantly impaired for the rest of their lives.

Having little medical knowledge, but having heard of diffuse axonal injuries, particularly with regard to racing drivers, I was immediately sceptical of this fact. One quick Google search confirmed my suspicions.

What the 90% statistic quoted by various sources refers to is patients with severe diffuse axonal injuries. That does not cover patients who have suffered minor injuries of this nature, which can include non-life threatening conditions such as concussion. In essence, a fact that is attributed to the very worst case scenario of this condition has been applied it to any case of any possible seriousness.

The truth is that no one knows the extent of the DAI that Jules Bianchi has suffered. The only people who know that – and given it’s still very early days even they may be unaware – are Jules’ doctors.

Therefore, for stories on the fact that there is a 90% chance that Bianchi will never regain consciousness is incorrect at best, but given the circumstances of the story, sad to say the least. In short, a story involving a man who currently lies in hospital in a critical condition has been needlessly sensationalised, which given the situation is, in my opinion, totally unnecessary.

Now, with articles of this nature creating doubts in the minds of fans across the world that Jules may fully recover from his injuries, I seek to use the second half of this post to shed some positivity on what is an extremely difficult situation.

The following extract is quoted from Rapid Response: My Inside Story as a Motor Racing Lifesaver, the autobiography of former CART doctor Steve Olvey, and concerns former F1, CART and IndyCar driver Roberto Guerrero. Guerrero suffered an accident whilst tyre testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the autumn of 1987. Initial scans when the Colombian racer arrived at hospital showed a diffuse axonal injury – the same as Bianchi – and the prognosis initially seemed very bleak.

This is where I let Dr. Olvey take over. Apologies for the length of it, but it is such a brilliantly written piece that I felt that to edit it in anyway would be inappropriate. The main message of this story is hope, and although Jules still has an incredibly long road ahead of him, there is no reason to believe that he can’t make it.

Forza Jules.

In the fall of 1987, I was getting a haircut on a beautiful sunny afternoon in Indianapolis. Halfway through I received an emergency page on my beeper. The news wasn’t good. Roberto Guerrero, Colombia’s best driver at the time, had crashed heavily while testing tyres for Goodyear at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Medics from the scene had reported a severe head injury with the patient in a deep coma. Guerrero was unable to breathe for himself and required assisted ventilation en route to Methodist Hospital.

I jumped from the barber’s chair with only half a haircut and sped to the hospital. When I arrived at the emergency room, I was met by Dr. Bock who was on duty that day. Mike Turner, an excellent neuro-trauma surgeon was on hand as well. They both reported that the head injury looked really bad. The CT scan of Guerrero’s head did not reveal anything that the surgeons could fix. Sadly, it showed instead a very swollen brain with severe diffuse axonal injury, or DAI. Basically, the brain had suffered an extensive shearing injury to the nerve fibres causing the entire central nervous system to short circuit. It could not be surgically repaired. Guerrero was moved from the emergency room to the intensive care unit.

The cause of this injury in the general public is usually a car accident. The forces of a crash, if severe enough, cause the head to violently rotate. Severe damage can occur to the brain without the head ever coming into contact with anything. Nerve fibres within the brain and brainstem are damaged by this shearing effect. A helmet offers virtually no protection for this type of injury. The mortality rate in the general population was over 80% in 1987, and the only treatment was, and still is, supportive care. Judicious use of medications to help remove the excess brain water and to control the increased pressure that develops inside the skull are the only modalities of therapy.

One promising treatment had recently been tried in some large medical centres with varying degrees of success. It was not yet in common usage, and most neurologists and neurosurgeons did not feel it was beneficial and were reluctant to try it. The treatment involved the use of barbiturates in very high, even toxic doses, and were given intravenously. The medication was thought to decrease the metabolism of the brain and, as a result, lower the pressure within the brain itself. If the brain was allowed to swell too much, it would herniate or rupture through the opening in the base of the skull. This extrusion of the brain stem would normally result in instant death.

We had used barbiturates to treat increased brain swelling in the past, but only in the standard recommended doses. We had never used the very high experimental doses that had been reported in the medical literature. Dr. Turner and I met with Guerrero’s wife Kati and explained to her the gravity of the situation. We told her there wasn’t anything we could do surgically and that the only hope for her husband was supportive care and the use of high dose barbiturate therapy. We asked for permission to use these very high doses. Kati grasped the situation fully and told us to do anything we thought might save her husband’s life.

Dr. Turner and I placed Guerrero in an artificial coma with the barbiturates. He required the ventilator for breathing support and constant monitoring of his vital signs, and a probe was placed inside his brain to measure his intracranial pressure. It was sky high! Normal was less than 15. His was over 60. I started pushing the barbiturates intravenously. We reached the usual maximum dose with zero effect on the pressure inside his head. The situation looked grim. I then gave him five times the recommended dose. This caused his blood pressure to drop to near zero. I thought he was dying. I quickly started another medication to raise his blood pressure, and he required huge amounts of this medicine. I was not at all hopeful. Kati remained by his bedside, determined.

After about seven hours of this treatment, and a lot of criticism including accusations of experimentation amongst the nursing stuff, the pressure within Guerrero’s brain began to subside. Within 24 hours it was back to normal. He woke up three weeks later. I had spent most of the first 36 hours at his bedside. His wife never left him at all! She remained by his side throughout his entire stay in the intensive care unit. She would later accompany him daily through the long rehabilitation process.

When Guerrero first spoke, he spoke in Spanish, his native language. He told Kati that he loved her. He steadily progressed, and eventually was ready for a long and difficult rehabilitation. Spurred on by Kati and his young son Marco, he took this rehabilitation to heart. He was one of the first patients to receive what we call cognitive rehabilitation. This form of rehab used computer-assisted exercises to bring a person’s memory and visual motor skills back to baseline via biofeedback. It was very much like playing a series of complicated video games. Guerrero was scheduled spend five hours a day doing these exercises. He would spend nine. During this period he would also re-learn to walk and to speak the English language.

Kati was unrelenting, pushing hard. As a result of her efforts, her determination, and her deep affection, Guerrero was driving the family car within two months and had played a full game of golf in three. His recovery surprised all of us.

In April of 1988, he wanted to drive a racecar again. His team entered him in the race at Phoenix. I thought he could do it as well because he appeared to me to be fully recovered. No-one else seemed to think so. Due to justifiable apprehension on the part of the CART officials, as well as his fellow drivers, doctors subjected him to a full nine-hour battery of neuro-psychiatric tests. He passed them all with flying colours. I repeated the tests for a second time at the University of California in Los Angeles just to assure the officials that they weren’t biased. Again he passed! At UCLA, he was consistently monitored for any seizure activity. He had none. He was then required to go through a strict driving test under the eyes of the CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach. Again he passed! CART had no choice but to clear him to race.

Guerrero qualified second in a field of 28 cars. Some of the other drivers would barely speak to me. The only two people, other than Roberto, who were convinced he could drive were Kati and me. Once the race started I could barely function. All I could think was what if he crashed and hurt or killed himself or someone else? I would never be forgiven in spite of all the precautions I had taken.

After the start, Guerrero held onto second place. He began passing lapped cars as if possessed. He passed on the outside as well as the inside. Phoenix is a one-mile oval track with each lap taking 25 seconds. Negotiating heavy traffic on such a tight course was what made the short ovals so spectacular to watch. Roberto was awesome! He would finish second that day less than six months after his devastating and usually fatal head injury. I was vindicated on all counts. Because of my experience with him, head injury became my primary focus of study.

Guerrero went on to race for many more years. He and Kati are still married and live in California with their two boys. It is amazing what persistence, love and dedication can accomplish. Also, a certain degree of really good luck!

Stephen D’Albiac

Let’s do something for Murray Walker at Silverstone

Firstly, I’d like to join everyone else in wishing Murray Walker a very speedy and full recovery from his illness.

As someone whose commentary has provided much joy for motor racing fans across the world throughout a legendary career, and especially in the UK, the venue of the next race of the F1 season, I’m sure I’m not alone in believing that Murray deserves a show of support at the British Grand Prix.

Therefore I’d like to propose that before the race at Silverstone, a minute’s applause takes place on the grid to allow the F1 paddock and the thousands of fans that are set to pack the grandstands in a fortnight’s time an opportunity to show their support to a motorsport legend, and let him know that everyone in the sport is fully behind him as he begins his fight against his illness.

I’d picture this as being similar to how fans of Aston Villa Football Club show their support to club captain Stiliyan Petrov, who is battling leukaemia, in the 19th minute of every game they play.

As someone who is very much an armchair blogger with no Formula One connections, I don’t know how much chance this little campaign has of succeeding, but if you see this post, I’d kindly urge you to share it on your Twitter or Facebook pages or via any other form of media you can think of.

That way, hopefully those with the powers to organise such a thing will take notice and something will be done at Silverstone to show support to this great motorsport icon.

Stephen D’Albiac

World Motorsport Round-up: 7th April 2013

MotoGP (Round 1/18, Losail, Qatar)

Jorge Lorenzo began his MotoGP title defence in the best possible way by taking a dominant win in the opening round of the season in Qatar.

Lorenzo led from pole into the first corner and never looked back, gradually pulling away throughout the race to win by nearly six seconds.

If the nature of Lorenzo’s win of quiet, for teammate Valentino Rossi it was anything but. After two years struggling on a Ducati, the nine-time world champion produced an inspired ride at the Losail circuit to finish second.

A mistake at the beginning of the second lap when attempting to pass Dani Pedrosa dropped Rossi back to seventh, but the Italian’s recovery had fans reminiscing about the old days as he first dispatched of Andrea Dovizioso and Stefan Bradl to climb up to fifth before closing in on a three bike train that included Pedrosa, Marc Marquez and Cal Crutchlow.

Despite only catching them with a few laps remaining, and having a huge disadvantage to the Hondas of Pedrosa and Marquez on Qatar’s long pit straight, Rossi pulled off a series of stunning manoeuvres to move himself up to second, outwitting the two Hondas in the infield to gain positions.

Third place ultimately went to Marquez, who on his MotoGP debut rode a highly impressive race to beat his more experienced teammate Pedrosa. The Moto2 champion has been highly touted for big things in the premier class, and the Spaniard lived up to his expectations under the Qatar lights. He will certainly be one to watch this season.

Pedrosa finished fourth behind his teammate, while Crutchlow coasted home fifth after going off at turn one when Rossi passed him with a few laps left.

Alvaro Bautista and the factory Hondas of Dovizioso and Hayden finished sixth, seventh and eighth, while Andrea Iannone and Ben Spies rounded out the top ten.

1) Jorge Lorenzo (Esp) Yamaha – 22 laps
2) Valentino Rossi (Ita) Yamaha – + 5.990 secs
3) Marc Marquez (Esp) Honda – + 6.201 secs
4) Dani Pedrosa (Esp) Honda – + 9.473 secs
5) Cal Crutchlow (GB) Yamaha – + 18.764 secs
6) Alvaro Bautista (Esp) Honda – + 22.148 secs
7) Andrea Dovizioso (Ita) Ducati – + 24.355 secs
8) Nicky Hayden (USA) Ducati – + 24.920 secs
9) Andrea Iannone (Ita) Ducati – + 27.124 secs
10) Ben Spies (USA) Ducati – + 44.908 secs

Championship Standings
1) Jorge Lorenzo (Esp) Yamaha – 25 points
2) Valentino Rossi (Ita) Yamaha – 20 points
3) Marc Marquez (Esp) Honda – 16 points
4) Dani Pedrosa (Esp) Honda – 13 points
5) Cal Crutchlow (GB) Yamaha – 11 points
Click here for the full results and championship standings from the 2013 MotoGP season

World Series by Renault (Round 1/9, Monza, Italy)

Race one

Stoffel Vandoorne marked his World Series by Renault debut in style by taking a dominant win from pole in race one.

The young Belgian led throughout to take the win by almost seven seconds.

Antonio Felix da Costa had looked like he might challenge, but a puncture when attempting to reel in Vandoorne forced him into retirement.

Kevin Magnussen finished second ahead of Christopher Zanella, while Oli Webb and Nigel Melker rounded out the top five.

Race two

da Costa bounced back from his retirement in race one in the best way possible by winning the second race of the weekend.

In a superb battle at the front, da Costa lost the lead to Vandoorne at the start, but fought back in the best way possible by re-taking the race one winner into the Rettifillo chicane on lap two.

Vandoorne then lost a place to Magnussen by skipping the chicane, who then swooped on da Costa at the Parabolica to move into first place.

For the Dane however, that lead was to last for less than 20 seconds as da Costa took revenge on his rival and retook first place at the Rettifillo.

Magnussen continued to apply pressure to da Costa for the remainder of the race, but was unable to take the lead again and he was forced to back off in the closing laps when his sidepod broke.

da Costa duly opened his account for the season, followed by Magnussen and Vandoorne, while Arthur Pic, Nico Muller and Norman Nato completed the top six.

The results from the weekend mean Vandoorne leaves Monza as the early-season leader, four points ahead of Magnussen, with pre-season title favourite da Costa 11 points further back in third.

Race One Results
1) Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) Fortec Motorsports – 29 laps
2) Kevin Magnussen (Den) DAMS – +7.053 secs
3) Christopher Zanella (Sui) ISR – +8.596 secs
4) Oli Webb (GB) Fortec Motorsports – +8.991 secs
5) Nigel Melker (Ned) Tech 1 Racing – +16.491 secs

Race Two Results
1) Antonio Felix da Costa (Por) Arden Caterham – 29 laps
2) Kevin Magnussen (Den) DAMS – +2.767 secs
3) Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) Fortec – +5.922 secs
4) Arthur Pic (Fra) AV Formula – +11.600 secs
5) Nico Muller (Sui) Draco – 16.805 secs

Championship Standings
1) Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) Fortec – 40pts
2) Kevin Magnussen (Den) DAMS – 36pts
3) Antonio Felix da Costa (Por) Arden Caterham – 25pts
4) Arthur Pic (Fra) AV Formula – 20pts
5) Christopher Zanella (Sui) ISR – 16pts

Click here for the full results and championship standings from the 2013 World Series by Renault season.

World Touring Car Championship (Round 2/13, Marrakech, Morocco)

It was a weekend of firsts in the WTCC, as Michael Nykjaer and Pepe Oriola both scored their maiden wins in Marrakech.

Nykjaer won Sunday’s first race, ahead of Gabriele Tarquini, James Nash, Yvan Muller and reigning champion Rob Huff, while Oriola took the chequered flag in race two, followed by Muller, Tom Chilton, Nash and Marc Basseng.

Click here for the full results and championship standings from the 2013 World Touring Car Championship.

Stephen D’Albiac

World Motorsport Round-up: 31st March-1st April 2013

As part of a new feature for the 2013 racing season, Torque F1 will be bringing you a weekly round-up of all of the major motorsport from around the world.

This will be split into two features, the world motorsport round-up, which will look at endurance racing, touring cars, World Series by Renault, DTM and GT racing amongst other international series, and starting next week, the US motorsport round-up, which will cover championships including IndyCar, NASCAR, ALMS and Grand-Am.

Without any further ado, here is a look at the motorsport action from Easter weekend, which this week focuses on the opening round of the British Touring Car Championship from Brands Hatch, as well as the first action from this year’s FIA GT Championship from Nogaro.

British Touring Car Championship (Round 1/10, Brands Hatch)

Jason Plato celebrates his win in race one at Brands Hatch on Sunday

Jason Plato enjoyed the best of the opening round of the British Touring Car Championship after two wins and a fifth gave him the championship lead at Brands Hatch.

Plato won the opening two races of the weekend as he established a nine-point lead over Andrew Jordan, who followed the Momentum Racing driver home both times.

Reigning series champion Gordon Shedden also impressed after twice coming from the back of the field to finish in the top three, although only one of the Scot’s efforts got the recognition it deserved after he was disqualified from third in race two over a ride height infringement.

Shedden then bounced back in race three with an even more impressive drive, taking his Honda from last to second and missing out on victory by just 0.083 seconds to his Yuasa Racing teammate Matt Neal.

The BTCC has a reputation for frenetic, action-packed racing, and the series lived up to its billing in fine style at the famous Brands Hatch circuit as the season got underway.

Jordan began race one on pole, with Shedden alongside him, but it was Rob Austin in the Audi A4 who got the best getaway to jump from sixth to second. Austin then got the best run out of Clearways and onto the pit straight at the end of lap one to pass Jordan and take the lead. Plato also took full advantage of the scrap for first to pounce and relieved the polesitter of second place.

Following a brief period behind the safety car after James Cole beached his Vauxhall Insignia in the gravel at Paddock Hill bend, Plato began to put the pressure on Austin before finally taking the lead at Druids. Austin was beginning to struggle on the softer, less-durable tyres, and a few laps later Jordan regained second place from the WIX Racing driver at Clearways.

Having freed himself of the slower Austin, Jordan steadily began to erode Plato’s lead, consistently taking a couple of tenths out of the advantage, which had reduced to half a second as the pair began their final lap.

It looked as though Plato was going to take victory, but Jordan attempted a last-gasp lunge at Clearways and misjudged it badly, sending both cars into the gravel. Somehow, the pair of them kept their cars pointing in the right direction and recovered to take first and second, Austin’s tyre struggles in the closing stages bad enough that he’d dropped too far back to take advantage of the collision ahead.

Plato’s MG was the class of the field in the first two races at Brands Hatch

The pattern repeated itself in race two, with Plato this time taking a more comfortable victory ahead of Jordan, contact for once not a factor in deciding the victor. The main movers this time were the Yuasa Racing Honda’s of Shedden and Neal, who both recovered from problems in race two to take third and fifth, although Shedden’s hard charge came to nothing when his exclusion was confirmed.

The other talking point of the second race was Frank Wrathall. Having charged brilliantly from 25th to sixth in the day’s opening gambit, the Lancastrian decided he was going to play a bit of dodgems with his Toyota Avensis rather than race it, with his antics taking off both Colin Turkington, returning to the series for the first time in three years, and Austin before his race ended in the gravel at Druids having this time crossed swords with Neal.

Matt Neal took race three victory after keeping teammate Gordon Shedden behind on the final lap.

The draw for race three pole saw Mat Jackson line up in first place (although only after Shedden’s exclusion in race two saw him bumped up the order) ahead of Adam Morgan. The opening stages of the day’s final action was dominated by a huge crash for Austin, who was hit by Dave Newsham’s out-of-control Toyota at the exit of Paddock Hill and spun into the tyre barrier with such force that it ripped the passenger’s side door from the A4.

Thankfully Austin walked away from the impact, but the damage to the Audi means his participation in the next round at Donington is unlikely.

Jackson led following a safety car period to clear up the mess from that crash, but his Ford Focus lost power at Druids on lap eight and forced him to stop, handing the lead to Neal. Shedden, in the other Yuasa Racing Honda, was completing his second drive from the back of the grid, and with two laps remaining he benefitted from a scrap between Sam Tordoff and Morgan at Clearways to pass them both and move into second.

Despite a two-second gap to Neal, Shedden charged for victory and was right on his teammate’s bumper as he exited Clearways on the final lap. However, despite the gap closing all the time, he just failed to complete the move as Neal held onto win by just 0.083 seconds.

The results from the opening round leave Plato at the head of the standings with 54 points, nine points ahead of Jordan, with Tordoff, Jeff Smith and Neal completing the top five.

Race One
1) Jason Plato (MG6 KX Momentum Racing) – 27 laps
2) Andrew Jordan (Honda Civic Pirtek Racing) – +2.168 secs
3) Rob Austin (Audi A4 WIX Racing) – +6.130
4) Sam Tordoff (MG6 KX Momentum Racing) – +7.781
5) Jeff Smith (Honda Civic Pirtek Racing) +8.245

Race Two
1) Jason Plato (MG6 KX Momentum Racing) – 27 laps
2) Andrew Jordan (Honda Civic Pirtek Racing) – +0.989
3) Jeff Smith (Honda Civic Pirtek Racing) – +4.958
4) Matt Neal (Honda Civic Yuasa Racing) – +5.073
5) Sam Tordoff (MG6 KX Momentum Racing) – +5.454 secs

Race Three
1) Matt Neal (Honda Civic Yuasa Racing) 27 laps
2) Gordon Shedden (Honda Civic Yuasa Racing) – +0.083
3) Sam Tordoff (MG6 KX Momentum Racing) – +1.216
4) Adam Morgan (Toyota Avensis Ciceley Racing) – +2.171
5) Jason Plato (MG6 KX Momentum Racing) – +3.651

Championship Standings
1) Jason Plato (MG6 KX Momentum Racing) – 54pts
2) Andrew Jordan (Honda Civic Pirtek Racing) – 45pts
3) Sam Tordoff (MG6 KX Momentum Racing) – 40pts
4) Jeff Smith (Honda Civic Pirtek Racing) – 35pts
5) Matt Neal (Honda Civic Yuasa Racing) – 34pts

For full results and championship standings from the BTCC, please go to http://www.btcc.net.

FIA GT Championship (Round 1/6, Nogaro, France)

Is there anything that Sebastian Loeb can’t win in? That was the question many were asking after the umpteen-time World Rally Champion, along with Alvaro Parente, won Sunday’s qualifying race in the FIA GT Championship at Nogaro.

It was a result the pair should have repeated in Monday’s main race, but Loeb, in his haste to hand over his McLaren MP4-12C to Parente, undid his seat belts too early and was given a drive-through penalty. As a result the pair dropped to sixth, which ultimately became 13th after being given a 30 second penalty for Parente’s part in a collision with Rene Rast.

Rast and WRT Audi R8 teammate Nikolaus Mayr-Meinhof crossed the line first, but were also given a 30 second post-race penalty, which demoted them to eighth and gave the win to their teammates Frank Stippler and Edward Sandstrom, with fellow Audi drivers Stephane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor awarded second. The podium was completed by

In other news, a blast from the past in another sport took victory in the gentleman class, as France football legend Fabian Barthez and his teammate Gerard Tonelli brought their Ferrari 458 Italia across the line ahead of any other amateur pairing.

For the full classification and championship standings from the weekend’s action in Nogaro, please visit www.fiagtseries.com.

Stephen D’Albiac

Coletti takes early GP2 points lead

Stefano Coletti has left Sepang as the early GP2 Series points leader after taking a win and a podium from the opening round of the season.

Coletti had led the majority of Saturday’s feature race before tyre problems dropped him to third in the closing stages, but the Monegasque driver bounced back in the sprint race, making a great start from sixth to lead the opening lap and the Rapax driver never lost the lead, holding off a charging Felipe Nasr in the closing stages to take the win.

Fabio Leimer’s win in the feature race leaves him in second place in the standings, 11 points behind Coletti, although he will be disappointed not to have left Malaysia as the points leader after a poor sprint race, which included a major excursion through the gravel, left him empty-handed.

It was also a sprint race to forget for James Calado, who after taking second behind Leimer on Saturday, crashed out after missing his braking point at turn four on the opening lap, an error which sent him hurtling into Julian Leal and Sam Bird, both of whom also retired. As punishment for that mistake, Calado has now been given a ten-place grid penalty for the next round in Bahrain.

Nasr lies third in the championship after a solid weekend, which started with a fourth place finish on Saturday and ended with him hounding Coletti home in the sprint race.

Mitch Evans was another to impress in Malaysia. The reigning GP3 champion, making his debut in the category, suffered with food poisoning during the weekend but managed to back up a tenth place finish on Saturday with third on Sunday, a performance that made him by far the most impressive rookie.

Further back, Stephane Richelmi and Simon Trummer both enjoyed solid starts to the season with two points finishes each, Conor Daly had a good sprint race in his first GP2 weekend by finishing seventh, and Rene Binder scored his first point in the series by following home Daly in eighth on Sunday.

The biggest disappointment of the weekend was Marcus Ericsson. The DAMS driver, tipped as a potential title contender after three solid years in GP2, crashed out on the opening lap of the feature race when he misjudged his braking at turn nine and hit Jolyon Palmer and retired, a result that the Swede could only back up with 13th in the sprint race.

With ten races to go and 26 drivers all wanting to show they are worthy of a crack at Formula One, the season is set up nicely.

Pole Position: Stefano Coletti (Mon) Rapax – 1:44.280

Feature Race (31 laps)
1) Fabio Leimer (Sui) Racing Engineering – 57:49.385 secs
2) James Calado (GB) ART Grand Prix – +2.045 secs
3) Stefano Coletti (Mon) Rapax – +11.271 secs
4) Felipe Nasr (Bra) Carlin – +12.810 secs
5) Julian Leal (Col) Racing Engineering – +28.837 secs
6) Jolyon Palmer (GB) Carlin – + 34.209 secs
7) Sam Bird (GB) Russian Time – +41.183 secs
8) Stephane Richelmi (Mon) DAMS – +58.941 secs
9) Simon Trummer (Sui) Rapax – +1:02.853 secs
10) Mitch Evans (NZ) Arden International – +1:13.730 secs
Fastest Lap: Sam Bird (GB) Russian Time – 1:48.777 (Lap 16)

Sprint Race (22 laps)
1) Stefano Coletti (Mon) Rapax – 40:49.455 secs
2) Felipe Nasr (Bra) Carlin – +0.832 secs
3) Mitch Evans (NZ) Arden Motorsport – +8.358 secs
4) Stephane Richelmi (Mon) DAMS – +11.935 secs
5) Johnny Cecotto Jr. (Ven) Arden International – +15.874 secs
6) Simon Trummer (Sui) Rapax – +17.072 secs
7) Conor Daly (USA) Hilmer Motorsport – +17.479 secs
8) Rene Binder (Aut) Venezuela GP Lazarus – +23.726 secs
Fastest Lap: Stefano Coletti (Mon) Rapax – 1:50.203 (Lap 5)

Championship Standings
1) Stefano Coletti (Mon) Rapax – 36 pts
2) Fabio Leimer (Sui) Racing Engineering – 25 pts
3) Felipe Nasr (Bra) Carlin – 24 pts
4) James Calado (GB) ART Grand Prix – 18 pts
5) Stephane Richelmi (Mon) DAMS – 12 pts
6) Mitch Evans (NZ) Arden International – 11 pts
7) Julian Leal (Col) Racing Engineering – 10 pts
8) Jolyon Palmer (GB) Carlin – 8 pts
9) Sam Bird (GB) Russian Time – 8 pts
10) Johnny Cecotto Jr. (Ven) Arden International – 6 pts
11) Simon Trummer (Sui) Rapax – 6 pts
12) Conor Daly (USA) Hilmer Motorsport – 2 pts
13) Rene Binder (Aut) Venezuela GP Lazarus – 1 pts

Stephen D’Albiac

2013 GP2 Season Preview

The 2013 GP2 Series kicks off in Sepang this weekend, with the opening round signalling the start of the ninth edition of the championship, which is widely seen by many as the final step before Formula One.

In its eight year history, the series has seen many of today’s Formula One drivers pass through its doors, with the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean just three of the 24 drivers who have used GP2 as a stepping stone towards the pinnacle of motorsport.

With other drivers to have won the GP2 title including Timo Glock, Nico Hulkenberg and Pastor Maldonado, it is easy to see why the series is so highly regarded as a nurturer of the stars of tomorrow, and by taking centre stage on the support programme at most Formula One events throughout the year, those who impress are never far from the eye of the F1 team bosses.

Last year’s title turned into a closely thought battle between Italy’s Davide Valsecchi and Luiz Razia of Brazil. In a fight that lasted the entire season it was Valsecchi who came out on top as he became the second Italian to clinch the title.

Both Valsecchi and Razia have moved onto other things this year, paving the way for some new names to stake their claim for GP2 glory.

The Contenders
The two names that stand out when being asked to choose a pick for the title this year are James Calado and Felipe Nasr. Both drivers enjoyed successful rookie seasons in the series in 2012, finishing fifth and tenth respectively in last year’s standings.

James Calado

Calado was arguably the most impressive driver that has remained in the series. The Englishman was a regular frontrunner throughout the season as he took two wins, although bad luck in Valencia and Monaco and illness in Singapore cost him crucial points that ultimately took him out of title contention. He was often more than a match for teammate Esteban Gutierrez (now in F1 with Sauber) last year, and by remaining at the Lotus team he will have a great shot at glory this time around.

Felipe Nasr

Nasr’s debut season, although not as fruitful as Calado’s, was arguably just as impressive. The Brazilian scored four podiums and was a regular pointscorer throughout the year, and he produced arguably the drive of the season in the Bahrain sprint race to come from the back of the grid to finish an amazing sixth, gaining 20 places in just 22 laps. Nasr has moved from DAMS to Carlin this year, a team with which he won the British F3 championship in 2011, and with a year’s experience in GP2 should be right in the title fight this season.

In addition to Calado and Nasr, there are a number of drivers with vast experience who will fancy their chances of finally taking the championship this year. Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson is entering his fourth season in GP2, and with three solid years behind him will be looking to finally show his true potential with the DAMS team, who won the title with Valsecchi last year. Johnny Cecotto Jr. is entering his fifth year in the category, and after a breakthrough season in 2012 in which he won twice and finished ninth in the championship, he will be confident of progressing through the ranks.

Racing Engineering’s Fabio Leimer is another racer with vast experience in the series, and after finishing seventh last year and scoring six podiums, the Swiss driver will be looking onwards and upwards in 2013. And that’s without forgetting the return of Sam Bird, who finished third in World Series by Renault last year and will be looking to improve on the sixth place championship finish he managed on his last stab at GP2 in 2011.

There are also a number of highly promising rookies making their debut in the championship this year, not least Arden’s Mitch Evans, who won the GP3 Series last year and has proven himself to be an extremely talented and accomplished young racing driver. Daniel Abt ran Evans all the way in GP3 in 2012, and by following the Kiwi into GP2 will be sure to prove to be a difficult man to beat. Another new arrival from GP3 is young American Conor Daly, who also proved competitive last year and will be looking to deliver the goods at Hilmer Motorsport.

In all, there will be 26 drivers all wanting to prove that they are worthy of progressing to Formula One in the future, and with just 11 rounds to show what they can do and the need to impress on the line, the one guarantee is that we will get plenty of close and exciting races this year.

Add to this being the third and final season of the third generation GP2 car, the field should be closer than ever, and with a strong field separated by mere tenths all trying to beat each other in identical machinery, all the ingredients are there for the closest championship in GP2 history.

2013 GP2 Entry List
1) Marcus Ericsson (Swe) DAMS
2) Stephane Richelmi (Mon) DAMS
3) James Calado (GB) Lotus ART Grand Prix
4) Daniel Abt (Ger) Lotus ART Grand Prix
5) Johnny Cecotto Jr. (Ven) Arden International
6) Mitch Evans (NZ) Arden International
7) Julian Leal (Col) Racing Engineering
8) Fabio Leimer (Sui) Racing Engineering
9) Felipe Nasr (Bra) Carlin Motorsport
10) Jolyon Palmer (GB) Carlin Motorsport
11) Sam Bird (GB) Russian Time
12) Tom Dillmann (Fra) Russian Time
14) Sergio Canamassas (Esp) Caterham Racing
15) Ma Qing Hua (Chi) Caterham Racing
16) Jake Rosenzweig (USA) Barwa Addax Team
17) Rio Haryanto (Ina) Barwa Addax Team
18) Stefano Coletti (Mon) Rapax Team
19) Simon Trummer (Sui) Rapax Team
20) Nathaniel Berthon (Fra) Trident Racing
21) Kevin Ceccon (Ita) Trident Racing
22) Conor Daly (USA) Hilmer Motorsport
23) Pal Varhaug (Nor) Hilmer Motorsport
24) Rene Binder (Aut) Venezuela GP Lazarus
25) Kevin Giovesi (Ita) Venezuela GP Lazarus
26) Adrian Quaife-Hobbs (GB) MP Motorsport
27) Daniel de Jong (Ned) MP Motorsport

Race Calendar
GP2 rounds consist of two races. The main race of the weekend, the feature race takes place on the Saturday, followed by a shorter sprint race on the Sunday.
1) Malaysia – March 23-24
2) Bahrain – April 20-21
3) Spain – May 11-12
4) Monaco – May 25-26
5) Great Britain – June 29-30
6) Germany – July 6-7
7) Hungary – July 27-28
8) Belgium – August 24-25
9) Italy – September 7-8
10) Singapore – September 21-22
11) Abu Dhabi – November 2-3

Stephen D’Albiac

Why motorsport needs more winter action

As a motorsport fan the winter months can leave you with a big car-shaped hole in your life. With virtually every major racing series in the world running through the European summer the result is, with the exception of some minor series, the petrolhead is left with precious little to whet the appetite for a large portion of the year.

Since the demise of A1GP and GP2 Asia left the racing world devoid of any major single-seater action over the winter, it means the only real action left to enjoy at this time of year is standalone events such as the Dakar Rally and the Dubai 24 Hours.

Whilst it could be argued that it is slightly selfish to be bemoaning the lack of winter championships given that we have recently enjoyed the longest Formula One season ever, there is an argument to be had from a fans point of view to put on more events in the European ‘off-season’.

In football major tournaments such as the World Cup and European Championships take centre stage once the domestic season is finished. Cricket and rugby fans can look forward to watching their national teams tour overseas, whilst the likes of tennis and golf run tournaments all year round. With that in mind, you can’t help but feel that motorsport could do more to fill the entire calendar.

A1GP was a winter hit with the fans before the money ran out

Formula One is and probably always will remain the pinnacle of motorsport, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for something to fill the gap once the garages are locked up for the winter. A1GP did a good job of filling that void for a while, and with better management would almost certainly still be going from strength to strength. Although short lived, it proved that it was possible to run a series during the winter and bring in the crowds.

Although the climate means a lot of Europe is firmly out of action for winter competition, areas such as the Middle East, Oceania and South America all have the facilities capable of hosting such championships. By running a series like A1GP from September through to April or May, and avoiding F1 weekends, you could fit in a couple of European rounds at the beginning and the end of the season and then travel to warmer climbs in the winter. Therefore, if run properly it would make sense for someone to try and resurrect a similar championship.

In addition, it would also make sense for a lot of non-European countries to switch their domestic series to the winter. By running through the European off-season it would mean avoiding clashes with the likes of F1 and the World Touring Car Championship, meaning that they would be more likely to get local attention, get more favourable TV coverage and attract drivers who would otherwise be tied up with a European series, which in turn would improve the quality of the championship and improve the domestic infrastructure.

The issue of drivers is an very valid argument for increasing the amount of winter action, particularly in the case of those making their way through the junior ranks. With no championships of any note for a large part of the year, it means they are starved of any meaningful competition for a large period of time, which can only be detrimental to their education as racing drivers. It’s the equivalent of an academy footballer making his way in the game not being able to play a competitive match for six months.

If those drivers had the option of competing in a championship at the standard of GP2 or World Series by Renault during the winter, or simply competing in a local series or doing some touring car racing, it would allow them to remain race-sharp and gain more experience, which can only help them in their development and make them better drivers. Another added bonus would be that when the top drivers graduate to Formula One, they are more experienced and better prepared for competition at the highest level.

With that considered, motorsport could benefit a great deal from making more available to everyone during the winter months. With more action for the petrolhead to enjoy, more opportunity for drivers to compete and more exposure for the sport, it means everyone is happy, and that can only be a positive.

Stephen D’Albiac

One to Watch: Antonio Felix da Costa

One to Watch is a new feature that will focus on motor racing’s brightest young stars from a variety of series and championships around the world. To start with here’s a look at Portugal’s Antonio Felix da Costa, who has recently competed in series such as GP3 and World Series by Renault, and is a member of Red Bull’s Junior Programme.

Name: Antonio Felix da Costa
Date of Birth: August 31, 1991
Nationality: Portuguese
2012 Results: GP3 Series: 3rd (3 wins), World Series by Renault: 4th (4 wins), F3 Cup (2 wins)

With so many junior formulae forming the ladder up to Formula One there is intense competition between drivers to rise to the top. And with so many young prospects fighting it out in the feeder series it can be difficult enough to stand out from everyone else.

One man who has managed to mark himself out from the crowd is 21-year-old Antonio Felix da Costa.

The Portuguese driver has this year produced performances that border on the sublime. Whether it be GP3 or World Series by Renault, qualifying or race, rain or shine, da Costa has shown huge promise and has marked himself out as one of the brightest young talents in all of motorsport.

His season began in the GP3 Series. Entering his second full year in the championship, da Costa had steadily progressed through the ranks, culminating in him winning the final race of the 2011 season in Monza. So hopes were high that he could step up and challenge for the title as the 2012 championship dawned.

And he didn’t disappoint. Although he only finished third in the overall standings, it was a combination of driver error and bad luck rather than a lack of speed which meant he was never more than an outsider for the title. Incidents such as a drive-through penalty in Barcelona for jumping the start, exclusion from qualifying in Valencia for a technical infringement and car problems in the season finale at Monza cost him valuable points and meant he couldn’t quite challenge eventual champion Mitch Evans.

However the positives far outweighed the negatives. Six fastest laps proved he had the speed, whilst there were impressive wins in the feature races at both Silverstone and the Hungaroring.

Antonio Felix da Costa in GP3 series action

But his finest hour came in the sprint race in Hungary, when after gambling on changing to slicks on a drying track, he overcame a 40 second deficit in the final six laps to win the race by 12 seconds, and at the same time lap over two seconds a lap quicker than anyone else. It was a remarkable drive, and in doing so da Costa became the first person in GP3 history to win both races on the same weekend.

These kind of performances weren’t limited to GP3 either. Despite only joining the World Series by Renault at the fourth round, and scoring only eight points in his first two race weekends, da Costa went on to win four races (more than any other driver) en route to an impressive fourth in the championship. This included a stunning display in the second race in Barcelona, where in the dry, and in an identical car to the rest of the field, he took the chequered flag by an incredible 27 seconds.

da Costa also starred in World Series by Renault

You’d think that would be impressive enough for one year, but there was time for a display that probably topped all that came before it. Competing in the F3 Cup series at Snetterton as a one-off in order to gain eligibility for the Macau Grand Prix, against drivers that had raced the cars all season, da Costa took pole position by a staggering 9 seconds in treacherous conditions. He then followed that up by obliterating the field by 54 seconds (yes that’s 54 seconds) in race one, and completed a double by winning the second by 37 seconds, a truly sublime performance.

da Costa will now compete in the Macau Grand Prix on November 18, and will look to emulate drivers such as Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard by winning the prestigious event. And with the prodigious talent that he possesses, it would take a brave man to bet against him capping off the year in fine style on the famous street circuit.

With both Red Bull and Toro Rosso having announced their driver line-ups for next season, 2013 will be a bit too soon for da Costa to make the step up to Formula One. It looks likely that he will embark on a full World Series by Renault campaign before replacing Daniel Ricciardo or Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso the year after. However, if he impresses enough next year it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he may be drafted into Toro Rosso midway through the season, or even given a drive at Red Bull for 2014.

Whatever happens, it is sure to be an exciting time for Antonio Felix da Costa, and it would be exceptionally difficult to bet against him one day becoming Portugal’s first ever Formula One world champion.

He has that much potential.

Stephen D’Albiac