High Speed, High Drama, High Stakes

This seasons Moto GP World Championship has been many things – intense, dynamic, thrilling – to name a few.

But nothing could have prepared me for what happened this past Sunday at Phillip Island. I don’t think I have seen anything like it at a race track before.

Firstly, a brief synopsis of the season so far.

Reigning Moto GP champ, Spain’s Marc Marquez, has been the man for the past 2 seasons. Upon his Repsol Honda he was completely dominant. He had won virtually every race in those seasons – his first in the top tier championship.

He was the youngest world champ, the first since 1978 to win the premier championship in his first year, and won 13 of 18 races in the 2014 season.

But not this season. Only four wins, and a series of inconsistent results, saw him sitting in third place in the standings, and all but relinquishing his title.

Movistar Yamaha’s riders, double world champ Jorge Lorenzo and 6-time world champ Valentino Rossi, have been fighting it out all season long to claim the title. Neither have given an inch, and racing has been tight all season long. Sunday was no exception.

Valentino went in to the weekend with an 18 point lead over Lorenzo, but with Marquez and Lorenzo started on the front row, alongside Ducati rider Andrea Iannone, he would have his work cut out starting from the third row on the grid in 7th. Phillip Island is a fast track with speeds on the near 1km long Gardiner Straight reaching a massive 330 km/hour, something the Yamaha riders were struggling with. But what they lacked in straight-line speed, they more than made up for in determination, handling and, to be blunt – balls.

Initially, Lorenzo led the bulk of the race with the other three fighting out the minor places. And with only a handful of laps left to go, it looked like he would cut that lead down to single figures. Rossi looked set to take a hit in the points table, with Marquez and Iannone fighting over the scraps. Watching live on TV, you could be forgiven for thinking there were only four men racing out there, but between Marquez, Lorenzo, Rossi and Iannone, there was more than enough action with more than 50 passes between them, and even a dead seagull.

Lorenzo had it under control. At least, that’s what it looked like. Clearly, no one told Marc Marquez this. Entering the final lap, Marquez found another gear. He started that lap nearly a second behind Lorenzo. But in a brilliant display of high speed riding, set the races fastest lap – a lap nearly a second faster than any other rider – and made a lunge at Lorenzo entering the hairpin turn, three turns from the finish. He managed to hold his fellow Spaniard at bay to cross the line a mere 0.249 seconds in front.

A second covered the top four, with Iannone finishing ahead of a hard charging Rossi.

Words can not describe how intense the battle was. Racing like this is rarely seen in Moto GP, and rarely seen at speeds like we saw. In the end, Rossi walks away with an 11 point lead over Lorenzo, Marquez sits a further 63 a drift, but not for a lack of late season trying.

Two rounds remain – Malaysia and Valencia – before we crown the champ. Picking it will be harder to pick than a broken nose, but if racing is as exciting as it was in Australia, I am more than okay with that.

By Daniel Olander

Bathurst – Paint by Numbers

This Thursday sees beginning of the greatest weekend of motorsport in Australasia, if not the world – The Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.

Tens of thousands of petrol heads will descend on a sleepy little New South Wales town for 4 days of motorsport, music, camping and, well, sinking booze.

The annual Ford v Holden battle – a battle that has it originating roots at Mount Panorama – will again be fought on the track, and in the camp grounds.

Oh, plus there is Volvo. And Mercedes. And Nissan.

Last month I regaled you with the tale of endurance racing, and with the tams to watch. Much of that remains the same, so this month, I thought we would take a look at something a little different.

Each season, V8 Supercar teams use Bathurst as chance to mix up the paint schemes on their cars, normally driven by sponsors, and sometimes as a result of heritage. Let’s take a look at some of the more eye catching, iconic and out there retro liveries seen on the Mountain.

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Triple Eight Racing Team Vodafone / Holden Dealer Team Throwback

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bathurst 1000, Triple Eight took it back to 1982 with a Marlboro Holden Dealer Team inspired paint scheme. Designed to look like Lowndes’ mentor Peter Brock’s winning car, there were slight modification made to the design. Obviously, the Marlboro logos were removed, as tobacco sponsorship is banned. But the iconic #05 that Brock raced with had been retired in 2006, as a mark of respect following his death.

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Ford Performance Racing / Moffat Ford Dealers Team Throwback

Harking back to the historic 1977 1-2 finish for Allan Moffat and Colin Bond, FPR went with the classic white with red and blue stripes. Sadly, their results did not match those of the ’77 team with Winterbottom finishing 11th and Will Davison 24th, some 18 laps down.

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Dick Johnson Racing / Tru-Blu Throwback

Few men have had the varied history at the mountain that Dick Johnson has had. 3 race wins, which could have been 4 if it weren’t for the Nissan Skyline of Richards and Skaife (and the rain) but also some terrible luck. This was evident in the 1980 editions where, as a privateer, Johnson came ever so close to winning, were it not for a clipping a rock in the Cutting. The Tru-Blu sponsorship was revived in 2012 on the Moffat/Davison #18 Falcon. So much so, that they even renumbered the car #17, like the 1980 car.

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Dick Johnson Racing / Shell Helix Throwback

2014 saw Johnson do it again with this retro paint scheme, designed to look like the ’94 Johnson/Bowe race winner, just with refreshed sponsorship. Dick Johnson Racing / Greens-Tuf Throwback This is a personal favourite, not because of the retro nature of the paint job, but for the story behind it. In 1983 Johnson, again a privateer, entered the race with his Greens-Tuf sponsored Ford Falcon. During qualifying, he had a horrific accident at Forest Elbow that he was incredibly lucky to walk away from. Rolling the car through the trees, the car was a near write-off. Were it not for an all nighter by his team, and the TAFE training students, Johnson would not have made the grid the next day.

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Holden Racing Team 1990 Throwback

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of HRT’s first team win for Win Percy and Allan Grice. Honourable mentions go to Nissan Motorsport and Bottle-O Racing for their cars over the years. And to Red Bull Racing Australia for their camp-themed cars from 2014. I deliberately left these out of the countdown as the last lap from last years race, with Jamie Whincup running out of fuel and costing himself another Bathurst victory still haunts my dreams. This year sees Holden Racing Team, Nissan Motorsport, and Erebus Racing all sporting either new or throwback liveries. Time will tell whether they will be classics or not.

By Daniel Olander

RWC2015: England – Three Things You Need to Know

Ahh the hosts; England.

Where complaining and excuses are a-plenty.

Where drop goals mean more than tries and where nearly every sport was invented, though coincidentally not won.

This is the second time the Old Blighty have hosted the Rugby World Cup, after hosting the second tournament in 1991.

Normally here, we would talk about how the English always win the Six Nations, but unfortunately for them, they haven’t won it since 2011.

So instead, here are three things you need to know heading into RWC 2015.

1. Pool of Death Chances

England has an overall winning percentage of 53.78%. They are 50% or better against all but 4 international teams.

Of those 4 teams, 2 of them feature in their pool at this years tournament – Australia and Wales.

Wales, of course a suburb or…wait. What is that word they use? Oh yes! A colony.

Wales, a colony of England, won the 2012 and 2013 Six Nations, which has left a bitter taste in the mouths of the aristocratic Brits.

Now, all of sudden, injuries are popping up left and right in the Welsh camp and we wouldn’t be surprised if we received a media release, post-cup, that detailed plans to stop all outgoing planes from Heathrow to Fiji.

Either way, this year’s so-called “pool of death” is shaping up to be one hell of a contest.

2. The Power of the Boot

In winning the 2003 tournament, England had two players in the top try scorer’s table – Will Greenwood and Josh Lewsey with 5 tries – compared to 4 from New Zealand (not that it did us any good).

Their top points scorer was Jonny Wilkinson with 113 points in 7 matches. This featured no tries……no tries at all.

23 penalties and a whopping 8 drop goals (Dan Carter eat ya’ heart out!). But seriously, for a man who invented the most unorthodox kicking stance, surely he could have found a creative way to get over the white chalk?

FYI, our own Grant Fox still holds the record for points at 126 points in the 1987 Rugby World Cup.

3. The Uniform

While England’s traditional strip is an all white jersey with the red rose, and navy and white socks, this was not an original design.

This design was taken from the original kit worn by Rugby School – the same school where one, William Webb Ellis, picked up a football and ran with it, and thus began the game we know as Rugby Union.

Shows how much there is to talk about England, that we are resorting to frivolous uniform chat. But hey, who doesn’t like a Brit in uniform?!

No one. No one does.

Prediction

Surely you have to put the hosts in the final? I mean, home field advantage has worked three out of seven times in Rugby World Cups. Alas, the England squad is not as deep as it once was. And England has lost a lot of its colonies in the last…..while.

So we’ll let them use the media to try and undermine other teams, especially the All Blacks. We’ll see who gets the last laugh when 50 points are scored on them.

The prediction is they will come dead last. Beaten by Fiji and Uruguay.

By Daniel Olander

RWC2015: Romania – Three Things You Need to Know

Better known for their gymnastics, Dracula and possessing the largest parliament buildings in the world, Romania have attended all 7 Rugby World Cups.

A relative underdog in this tournament, teams cannot forget the shockwave they sent through the rugby world when they defeated Scotland in the 2011 World Cup.

Likewise, most people wouldn’t even know that they actually gained the bronze medal in the 1924 olympic games for men’s rugby!

However, despite their historic successes, they have never moved farther than the group stages in the RWC.

Still, they still offer many other interesting facts.

1. Florin Vlaicu

Romania’s top point scorer in international Rugby is Florin Vlaicu, amassing 621 points in around 80 matches. This will be his third RWC, and promises to be one of the key components of their backline.

2. No Stranger to Upsets

They may be seen as easy beats, but they are far from it. In fact, they have in the past beaten the bigger nations, including Tonga, Samoa, United States, Wales and even the French.

Now, to be fair, these wins were a while ago, but still. Many teams dredd facing them as they put up a heck of a fight.

3. The Not-So-Celebrated Record

Romania hold the record for the least points scored by one team in a RWC. They scored only 14 points in the 1995 tournament. One try and 3 penalties in their 3 matches is pretty rough, but is as many tries as Jonny Wilkinson scored in his three tournaments put together.

Prediction

No surprises here, Romania will most certainly bail out in the group stages. Facing their own ‘pool of death’ with France, Ireland, Italy and Canada, its hard to see Romania getting a win at all, though we can hope and pray!

By Daniel Olander

V8 Championship – Wide Open

As the wise Andy Williams once said; “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” No, not Christmas time ya dummies – It’s Pirtek Enduro Cup time!

This Saturday sees the first of the endurance races in the V8 Supercars championship – the Wilson Security Sandown 500.

It is a race run over 161 laps at the historic Sandown Raceway, just outside of Melbourne. It is the first race of the season to feature co-drivers from around the world, followed by the legendary Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 and the Castrol Gold Cost 600. And it often marks the turning point in the season for the top drivers.

So lets look back on the season so far, and take a look a the teams to watch over the next three rounds.

This V8 Supercar season has been, like many seasons before it, dominated by one team and it’s two drivers.

Unlike seasons before, it isn’t Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup of Red Bull Racing Australia. This has been the season of Prodrive Racing Australia’s Mark Winterbottom and Chaz Mostert.

In their new brand new Ford Falcon FG X’s, the two have dominated the ArmourAll Pole Position Award, with Mostert taking 10 of the available 23 pole positions this season, which has led on to 5 race victories and 2nd place on the championship table.

But leading the charge with 8 wins this season is Mark Winterbottom – the perennial bridesmaid of the V8 Supercars championship.

This season has seen Winterbottom dominate the Perth, Winton, Townsville and Ipswich races, but the last round at Eastern Creek was a disaster. A 2nd, an 8th and a 16th saw his lead in the series shrink with Mostert now only 174 points behind. These next 3 rounds could see a shake-up in the table.

Mostert is the reigning SCA Bathurst 1000 champion, and along with his co-driver Cameron Waters, will be looking to hold on to their titles.

But let us not forget the current series champion Jamie Whincup. He might be sitting 6th this season, but he hasn’t won 6 titles – 4 in succession – without just a little bit of talent. This season, as was the case last year, sees him paired with Paul Dumbrell forthe enduros. A partnership that saw them win the Sandown 500 and Gold Coast 600, and if it weren’t for running out of fuel, the trifecta of enduros would have been theirs.

But the points gained we enough to push Jamie to the top of the table. He stayed there. Expect him to challenge once again. He and Dumbrell are a formidable force, and co-drivers will play an integral part in these races.

In fact, co-drivers could be the winning or losing of races. For years we have seen “main game” drivers chances squashed by a co-driver mistake. Garth Tander never made the grid at Bathurst last year due to a massive crash in practice while hi co- driver Warren Luff was at the wheel.

In 2013, James Courtney was taken out of the race after his co-driver Greg Murphy crashed at the top of Reid Park. Even though he has years of experience, the fact he was out of consistent main game driving led to a lapse in concentration. The driver/co-driver pairings are vital.

Other than the Whincup/Dumbrell pairing, there will be a number of combinations that I reckon will push for the podium.

  • Car #888 with Lowndes and Steve Richards will be strong. Tonnes of experience between them, and some of the best strategic heads in their garage mean they will be strong throughout.
  • Cars #5 and #6 from Prodrive Racing Australia will be strong. Winterbottom and Mostert will look to keep the momentum rolling from their seasons. And with co-drivers Cam Waters and Steve Owen respectively, they will be hard to beat.
  • Car #2 from Holden Racing Team, driven by Tander and Luff, are always consistent, but luck will need to be on their side this year. The sister car #22 drive this weekend by Jack Perkins and Russell Ingall could be a dark horse. Normally driven by James Courtney, he has been sidelined by a freak accident at Eastern Creek involving a RAAF Helicopter and some poorly tied down signage. Expect him back for Bathurst and Gold Coast.
  • The Team Tekno Autosports team of Shane Van Gisbergen and Jonathon Webb in car #97 was odds on to win Bathurst last year, but a stall in the pits from SVG meant the dream was dashed. This year, he’ll be back for redemption.
  • And don’t count out car #33 – Scott McLaughlin’s Volvo S60. His form this season has been up and down (mostly down) but the car is fast, and paired with Alex Premat, these boys would be worth a bob each way.

Then there is Nick Percat and Oliver Gavin in the Repair Management Australia/LDM Holden Commodore.

Percat placed third last year, and won the race in 2011 on debut. Fabian Coulthard and Jason Bright from Brad Jones Racing are a chance, as are David Reynolds and Dean Canto from Bottle-O Racing. There are 6-10 teams that could win these races. Something other motorsports could do well to replicate. *cough Formula 1 cough*

These three rounds could shape how the championship plays out. They could be the making or breaking of a new series champ. They could see the resurgence of an old head. At the least, these three rounds will see me pressing a butt-shaped imprint into the couch, and consuming too much Onion Soup and Reduced Cream dip. But really, how much is “too much” anyway?

By Daniel Olander

Kiwis a Flicker of Hope in Tainted Cycling World

Cycling has had a bad rap for the longest time, and with bloody good reason.

Cheating has been rife for decades, whether it be steroids, blood doping and transfusions or cocaine use, cyclist have done what ever it takes to win; and win at all costs.

Between 1996 and 2010, only two of the eight “winners” of Tour de France have not been banned for drug use, or been striped of titles after admitting to cheating.

And in the case of the biggest name in cycling, Lance Armstrong, 7 titles lost and a life ban from cycling have all added up to tarnish the sport.

But the sport is more than that? It is more than the cheats, it is more than Tour de France, and it is more than road cycling? You only have to look to Andorra at the moment to see the good side of the sport, and it features a few Kiwis to boot.

The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup is currently being held (not that you would know) which features both Cross Country and Downhill disciplines. Both offer thrilling action, and now one of the offers a Kiwi World Champion.

Anton Cooper – already Commonwealth Champion – can now add the World U23 Cross Country rainbow jersey to his collection of accolades. A list that is only likely to grow in the future.

And in the Elite Men’s Cross Country Eliminator, Sam Gaze took out silver. Add to the mix the likes of Brook MacDonald, Sam Blenkinsop and George Brannigan, all world-class Downhill riders, and NZ’s chances of more success are looking strong.

Then there is our track cycling teams who have dominated the velodrome in recent times. NZ’s Mens sprint team of Sam Webster, Ethan Mitchell and Eddie Dawkins all-but won gold at this years World Track Cycling championships – if it weren’t for a few centimetres, they would have prevailed over France.

Dawkins also recently smashed the 200m sprint world record, previously held by cycling royalty, Sir Chris Hoy.

It’s not just those with big wheels that look good at the moment either. Sarah Walker is back from a very long injury break, having recovered from a broken arm and head injuries, and claimed a bronze at the recent UCI BMX World Champs.

Racing in her less favoured time trial, the third place is just the start of a long road back to the top.

And despite the all the doom and gloom surrounding road cycling, Kiwis litter the big professional cycling teams.

Greg Henderson, Sam Bewley, Jack Bauer, Jesse Sergent and Hayden Roulston all feature in some of the top teams.

Greg Henderson being an intergral part of the Lotto-Soudal, winner of lead out – the riders that set the stage for the sprinters – for Andre Greipel, winner of 4 stages in this years Tour de France.

He is widely regarded as one of the best lead out riders, and leads a strong mens, and womens, team to this years UCI Road Cycling championships.

All of these disciplines, with the exception of Downhill, will feature at next years Rio 2016 Olympic games. And all of the events offer many chances for us to take away silverware. Chances that I am sure we will snap up.

So there you have it. Despite all the hard work of a cancer surviving, drug taking, one testicled man and some of the biggest cheats the world has seen, cycling has never been in a better place. At least for us Kiwis. But there again, I might be just a little biased.

By Daniel Olander

The Not-So-Winning Formula

I am an unabashed sports fan. If there are teams competing, and a winner and a loser, then I’ll watch it. But there are two sports I simply cannot get enough of – Cricket, and Motorsports.

I can remember as a child falling asleep on the couch as Chris Pringle bowled a nigh on perfect over at Hobart to see “The Young Guns” over the line against Australia, as much as I can still hear Jim Richards calling the Bathurst fans “a pack of arseholes.”

But recently, my beloved motorsports have been unbearable. More specifically, the pinnacle of motorsport – Formula 1.

In days gone by Formula 1 offered the best drivers, the most advanced technology, and some of the hottest competition to be had. Names like Senna, Prost, Mansell and Schumacher fought hard. In the case of Senna and Prost, they fought to the bitter end.

They drove the most powerful cars. They raced the most dangerous tracks. They were on the ragged edge. But not any more. The tracks are tame, with massive run offs. The cars are tame – they are HYBRIDS! The ragged edge is more of a politically correct, SFW, playground filled with bouncy foam soft curve.

There used to be a time where as many as 8-10 drivers could win races or championships. Each race weekend would be different from the last. Teams like McLaren, Williams, Ferrari, Benetton or Jordan battled it out. Racing was tight.

You compare that to this season. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have dominated the 2015 season, and Mercedes has wrapped up the constructors title and we still have 8 races left in the season. Three drivers have won races this year, with only Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel the only one able to break the Silver Arrows stranglehold. In fact, in the last 5 seasons, only 9 different drivers have managed to win races.

To be brutally honest, it’s boring. The tracks. The races. The drivers. They are all boring. Which is why, in my opinion, there are far better options when it comes to getting your motorsports fix. If you want 4-wheel action, this years WRC has been thrilling watching. Sure, Sebastian Ogier has been dominant, but with the likes of Jari-Matti Latvala, Kris Meeke, Mads Ostberg and New Zealand’s own Hayden Paddon pushing hard all the way, racing is better than ever.

Then there is World Endurance Championship, INDYCAR and V8 Supercars. All of which offer nail biting, close quarters, wheel-to-wheel racing, and a smattering of our own talented drivers winning races or championships, all offering more exciting viewing than “the pinnacle” of world motorsport.

I mean, even NASCAR – redneck Americans racing full speed around banked ovals has proven to be more exciting. AND THAT’S SAYING SOMETHING!

Long story short – Formula 1 needs a shake up. They need to see that they aren’t the global force in motorsport they once were. They need to bring the thrill back to the track. They need to get rid of Bernie Ecclestone. And more than anything, they need to win back the disillusioned fans like me.

By Daniel Olander