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

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

Always the Bridesmaid, Never the Bride

You don’t have to be a fortune teller to predict that Scott Dixon will once again miss out on the Supreme Award at the Halbergs for 2015.

Sure, he has now equalled Dario Franchitti’s record of four IndyCar championship wins, won more individual races than any other driver since 1996, and is now arguably the best driver in IndyCar’s new format.

Unfortunately, Dixon was silly enough to achieve all of this in a Rugby World Cup year – so barring some catastrophe, the award already has ‘Sir Richie McCaw’ etched onto it.

Not that Richie doesn’t deserve the honour, as well as a knighthood and hopefully free physiotherapy for life – it’s a small consolation for the man who has carried the weight of an entire nation on his back for the better part of a decade.

But in the case of New Zealand’s top sporting top award celebrating the success of our athletes on the world stage, Dixon is always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

There are two main reasons for this, the first is that IndyCar suffers from having an undeserved reputation of being as easy as turning the steering wheel left to go around in circles a few hundred times. In reality, the sport requires insane levels of hand eye co-ordination, mental and physical strength, and the race itself has multiple changes in whose leading, and complex strategies around tire and fuel management.

IndyCar also includes street circuits, which are usually dominated by Dixon.

In contrast, Formula 1’s Monaco Grand Prix – considered the crown jewel of motorsport circuits – is largely a procession where in all but rare instances; the winner is decided by who qualifies first rather than what happens in the actual race.

IndyCar has to battle against some pretty bad PR which has resulted in Dixon’s recent victory occupying the front page of NZHerald.co.nz for about 15 minutes before inevitably being replaced by an article about a Bachelor or Dancing with the Stars contestant.

The second is the nature of the Halberg awards, its judging panel and the criteria used to judge the athletes. If you weren’t already aware of the criteria, here it is:

1. Regarding the achievement:

  • a. was it in that sport’s ‘pinnacle event’ (eg Olympics, Paralympics, Football World Cup)
  • b. was it a world record, or world ranking or recognition (eg ‘World Player of the Year’).
  • c. the quality of the field / competition.

2. The global nature of the sport.

And the judging panel is made up of 28 independent voters which are currently made up of 10 journalists, 4 olympians, 2 cricket, 2 rugby, 2 cycling, and one from netball, league, Paralympian, softball, motorsport, golf and field hockey.

Dixon met all of the criteria in 2003, 2008, 2013 and now in 2015. His best year was probably 2008 when he won the Indy 500 however he had to settle for Sportsman of the Year because it was an Olympic year and he was up against Valarie Adams.

His best shot at the top spot would have been in 2013 but the judging committee pre-emptively jumped on the Lydia Ko bandwagon and she received the Supreme Award.

Dixon was robbed that year. This isn’t suggesting that Ko isn’t a deserving athlete and she has certainly done New Zealand proud on the world stage, but back in 2013 she had only just turned pro at the end of the year and at that stage had only won 2 professional events.

Very little of her events were even broadcast on New Zealand television, so unless the judging panel went out of their way to stream the events then (aside from highlights packages) they would have never actually seen her play. It is more like she received the award on potential and the hype surrounding her age.

So despite being a four time world champion in a sport that is watched by millions of people around the world, Dixon will miss out again.

It is the same fate suffered by Sophie Pascoe and all of the other athletes that are dominating in sports that are less popular in New Zealand than they are in the rest of the world.

Dixon will just have to hope that 5th times the charm.

By Elisa Harris

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