Race Watch 7

Rally Mexico 2020

Two winners from two rallies, yet neither of the World Champions on the grid have been on the top step. Is that about to change or will their teammates continue to overshadow them in Mexico?

SO, WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED AND WHAT DID I THINK OF IT?
MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THESE TOPICS?
LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW AND LET’S GET A DISCUSSION GOING!

Welcome to Race Watch, a supplementary feature running alongside my blog designed for me to project any opinions that may have arisen from the motorsport events I viewed over the previous weekend.

***

Coronavirus. Everyone’s talking about it, many people are contracting it and, sadly, some are dying from it. The global pandemic has caused almost every major sporting event worldwide to be either cancelled or postponed, and so thousands have resorted to watching Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibault Courtois battle Mercedes-AMG F1 reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez on the F1 2019 game. Yes, really.

Luckily, South America’s Coronavirus situation isn’t as concerning as much of the rest of the world, and so some sporting events were able to take place. For example, the Paraguayan prison where footballer Ronaldinho is currently housed held a football tournament, for the prize of a 16kg suckling pig. Ronaldinho’s side won the final 11-2, with the former Barcelona player scoring 5 and assisting the other 6. Also, the Mexican round of the WRC took place.

Yes, the first flyaway round of the World Rally Championship took place, starting with a pair of short, 1-kilometre dashes through the town of Guanajuato on Thursday night, before hitting the surrounding dust-filled hills on Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately, Sunday’s final 3 stages were cancelled to ensure teams were able to fly home before travel restrictions became too severe.

Thursday night, as previously mentioned, kicked things off. A back-to-back set of runs through the streets of Guanajuato, including a tight section through a tunnel, and a prolonged drift around a roundabout. The first pass saw just two drivers complete the stage in under a minute, with the joint championship leaders Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans setting 59.1s and 59.5s runs respectively. Second time round all 9 of the WRC category cars broke the minute mark, with Neuville once again setting the pace in front of Evans. Ott Tanak took the overnight third place, with Teemu Suninen fourth and Dani Sordo, making his first appearance of the season, fifth. However, this was just the warm up.

Friday morning, and the famous El Chocolate stage kicked the rally proper off. It was also El Chocolate that saw the first casualties of the race. Dani Sordo lost nearly five-and-a-half minutes due to a loose radiator pipe, Ken Block, competing in his Ford Escort Cosworth, had overheating issues, causing him to retire, and Oliver Solberg, who finished Thursday night as the fastest non-WRC car, hit a rock, causing his car to drain itself of oil. At the front of the field, though, was reigning champion Tanak, who was more than 10 seconds clear of former champion Sebastien Ogier, who had previously won this event 5 times with 3 different manufacturers. Suninen and Esapekka Lappi continued the promising form for M-Sport, with third and fourth on the stage.

Evans and Neuville’s times were hampered by being the first cars onto the stage, meaning they were “sweeping” the road for everyone else behind. This “sweeping” is where the first few cars are removing the loose top layer of dust on the road as they drive, meaning there is more grip for subsequent racers, and this is estimated to give the following car an advantage of 0.1 seconds per kilometre. Over the 31km El Chocolate stage, this means that Tanak theoretically had an 18.6 second advantage over Evans, just by starting 6th on the road.

Regardless, this is a challenge that is associated with leading the championship, and one that drivers such as Ogier and Tanak have overcome on their path to winning championships. Other challenges include issues with the car, and Ott certainly had one of those.

Stage 4 saw the Estonian lose 45 seconds to Ogier due to damaging the rear-right corner of his car. This dropped him from first to 8th overall, with the Frenchman inheriting the lead of the rally, a lead he did not relinquish for the rest of the day. An up-and-down day for Sordo continued, as he finished second on stage 4 before winning stage 5, only to have more issues on stage 6, before retiring the car altogether on stage 7.

Another driver to bow out of proceedings after the seventh stage was Esapekka Lappi, although this was through no fault of his own. The car caught fire just after the end of the stage, and after failed attempts to extinguish the flames, the Finn valiantly drove the car away from any spectators, before fleeing the scene and watching on as his machine became nothing more than an inferno.

After a cancelled stage 8 due to time delays, stage 9 saw yet another World Rally car left at the wayside. Electrical issues saw Neuville grind to a halt, leaving just 6 of the 9 WRC-spec cars running, and more importantly just a single Hyundai in Tanak. Not that this worried Ott, as he won stages 7 and 9, before Ogier was fastest through the two-at-a-time stages 10 and 11, and Kalle Rovanpera took the spoils on 12, the final stage of the day. Going into the weekend, this saw Sebastien Ogier leading the overall times, 13.2 seconds ahead of Teemu Suninen, who was working efficiently under the radar. Elfyn Evans was third, however this was more due to others’ toil than his own pace, and Tanak was fourth, just 2.3s ahead of young Rovanpera.

Onto Saturday, and Ogier picked up where he left off, winning the opening stage from Tanak. Neuville, not enjoying his role as road-sweeper after re-joining the race under restart rules, took a tactical break between stages 13 and 14, ensuring he started the second stage of the day fourth on the road rather than first. Clearly, he much preferred this position, as he duly won stage 14 from his teammate Tanak. Gus Greensmith, who was running in the third M-Sport Ford Fiesta, ran into troubles, however, losing his throttle after a tight hairpin, resulting in a 10-minute stoppage whilst he changed the car’s ECU.

The Hyundai’s spent the majority of the day lamenting their earlier misfortunes, however, as they set about showcasing the speed of their car. Tanak, determined to chase down Suninen’s overall second place, set the pace on stages 15, 17 and 18, whilst teammate Neuville, who had nothing to play for down the order, won stages 16 as well as 19 through 21. In fact, Hyundai took 5 1-2 stage results from 9 Saturday stages. Team boss Andre Adamo must have been thinking “what could’ve been!”

Tanak’s pursuit of Suninen was eventually successful, managing to overhaul the overnight 20 second advantage the Finn had in just 6 stages. Nobody, however, was able to get close to Ogier, who made it six Rally Mexico wins with 4 different manufacturers. A 20 second lead at the start of the day only grew from there, eventually taking the spoils by 27.8 seconds from Estonian Tanak. Teemu Suninen did manage to bring Ford their first podium of the season, whilst Elfyn Evans came home in fourth, followed by Kalle Rovanpera in fifth. Pontus Tidemand, driving in the WRC2 category in a Skoda Fabia, finished an impressive sixth overall, putting him joint 8th in the drivers’ championship despite not piloting the top-class of vehicle!

Speaking of the drivers’ championship, what does it look like? Well, a win here to join a second and a fourth in the previous two rounds means that Ogier takes the lead here, too, with 62 points. He’s 8 points ahead of Evans, who in turn is 12 points ahead of Neuville, who stands on 42. Rovanpera (40) and Tanak (38) are hot on his heels, however.

It seems that this’ll be the standings for a while, too. Rally Argentina, originally scheduled for 23rd-26th April, has been postponed, meaning the next confirmed event is Portugal, between 21st and 24th May, although this could also change, due to the uncertainty caused by that virus…

What are your thoughts, then? Did you catch any of this weekend’s rally, or were you watching the reruns of classic F1 races on Sky? Let me know in the comments!

Race Watch 6

Formula 1: Drive To Survive

Motorsport’s favourite documentary series is back for its second year! After the success of season one, is this the sequel just as good?

SO, WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED AND WHAT DID I THINK OF IT?
MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THESE TOPICS?
LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW AND LET’S GET A DISCUSSION GOING!

Welcome to Race Watch, a supplementary feature running alongside my blog designed for me to project any opinions that may have arisen from the motorsport events I viewed over the previous weekend.

***

I’ll admit it, I binged Netflix this weekend. However, thanks to this blog, I can claim it was productive for once! After all, you’re probably aware that Drive To Survive 2 was released on Friday.

Following on from the success of the first season, which brought us newfound cult heroes (Guenther Steiner), tense inter-team relations (Renault and Red Bull), and precious insight into some of the previously hidden aspects of a Grand Prix weekend (team meetings etc), the second iteration of the series was hotly anticipated by many.

For the second series, Mercedes and Ferrari had joined the fun, meaning all ten teams were set to be featured for the first time. As a result, we had the added storyline of the title fight to count on, mixing in with the established plots of the midfield fight and the struggles of Williams. Naturally, the 2019 F1 season threw up many talking points of its own along the way, with the merciless demotion of Pierre Gasly from Red Bull during the summer break, the intense rivalry between Sebastian Vettel and his new teammate Charles Leclerc, and the mystery that was the (lack of) performance of the Haas. So. How did Netflix do? These are my opinions on what Netflix got right, and what missed the mark in Drive To Survive 2:

Following Haas: Whilst the calamitous nature of the Haas team was a welcome narrative during the first season of DTS, with expletive-laden team principal Steiner becoming one of the most popular members of the paddock as a result, I felt this particular team were given far too much airtime second time around, particularly when considering the lack of screen-time other teams/drivers were given. None of the antics portrayed over the course of the first two episodes (with the team featuring heavily during episode 1 and then becoming the main subject of episode 2) felt fresh, as the constant ranting of the boss and scapegoating of driver Romain Grosjean had all been done in the first season. Last year, the novelty and unexpectedness of the whole situation made the woes of the team entertaining, however knowing what to expect this year meant the whole situation felt like a stale imitation, with precious little new drama (Rich Energy aside). My opinion: about as entertaining as last year’s French GP.

Following Mercedes: Arguably the most anticipated episode of the series was handled perfectly in my eyes. The interviews with Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton really showed their human sides, which most fans don’t see on a day-to-day basis, and the way the production team highlighted just how much the late Niki Lauda had affected the team was awesome. To top it all off, the turmoil of the German GP itself really added to the drama of the whole episode, whilst simultaneously enabling the audience to gain valuable insight into how the strongest team on the grid overcomes its weaknesses. My opinion: Get in there Netflix! Fantastic episode mate.

Following Red Bull: Splitting the most controversial talking point of the season across two episodes was a brilliant idea by the production team behind DTS, as it really gave us a proper, in-depth view at the whole situation surrounding the mid-season Red Bull driver swap. With episode 5 featuring the plight of Pierre Gasly in comparison to teammate Max Verstappen, it was clear to see that a lack of confidence was adversely affecting Gasly’s performance, and a removal from the high-pressure Red Bull team was necessary. Episode 6, on the other hand, was largely positive, depicting Alex Albon’s rise into F1 in spite of his personal circumstances in earlier life. Of course, not all of episode 6 was uplifting, as Spa was the setting for the tragic death of Anthoine Hubert, a driver who seemed destined for the heights of Formula 1, yet was taken from us due to a horrendous incident, of which nobody was to blame. On the whole, though, I felt the Red Bull driver-swap episodes were some of the best in the series. My opinion: Not a dull moment, just like a 5-year-old after a can of Red Bull. Not that I’ve ever given a 5-year-old a can of Red Bull, honest.

Following Hulkenberg and Williams: I’ve decided to group these subplots together as neither situation was comfortable for those involved. The whole Hulkenberg drama was very awkward, particularly with the Hulk-Abiteboul plane debacle showing the clear tensions between characters during a period when they both know what’s going to happen, despite the outcome not being finalised. The Williams situation, however, was bordering on comical. The confidence pre-season that very quickly disappeared was illustrated expertly, whilst the true extent of their issues was truly eye-opening. I feel these two episodes really showed the value that Netflix adds to the F1 story, as the majority of the information within these two episodes was not previously in the public domain. This meant that even the most informed F1 fan gained some valuable new knowledge from the series. My opinion: So good I don’t even have a pun for it…

On the whole, I felt that Netflix did a brilliant job at covering the content they chose. I feel that they certainly missed out on a few opportunities, as more airtime for fan favourites Kimi Raikkonen and Lando Norris may have been welcome, whilst I also think that the Ricciardo vs Sainz battle should’ve been more Renault-Mclaren focused rather than driver-centric. Hats off to the production team, though, for creating another scintillating series surrounding the sport so many of us love.

What are your opinions? How much of the series have you watched so far, and which bit’s been your favourite? Let me know in a comment below!

Race Watch 5

Formula 1 Testing

Formula 1 engines roared into life trackside for the first time this season. With the anticipation rising, what does this year have in store for us?

SO, WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED AND WHAT DID I THINK OF IT?
MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THESE TOPICS?
LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW AND LET’S GET A DISCUSSION GOING!

Welcome to Race Watch, a supplementary feature running alongside my blog designed for me to project any opinions that may have arisen from the motorsport events I viewed over the previous weekend.

***

Last week saw the return of on-track Formula One action. If you knew this, you’ve almost certainly read, listened and/or watched many of the hundreds of pieces of content that already cover every minute detail surrounding what happened over the course of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. If you didn’t know this, you almost certainly don’t care for the sport enough to read through that type of content. Therefore, that’s not what I’m going to write about. #RaceWatch is meant to be my platform to voice opinions (and yours to respond, creating a discussion), so that’s what I’m going to do.

Firstly, Wednesday brought with it the final livery unveilings, with Haas and Alfa Romeo revealing their 2020 designs. What do I think about them then? Here’s my first thoughts on each teams’ livery:

Alfa Romeo Orlen: The general consensus is positive, but I don’t see the fuss. Backwards of the cockpit is pretty much the same as last year (which is still pretty, don’t get me wrong), but the red stripes replacing the blue along the nose lose the welcome contrast, detracting from the overall look. Suits looks smart, with the drivers’ names integrated into the side stripe.

AlphaTauri: With the team being renamed in order to promote the Red Bull fashion brand, I had high hopes for the aesthetics of the team this year. The integration of the AlphaTauri logo onto the rear of the car is seriously bold and, from my perspective, looks magnificent. Maybe even the best on the grid this year? Suits are a clean off-white, and I like the AlphaTauri branding up the side of the right leg.

Aston Martin Red Bull: Car looks identical, suits look identical. Not even a testing livery to give fans just a sliver of excitement is disappointingly monotonous from a brand which is quite literally all about energy.

BWT Racing •: Big fan of the angled BWT logo, it’s bold, distinctive and different. The loss of SportPesa has improved the look of the car, removing the dull purple which never quite fit with the rest of the livery. Suits are certainly bright, I’m undecided on whether I like it or not. The suits do show sweat stains quite easily, however, which is certainly not ideal.

Ferrari: Livery looks much the same as last year, although that’s no bad thing. The black works well with the red, but the font used for the numbers doesn’t look good. Suits added black on the sides, which looks smart.

Haas: Car has pretty much reverted back to the pre-Rich Energy days, which was a safe yet fairly uninspiring look. Duplicate the previous sentence for my opinion on the overalls.

Mclaren: A backwards step from last year. The distinctive triangular transition from the orange front to the blue back has been replaced by unimaginative blocks of blue on the shark fin and the sidepod. On the other hand, the drivers’ overalls have improved, with the stripes of orange across the left leg looking smarter and cleaner than last years’ transition.

Mercedes: The blue Petronas stripe has gone from being a beautiful, blended accent into a stuck-on afterthought; the Ineos red doesn’t suit the livery at all, especially around the air intake behind the driver’s head. Race suits continue their smart, clean look, which I’m a fan of.

Renault: The all-black look makes the nose of the car look a bit strange from some angles. Apparently, there are matte elements in the gloss-black livery, but I’ve not noticed these in pictures. The suits have retained their yellow touches, which perhaps reaffirms the suspicions this is purely a testing livery.

Rokit Williams: Whilst attempting to avoid the clichéd toothpaste comparisons, the Williams manages to both look like a lazy design, yet still better than last year, although that may be testament to how dreadful the 2019 livery was. Overalls do look smart, mind, with the pale blue accents.

What do you think? Let me know below which livery is your favourite.

Moving on to the Barcelona action, then, and it seems like the championship is already over. Mercedes set some blistering times, topping the charts on both day 1 and day 3. This included a flying lap by Bottas that was over a second quicker than anyone else, and would’ve seen him qualify in second at last years’ Spanish Grand Prix. It is really quite incredible how, year after year, Mercedes keep coming out with these new innovations that keep them ahead of the rest of the field. Take the DAS system, for example. A completely unique system that was already banned for 2021, meaning it is only ever useful for a single season at most! There’s just no let-up from the Brackley-based outfit.

The influence of the silver cars can be seen up and down the paddock, and this is most evident from their close factory neighbours in Racing Point. With 2020 being the first season that Lawrence Stroll’s investment can truly take effect, it seems the Racing Point engineers have chosen to spend it on magnifying glasses in order to pore over every detail of last years’ title winner, with the hope that their emulation of the Silver Arrows’ design can replicate the Silver Arrows’ results. Times looked promising, but it is testing, so nobody really knows.

Although the championship may be over before it has started this year, at least everyone started on time this year. After missing two and a half days of testing in 2019, Williams were the first of all on track this week. George Russell summed up the situation perfectly when, during his Wednesday press conference, he stated that testing was going much better than last year, as “last year the car was in pieces”. Whilst the reports that no fundamental changes have been made to the Williams car over the winter are worrying, the expectation that the team can only get closer to the rest of the pack is keeping them united.

Finally, the red team. The general consensus in the paddock is that Ferrari might indeed have gone backwards, dropping them firmly behind Red Bull in the pecking order. Team boss Mattia Binotto has stated that the concepts on the car are “quite extreme”, and it certainly appears different to the majority of its rivals. An example of this is the nosecone, as most of the grid have opted for the slender, curved nose. Ferrari, however, has a very distinct, almost blocky shape to their front, creating a significantly larger frontal area to it in comparison to the other cars. Of course, Ferrari could be sandbagging after all, as not a single lap time counts until we get to Australia.

It may not be long before the pecking order becomes more apparent, as we only have to wait a couple more days until testing resumes. Do you think, then, that Ferrari really are lagging behind their rivals? Whose pace has been surprising to you, quick or slow? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments below!

Race Watch 4

Rally Sweden 2020

We left Monte Carlo with more questions than answers, so heading into Sweden can Neuville make it two from two? Will Evans once more show promise? How will Tanak fare after his crash?

SO, WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED AND WHAT DID I THINK OF IT?
MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THESE TOPICS?
LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW AND LET’S GET A DISCUSSION GOING!

Welcome to Race Watch, a supplementary feature running alongside my blog designed for me to project any opinions that may have arisen from the motorsport events I viewed over the previous weekend.

***

After the hiatus of last week, #RaceWatch returns with round 2 of the World Rally Championship. The setting was Sweden (with a fair amount of help from neighbouring Norway) and the blanket of puffy white snow the drivers would have to dig their studded tyres into.

Or at least that was the plan. Unseasonably warm weather, due to a combination of factors and not just global warming, had seen large portions of the idyllic, snowy conditions fans are accustomed to transformed into gritty, muddy gravel synonymous with Wales rather than Scandinavia.

This posed a rather serious issue for the event organisers, as the regulations surrounding the event stipulated that solely studded tyres were permitted, and these would rip up any roads that weren’t protected by layers of snow or ice. As a result, the rally was cut considerably short, with just nine stages as opposed to the originally planned 18. Of the 9 that went ahead, the two Torsby Sprint stages were just a fraction of their original lengths, and the Likenas stage on Sunday was run only once rather than twice as planned.

This shortened schedule meant the crews had to push at every moment, taking harsher cuts and faster slides through each corner to maximise the time gains. On some of the fastest roads in WRC, the pace was relentless.

That relentless pace was coming from the wheel-tracks of Elfyn Evans. Elfyn continued the promising pace shown at Monte Carlo by topping the times after the first stage, beating reigning world champion Ott Tanak by 1.1s. Finnish teen sensation Kalle Rovanpera was third, a further 0.9s behind, reminding everyone of the undoubted talent he has, and will only continue to portray as he gets more and more familiar with his new machine.

Monte Carlo winner, and therefore championship leader, Thierry Neuville finished sixth, 4.4 seconds back and 1.5s behind the third Toyota of Seb Ogier in fourth.

The struggle of Neuville continued to be a consistent theme during Friday’s running, as the challenge of being first on the road resulted in finishing positions of just 7th, 8th and 7th in the day’s other stages.

Evans and Tanak certainly were not struggling, however, trading stage victories throughout the day’s proceedings. Ott won stage 2 by 0.9s over Evans, cutting the Welshman’s overall lead to just 0.2 seconds, before it was stretched out again by Evans’ second stage win. Tanak’s time loss on the third stage was such that Rovanpera, who seemed to be clearly the next best driver in the field, jumped into second in the overall classification.

This didn’t last long, though. The final stage of the day saw Ott take his second stage of the rally, whilst Rovanpera’s stall in the first corner dropped him back behind the Estonian. By this point, the lead Evans took into the weekend was 8.5 seconds. Comfortable, although certainly not insurmountable.

Comfortable as it may have been, clearly it wasn’t comfortable enough for Elfyn, as he compounded his advantage over the rest of the field in each of the 4 stages on Saturday. His untouchable nature lead to three of the four stage victories, and his lead at the end of the day was more than double the one he started with. 17.2 seconds and just the solitary Power Stage on day 3 ensured that, barring any major mishaps occurring, Evans had one hand on the Rally Sweden trophy.

Behind him, Tanak had a similar buffer to third, but the battle for that final podium place was heating up. Following third-place finishes on the day’s first two stages, Ogier had climbed above his young Toyota teammate, but the advantage flowed back and forth during the remainder of Saturday’s running. Rovanpera was second in stage 7 and regained his podium place, before the six-time world champion snatched it back on the day’s final course. All this meant just half a second separated the two drivers at opposite ends of their careers.

The only competitor other than Evans and his Yaris to win a stage on day 2 was the championship leader, Neuville. Following another disappointing day for the Hyundai racer he finally found some pace on the last stage, eclipsing Ogier’s time by just 0.3s. However, I’m sure this would have been nothing more than a slight consolation for the Belgian, who languished sixth in the overall classification, behind the three Toyota’s, Tanak and the Ford Fiesta of Esapekka Lappi.

The final day saw the solitary completion of the Power Stage, where extra championship points are up for grabs for the fastest 5 finishers. And with a point to prove and a podium place to fight for, it was Rovanpera who took the spoils, completing the course 3.7s quicker than Neuville, who was in desperate need of the bonus points to consolidate his position in the championship. Third was Ogier, fourth was Tanak and Lappi took the one point available for finishing fifth in the stage.

The rally winner completed the stage in the sixth best time. After cruising through the stage, ensuring nothing went wrong, Elfyn Evans completed the rally 12.7s faster than Tanak, claiming just his second WRC win. For his co-driver Scott Martin, it was a maiden victory, and one that surely cements their place in the championship title fight. After their third place in Monte, supplemented by 2 Power Stage points in that rally, the pairing move onto 42 championship points.

They only lead the championship by countback, however. Thierry Neuville’s 4 Power Stage points also moved him onto 42 championship points, but his second-best finish of 6th here is not as good as Evans’ 3rd in Monaco, placing him second in the championship. Ogier and Rovanpera make it three Toyota’s in the top 4, whilst Tanak’s title defence has finally made a start, as he is now fifth after two events. Moving into Mexico next month brings us to what is the first official gravel rally of the season, even if Sweden this weekend was pretty gritty. Mexico last year brought Ogier’s second win from three events, yet he has only been victorious once in 12 since. Can he end his barren run, or can Evans build on a confidence-boosting first two rallies? Maybe Tanak will bring home his first Hyundai win? Let me know your predictions in the comments below!

Race Watch 3

Haas VF-20 Livery Reveal

In the absence of high-profile, four-wheeled motorsport this weekend, #RaceWatch is taking a break.

In the meantime, enjoy some pictures of the first 2020 formula one livery reveal, courtesy of Haas f1
It’s a return to the classic black, white and red for Haas this year…
…leaving behind the black and gold, classic Lotus-esque skin synonymous with the ultimately dramatic Rich Energy sponsorship
#RaceWatch will return next week reviewing a bumper motorsport schedule, featuring both WRC and Formula E, alongside a week of F1 car launches!

Race Watch 2 (Part 2)

Bathurst 12 Hour 2020 (Race)

This week it was the return of the Bathurst 12 Hour, one of my personal favourite events on the whole of the motorsport calendar. The combination of the brilliant production-based GT3 cars, and the legendary Mount Panorama circuit always create a brilliant spectacle.

SO, WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED AND WHAT DID I THINK OF IT?
MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THESE TOPICS?
LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW AND LET’S GET A DISCUSSION GOING!

Welcome to Race Watch, a supplementary feature running alongside my blog designed for me to project any opinions that may have arisen from the motorsport events I viewed over the previous weekend.

***

And so, we progress to Sunday. Race Day. 12 non-stop hours of dazzling headlights, exhilarating exhaust notes and, as expected, spine-chilling shunts.

The cars get underway before the Sun even begins its daily ascent, compounding the difficulty of the hectic race start for the drivers, who have not had the opportunity to acclimatise themselves to night-time running during practice. It was the 999 Mercedes-AMG who combatted this challenge best, storming up the inside of both the Porsche 911 (brilliantly also carrying the race number of 911) and the No. 60 Mclaren 720s to emerge from the first corner in the lead after starting third.

Early on the Porsche struggled for pace, whilst No. 60, piloted by British racer Ben Barnicoat, was flying. A magnificent move at the end of Conrod Straight outwitted the 999 AMG, enabling the 720s to lead the first Bathurst 12 Hour it had entered. The move itself was stunning, a dummy to the outside followed by a quick cut-back to the inside of The Chase was executed with such precision it seemed as though the front bumper of the Mclaren actually brushed against the rear of the Merc, yet there was not a mark on either vehicle.

Simultaneously, the No.8 Bentley, who had not qualified due to its brake failure during Saturday practice, was carving its way through the field. Having started in 34th (and last), driver Seb Morris had managed to move his way into 12th at the end of the second hour.

They were certainly aided by early safety car stoppages, the first resulting from the No. 188 Aston Martin. Coming through Skyline at the peak of the mountain, the rear of the car squirmed under braking, meaning driver Come Ledogar was unable to make it through The Esses, and the car was collected by a wall. A good piece of reactive driving from the sister Garage 59 machine avoided collateral damage, which could have been a horrendous end to the team’s weekend.

Safety car number 2 was deployed at the expense of the No. 6 Lamborghini. A magnificent concentric-circle livery on the Italian vehicle was unable to save driver Julian Westwood from running out of talent, as he hit the left-hand wall on the approach to The Dipper. This caused significant damage to the car’s left-hand side, ending the team’s hopes of a win.

The third deployment of the Mercedes-AMG E63 safety car occurred in the third hour of the race. The No. 22 Valvoline Audi – one of a trio of nearly identical R8’s – came to rest in the infamous McPhillamy gravel-trap, where the majority of the mistakes in qualifying occurred. On this occasion local driver Garth Tander lost the rear-end whilst attempting to pass another of the Valvoline machines, causing him to sustain quite a hard impact into the tyre barrier.

In the midst of these crashes, the No. 60 Mclaren had regained control of the race at the 4-hour mark. They were immediately followed, however, by the No. 7 Bentley. The M-Sport car run by Frenchman Jules Gounon, South African Jordan Pepper and Belgian Maxime Soulet had been making quiet inroads on their competitors. Having started the race in 11th they first inherited the lead of the race around 100-laps into proceedings, and had cemented their front-running status after 150 laps, leading from the 77 AMG and the 60 Mclaren halfway through the race.

It was also around the 150-lap mark when the race’s recurring theme (other than safety cars) began to rear its head. That theme was punctures. The No. 911 Porsche 911 was the first car bitten, as it had a puncture right at the top of the mountain, meaning the team fell off the lead lap due to the time lost in returning to the pits.

This was soon followed by an identical puncture for the No. 222 Audi. Admittedly this one was expected, as damage to the bodywork had been rubbing against the tyre for a number of laps, yet the team elected not to pit whilst the car was still setting competitive lap times. This did, however, effectively end the race for the Audi team as a whole, after the 2 car had crashed and the 22 suffered from mechanical issues. In short, it was a weekend to forget for the Valvoline team, with pretty much every possible problem occurring at one point or another.

As the race wore on, the cars wore down. The No. 63 Lamborghini, having been running fifth overall, suffered a mechanical issue down the long mountain straight, and driver Dennis Lind had no choice but to abandon the car at the side of the road, leading to, that’s right, a safety car! In all fairness the 4 hours and 10 minutes between safety car periods stood as a new record for the Bathurst 12 Hour race, and significantly closed up the field, ensuring that the eight remaining cars within a lap of the lead were all in contention.

As the racers entered the ninth hour of the twelve, the astounding comeback drive for the No. 8 Bentley came to an end. Having driven valiantly to consolidate a top-10 position, the rear-left tyre gave way as Oliver Jarvis navigated his way through the dipper. Stranded and facing the wrong way on the track, the safety car had to be deployed to enable the recovery truck to assist the broken Bentley, ending the possibility of what would have been a remarkable last-to-first win.

As tiredness kicked in, mistakes began to occur. Mclaren, Mercedes and Porsche all fell victim to penalties for pit stop infractions, and yet more tyres blew. The No. 7 Bentley spectacularly lost a tyre coming down Conrod straight, having been on course for the fastest lap of the race. Luckily, due to how close the car was to the pit lane and the scheduled stop only being a couple of laps later, the car only lost a few seconds of time. This puncture was quickly followed by similar incidents to the 77 and 999 Mercedes’, taking the race total to six isolated incidents.

It was this puncture that ultimately led to the 999 car losing second place, as a 30 second penalty awarded after the race for not switching the engine off during the stop. This penalty threat did not, however, hinder young Italian Raffaele Marciello from making a boisterous pass on the No. 60 Mclaren at the final corner of the penultimate lap for second on the road, yet it was in vain, as they were reclassified sixth at the flag.

As the time elapsed, though, there was a clear winner. With the winning margin being over 40 seconds, the No. 8 Bentley cruised home at the hands of Jules Gounon. Having previously competed in every round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge since the competition’s inception in 2016 to no avail, it was finally the Bentley Boys’ time to shine, breaking Bathurst records in the process after beating the distance travelled record, with a staggering 314 laps, and becoming the first car from outside the top seven to win the event, having started 11th.

Second was the No. 60 Mclaren 720s GT3 in its Bathurst debut, and the 888 Mercedes-AMG GT3 rounded off the podium. Audi’s torrid day did at least have a small silver-lining, as Kelvin Van Der Linde managed the fastest lap of the race in the No. 222 R8 LMS.

One of the many reasons why I love the GT3 class is due to the variety. This weekend saw GT3 machinery from 10 different manufacturers, and with 8 of those manufacturers occupying space within the top 11 after qualifying, it really shows how competitive the series is. What are your thoughts? Did you watch the race? Who were you rooting for? Let me know in the comments!

Race Watch 2 (Part 1)

Bathurst 12 Hour 2020 (Qualifying)

This week it was the return of the Bathurst 12 Hour, one of my personal favourite events on the whole of the motorsport calendar. The combination of the brilliant production-based GT3 cars, and the legendary Mount Panorama circuit always create a brilliant spectacle.

SO, WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED AND WHAT DID I THINK OF IT?
MORE IMPORTANTLY, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THESE TOPICS?
LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW AND LET’S GET A DISCUSSION GOING!

Welcome to Race Watch, a supplementary feature running alongside my blog designed for me to project any opinions that may have arisen from the motorsport events I viewed over the previous weekend.

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This weekend my motorsport event of choice was the Bathurst 12 Hours, the first round of the 2020 Intercontinental GT series. Unlike last week, where rallying was a fairly new-found motorsport love of mine, I have been watching and loving the Bathurst 12hr for the last 3 years or so.

What initially drew me into the event was a number of unique characteristics of the event that were fairly novel to me, for example the top 10 shootout during qualifying, and the start in the darkness despite no night-time practice, and therefore the racing through the sunrise made for a great spectacle.

This year, the event could have been summarised by two events. Red flags and punctures.

For Mount Panorama, red flags are certainly no rarity. Given the tight, twisty nature of the challenging mountain section, almost any wreckage that occurs during practice or qualifying makes the red flag a necessity. The sheer number of crashes that occurred before race day had even begun, however, was bordering on the ridiculous. One of the KCMG Nissan GT-R’s had to withdraw from the race after a shunt during Friday practice, whilst on Saturday the No. 8 Bentley had brake failure at the the fastest section of the track, The Chase. This prompted a full rebuild for the M-Sport team, who had to miss qualifying and begin the race from the pitlane. Saturday practice also marked the end of the weekend for the No. 27 Ferrari, after losing the rear of the car at McPhillamy Park, a fast, downhill left-hander with a blind turn-in.

During qualifying itself, there were no less than 4 red flag periods. First of all was the No. 2 Audi R8. The Audi had a very similar accident to the Ferrari, losing the back-end on turn-in to McPhillamy, before skipping across the gravel and into the tyre barrier. The Audi was lucky, however, as the angle of the car’s impact with the tyres meant considerably less damage was caused in comparison to the Italian car, and so the team were able to repair the vehicle in time for the race.

The No. 2 wasn’t even the first car to have a moment at that particular corner in qualifying, and it certainly wasn’t the last. The first off during qualifying was actually another of the 3 Valvoline-sponsored Audi’s, No. 22. Pilot Christopher Mies was much more fortunate than his teammate though, as he was able to just drift through the gravel and back onto the circuit. There were more to come, however, that weren’t so fortunate.

The second red flag of the session was caused by an unusual incident. One of the invitational-class Marc cars had a big moment just before the Skyline turn (just after McPhillamy), losing wheels and almost bouncing up and over the concrete barrier. As a result, the 777 Mercedes-AMG braked before the corner, exercising caution, yet the Lamborghini behind 777 was following too closely to react to the AMG’s brakes, and could only tap the Merc into the barrier at the side of the circuit.

Into the second part of qualifying, and the session that mattered for the GT3 machines. Marvin Kirchhofer, in the 62 Aston Martin, was pushing hard. A little too hard, as it turned out, as he ran wide going into The Grate (just before McPhillamy), tapping the barrier on the outside. This caused the driver to lose control, and the car oversteered into the outer barrier on the exit of the corner, where it slid for a while before flipping. It was a nasty hit, as Kirchhofer would have been flat out on the accelerator, with the car going at a fair few clicks. This particular accident spelt the end of the weekend for the 62 Aston team, with chassis damage too extensive to repair.

The final red flag in qualifying involved another Lamborghini, and once again occurred at McPhillamy’s. On this occasion, it was the No. 29 Huracan, losing the rear end much like the Ferrari and the R8 had before it. Instead of coming to rest in the tyre barrier, though, this Lambo decided to hop it, landing on the grass verge above it.

Throughout all the crashes, an actual qualifying session took place, and after the conclusion of the Top 10 Shootout, it was a Porsche 911, driven by last year’s winner Matt Campbell, at the top of the timing sheet for the first time in a Bathurst 12 Hour qualifying. Other notable performances included Alvaro Parente guiding his Mclaren 720s GT3 to second on the grid during the car’s maiden Bathurst outing, and Jake Dennis wrestling his Aston Martin Vantage GT3 into the top 10, despite the car not seeming to quite be on the pace all weekend.

In my opinion, though, the single best outcome from qualifying was the sheer evenness across the manufacturers. At the end of qualifying the top 11 spots on the grid were occupied by 8 different car-makers. To me, that shows just how well the GT3 regulations have been written, enabling the FIA to create the healthiest, most competitive field across motorsport. The Balance of Performance regulations have their opposers, but to me they were absolutely nailed this weekend.

What are your opinions. Are you a fan of BoP or are you against a ‘gimmick’ that unnaturally levels the playing-field? Let me know in the comments below!

So much happened at Bathurst that this article is already as long as last week’s Rally Monte Carlo edition, and I don’t want to bore you all! As a result I’m going to end this one here, and my review of the race itself will be out tomorrow, at the same time as usual!