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.

***

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!

Race Watch 1

Rallye Monte Carlo 2020

It’s finally the start of the motorsport season. With the Santiago Formula E race last weekend, this weekend followed up with the annual WRC curtain-raiser that is Rallye Monte Carlo. Simultaneously, the Daytona 24 took place in the States in the wake of IMSA and WEC announcing the alignment of their regulations, meaning that the same car will be able to compete in both categories.

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!

My personal choice of motorsport viewing this week was the curtain raiser of the WRC season at Rallye Monte Carlo. Admittedly, I hadn’t been a huge fan of rallying until I decided to watch last year’s Wales Rally GB event due to the fact a pair of Solbergs, drivers I am a big fan of due to Snr’s World Rallycross endeavours and Jnr’s blistering pace at such a young age, were competing. Instantly I fell in love. The skill shown by the drivers, threading lumps of metal at 100 miles an hour though the middle of a wood was enthralling. I loved the fact the cars were so clearly on edge, pitching and rolling at every driver input. I had to watch more.

Fast forward to Monte, and it was much change in this year’s WRC field. If you also stay up to date with WRC news, you’ll know that over the off-season reigning champion Ott Tanak moved from Toyota to the Team’s Champions, Hyundai. To replace him the Japanese team, run by rally legend Tommi Makinen, signed 6-time Driver’s Championship winner Sebastian Ogier, and bolstered their attack with Welshman Elfyn Evans.

At the end of the first two stages on Thursday Thierry Neuville, who is Tanak’s teammate and has been with the Hyundai team since 2014, took first blood. With the advantage of being familiar with his machinery, unlike the majority of the drivers, he set a blistering pace on SS2. Stopping the clock over 25 seconds sooner than Ogier, the Belgian took a nearly 20 second overall lead into the first full day of the rally.

Friday was Toyota’s day. Evans was in the overall lead for most of the day after winning the first three stages of the day, before teammate Ogier took control, posting fastest times through the next two stages and wrestling back the overall lead at the end of the day. The main talking point of the day, however, came from Tanak. Losing control of his car after taking what turned out to be an optimistic cut in a high-speed chicane, a spectacular wreck occurred. Thankfully both he and his co-driver Martin Jarveoja emerged unscathed, as footage of the rolling, bouncing tumble down the alpine mountain was frightening to watch, let alone experience!

This event leads me onto my first discussion point: Do you think Tanak’s championship defence is already over? After not scoring any points he’ll certainly be playing catch-up for the foreseeable future, and considering the fine margins between the front three this weekend, it might be a tough ask to close that gap. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below!

Once again, on the Saturday, the top three drivers were locked in battle. The overall lead hopped from Ogier to Evans and back again at each interval, whilst Neuville ended the day exactly where he started, 6.4 seconds back, despite winning 3 of the 4 stages.

On Sunday, however, Neuville was a class above. He monopolised the top spot in the stage classifications, taking his tally to nine wins on the 16 raced (including eight of the last nine!), and deservedly took home the trophy at the end of the day. Now, considering that in the last 15 years, two-thirds of Rallye Monte Carlo winners have gone on to win the title, could this finally be Thierry Neuville’s year? Having finished second in each of the last four campaigns, can he finally close in on that elusive championship? Thoughts in a comment below, please.

Other notable talking points I wish to raise from the rally are as follows: M-Sport’s chances this year, Rovanpera’s top-category debut and, lurking further back in the field, Oliver Solberg’s Monte debut.

Firstly, M-Sport. Their season didn’t exactly start with a bang, in fact a hiss is probably more fitting considering the boiling of their water on Thursday night. Leaves covering their air intakes left them a bit hot and bothered, hampering their pace from the outset. More mechanical issues followed for Teemu Suninen, whilst Gus Greensmith took part in one of the slowest crashes of all time, ending in a ditch attempting to recover from a spin. There were certainly some encouraging signs for the team with third place finishes in stages 15 and 16 for Esapekka Lappi and Suninen respectively, but it does seem like this year may be another at the foot of the manufacturer’s table. Personally, with only three different cars running this year I hope to see them improve, and quickly too, but I just don’t see it happening.

Kalle Rovanpera, in the third factory Toyota, looked impressive in his first outing in the premier category of rallying. Whilst (expectedly) not on the pace of his experienced teammates, he showed glimpses of what he will be capable of when he’s adapted to the machinery. His SS7 time was particularly of note, finishing just 6.7 seconds slower than the fastest time. At just 19 years old, it’s scary to think how good he’ll be in years to come.

Speaking of years to come, the aforementioned Solberg Jnr was behind the wheel in his R5 VW Polo this weekend. He drove impressively too. His times on stages 11 and 12 were both 4th best in the R5 category, and had he not suffered suspension damage on SS10 he would have been knocking on the door of the top 15 overall. Having shown promising pace in the American Rally Championship last year along with one-off outings at Wales Rally GB last year and now here, I am very excited to see him commit to a proper WRC campaign in the next year or so, as I think he’ll smash it!

In conclusion, I’d love to read your comments and start a discussion on the weekend’s rally action, particularly: Is Tanak’s title defence over already? Can Neuville finally secure his championship? Can M-Sport close the gap, and how long do you think it will be before we see a Rovanpera vs Solberg title fight?