The March Review.
By Charles Oladeji.
Formula One, Nascar, IndyCar, American Le Mans Series,
March proved to be the month in which many European based motorsports enthusiasts and commentators gasping and salivating at the prospects of high octane racing would get tangled up in the highs and lows of cutting edge motor racing, as the Formula One season began 12-14 March in Bahrain. There’s hardly any point in further boring you with the many various dimensions that have been over-analysed to exhaustion regarding the new team set up of Ferrari, Mercedes, and McLaren; however what took many aback at Bahrain was Red Bull and Sebastian Vettels’ ability to qualify at a speed that even alarmed maestro Michael Schumacher.
Thus, the 2010 Formula One season began under new rules banning refuelling during races, contributing to much heavier cars gracing the arid difficult track at Sakhir. The combination of heavy cars and high desert temperatures made for a tentative race in order to ensure reduced tyre degradation. There was no overtaking or dogfight. The more experienced outfits adjusted strategies accordingly, while the new teams found the combination a bit too demanding and came up short.
The Lotus Teams’ high profile Principal Tony Fernandes hailed the Lotus T127’s participation at Bahrain with pilots Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen a success by way of simply finishing the race, while others (Hispania and Virgin Racing in particular) failed to make any impact. Hispania Racings’ Driver Karun Chandhok seemed perpetually frustrated at his lack of practice time in the car due to mechanically adjustments that needed to be made. On race day he completed two laps after a very long gruelling weekend.
At the other spectrum, despite allusions to Christain Horners’ Red Bull Team being a game changer with Sebastian Vettels’ phenomenal qualifying speed, the race proved too much for the premier Red Bull car and Vettel was forced to fall back from pole to forth as the race progressed. Fernando Alonso followed by Philippe Massa (Ferrari) and Lewis Hamilton (Mclaren) passed Vettel accordingly. The reason why Vettel had to fall back has been subject to various rumours and technical theories.
Alonso won his first race for Ferrari in Bahrain to much singular applause from Ferrari fans. By the race’s end one fact remained amongst those afore mentioned gasping and salivating enthusiast and commentators, the Bahrain race had failed to quench their thirst or satisfy their hunger.
It seemed like everyone and Lewis Hamilton’s momma, claimed that the Bahrain race had been boring. The only dissenting opinions were expressed by the Bahrain race victor and the German Maestro, who said “if you think Formula One is boring, watch something else”. Former Mclaren Driver and current BBC Formula One Pundit David Coulthard held everyone’s favourite scapegoat former FiA President Max Mosley culpable for leaving a legacy of soporific Formula One racing. But, that was about to change in Australia.
The Australian GP 26-28 March, and things couldn’t have been more different to Bahrain. However, like last year, Lewis Hamilton was caught in much published controversy off the track, for a tire burn out in his private C 63 AMG £90,000 Mercedes at a public road junction. Apparently if you do that in Australia, you get your car impounded under Aussie Anti-Hoon Laws.
The one constant was Vettel again blowing away the competition in qualifying, then falling short during the actual race. On this occasion the Red Bull Car blowing out on the 27th lap, handing the lead to Jenson Button in the No 1 McLaren. The Australian GP was won by Jenson Button due to a good, (albeit lucky) call (made by Button) to change to slick tires earlier than others. The race was phenomenal with both Brits at the front and centre of the action. With Australia delivering a universally acknowledge epic race as opposed to soporific, will David Coulthard attribute one of the best races in recent history to Mosley’s legacy as well?
The award for race intensity definitely goes to Lewis who had the drive of his life wrecked by a bad strategy call, and Mark Webber. The C63 AMG Lewis broke Aussie law in has been in demand by buyers with numerous offers. With all the drama around Lewis over the past two years in Australia I won’t be surprise if he eventually manages to put together an Aussie anti-hero cult following, similar to NASCAR’s Brad Keselowski in the U.S.
Over in the US the world of NASCAR was set alight by Carl Edwards exacting revenge on Brad Keselowski during the Kobalt Tools 500 in Atlanta (7 March). To expressed horror of NASCAR Officials, with just 4 laps remaining of the 341, Edwards pursued Keselowski in the number 12 car, tapped him in the right spot and sent him airborne close to a fans stand. The fallout and punitive action taken against Edwards was a 3 race probation and no fine. Hardly a case of the punishment fitting the crime, but I suppose Keselowski’s history of ‘breaking bad’ including Denny Hemlin’s highly published retaliation against him at the back end of the Nationwide NASCAR Series last year was taken into consideration. The Edwards-Keselowski drama overshadowed the Atlanta race ultimately won by Kurt Busch who is a Keselowski team mate at Penske Racing.
Two weeks later Jimmie Johnson was back in the news winning The Food City 500 in Bristol. This victory marked a personal breakthrough for the Hendricks Motorsport and 2009 Cup Champion, as Bristol was one of only six circuits Johnson has not won after numerous attempts. The Goody Fast Pain Relief (29 March) was pushed back from the 28th (Sunday) due to rain. The race was subsequently won by Denny Hemlin. Jimmie Johnson is at the forefront of the Cup race with 898 points with the next race at Phoenix Arizona scheduled for 10 April.
Rain also affected the second scheduled race of the 2010 Izod IndyCar season at one of my favourite street circuits, St Petersburg, Florida. The race got pushed back to 29th from the 28th March. Will Power won the ST Pete Honda GP race on Monday, to build on his March 14 return to IndyCar at the inaugural Sao Paulo Indy 300 season opener.
Will power returns to racing with Penske after breaking his back in four places in 2009 and seems to go from strength to strength, while last year’s Champion Dario Franchitti seems to be struggling in the early stages of the season. The Sao Paolo season opener which coincided with the Bahrain F1 race was hailed as a success by organisers despite having to make overnight repair work to the street track following vociferous complaints from Drivers. The event attracted approximately 46,000 spectators in Sao Paolo surpassing the 40,000 that had been expected. Will Power leads with 103 points going into the Indy GP of Alabama April 11. March was essentially a Danica Patrick free month but if you’re interested she’s in 10th with 41 points.
Lastly, there’s the great road racers of the ALMS (American Le Mans Series) season opener with the 58th Annual Mobil 1 (Fresh from Florida) 12 Hours of Sebring presented by Tequila Patron (17-20 March).
With 17 turns, high speeds, and Thirty five aesthetically pleasing cars, there is no denying that the ALMS is nothing short of spectacular to the average motorsports fan. The 12 Hours of Sebring is essentially venerated as part of the tradition of American road racing and it golden era of Can Am, Trans Am, GTP Racing and Mark Donohue. Indeed, I own an episode of the Surf Side 6 series called Spinout at Sebring first aired in May 1961 because it features a Sebring endurance racing. However, at Sebring in 2010, the 12 hour race outcome was somewhat predetermined by the Audi R15 Plus not taking part, hence leaving the field wide open for the Peugeot 908 HDI’s in the LMP 1 class.
By the ninth hour Peugeot supremacy in LMP1 had been established. Alexander Wurz and Marc Gene outclassed all the other competition including Drayson Racing who came in 12th overall and 4th in the LMP1 class. Dyson Racing and Mazda in LMP2 added to the plethora of alternative fuels in the ALMS by using IMSA approved Isobutanol (iBE20). Other alternative fuels currently being used in the ALMS include E10, E85 and hybrid electric powered cars. Mazda’s adoption of yet another fuel alternative is understandable, I have written in the past of Mazda’s efforts in road racing as a pillar of motorsport.
The FiA may have launched a GT1 series in Paris on last day of February this year but the Automobile Club de L’Quest (ACO) has seen the GT1 class fizzle out. With the absence of a GT1 category in ALMS, a lot was expected of the GT2 class this year. Furthermore, a lot was expected of seven time GT1 Sebring winner ‘Corvette Racing’ by Corvette fans in the GT2 class. What wasn’t expected was the spectacle of two Corvettes colliding together in the pits. Watching the collision again on video, it’s a small miracle no one was seriously injured. The collision ruined Corvette Racings chances of an eighth win at Sebring, allowing Houston based Risi Competizione’s Ferrari F430 GTC to win the class and came in 6th overall.
The ALMS moves on to Long Beach on April 17 and MotoGP kicks off April 10 in Qatar, watch out for the April Review.