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MOTORSPORT 2010: The year of Webber and Courtney

words - Geoffrey Harris
Lots of stars but not many truly great race cars - that's the story of 2010, according to motorsport correspondent Geoffrey Harris

Racing in Review

2010 will forever be remembered as the year of Mark Webber's big tilt at the Formula One world title. It also was the year Webber had an absolutely super car -- Red Bull's RB6, created by the genius Adrian Newey, and in which Webber's teammate Sebastian Vettel was to become F1's youngest world champion.

At home it was the year that James Courtney fulfilled his potential, becoming the V8 Supercar champion in a team (Dick Johnson/Jim Beam Racing) wracked by ownership tensions, then walked away from his Ford Falcon at season end to race for Toll Holden Racing Team in 2011.

It was amazing enough that the championship had been won in a Ford, especially after Triple Eight Race Engineering/Team Vodafone's switch to Holdens, in which Jamie Whincup, champion the previous two seasons, remained the pacesetter, scored the most victories (nine to Courtney's five) yet missed out on a title hat-trick after several uncharacteristic blunders by his crew.

Although Holden wiped the floor on all other counts (including Craig Lowndes and Mark Skaife winning the Bathurst 1000 and Phillip Island 500, and Lowndes the Australasian Safari in a Holden Colorado in his off-road racing debut), there was some egg on the Red faces after the General's motorsport manager Simon McNamara's pre-season boast that Ford wouldn't win a race.

Meanwhile though Triple Eight was embarrassed at the slip-ups that cost Whincup the title, it still had the distinction of having built Courtney's Falcon.

There was much more to celebrate in 2010 too -- far and wide.

Scott Pye, a 20-year-old from Mt Gambier, won the British Formula Ford Championship, which has been the springboard of many great careers -- and which had not been won by an Australian since Courtney 10 years earlier. From 25 races Pye notched 17 pole positions, 18 podiums and 12 wins -- and now looks set to advance to the British Formula Three Championship that fellow Aussie Daniel Ricciardo won in 2009.

Ricciardo came within two points of winning the World Series by Renault, which would have been his third European title in three years. But it was in topping -- indeed blitzing -- the post F1-season test for youngsters on the cusp of GP racing in Abu Dhabi, a year after he'd done the same at Jerez in Spain, that the 21-year-old Perth star staked his claim to join Webber on the F1 grid next year.

Having been the reserve driver for Red Bull Racing, Ricciardo will now get track time at GPs next season, driving in the Friday practice sessions for Red Bull's smaller Toro Rosso team.

If Toro Rosso's race drivers, Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari, don't meet Red Bull's demanding standards there are indications Ricciardo could be a fully-fledged GP driver by mid-season.

In America, Will Power rebounded from a broken back in 2009 to win five IndyCar races in his first full season for Roger Penske's team, only to have the title grabbed from him by Chip Ganassi's Dario Franchitti at the final race. Further improvement on the oval tracks next season could make Toowoomba flyer Power an even stronger contender in 2011.

Little-known Daniel Erickson, from Camden in Sydney, near the old Oran Park circuit, scored three victories in the American Formula 2000 Championship, finishing third in the series despite missing two of the seven rounds.

On the national scene, V8 Supercars saw a couple of new race winners: Paul Dumbrell at Melbourne's Sandown and Jonathon Webb at Sydney's Homebush, both in Falcons; while Lee Holdsworth was back in the winner's circle in the season finale at Homebush.

In our openwheeler scene, a record 14 wins took Chaz Mostert from Brisbane to the Australian Formula Ford Championship.

Another Aussie for whom the openwheeler flame still burns bright is Queenslander John Martin, who chalked up six wins in the Superleague Formula, the rather mysterious international series that harbours dreams of an Australian round in the near future.

The big disappointment overseas was Marcos Ambrose, in his fifth year in America's NASCAR, going backwards -- dropping from 18th in his first full season in the Sprint Cup in 2009 to 26th, collecting the dubious 'honour' of having the most crashes for the season. Ambrose also squandering a likely breakthrough victory at Sonoma in California when he stalled his Toyota while cruising under caution.

For 2011, dual V8 Supercar champion Ambrose will revert to a Ford run by Richard Petty Motorsports, the team recently reclaimed by NASCAR's 200-time race-winning 'King' after it almost collapsed under the weight of former controlling shareholder George Gillett's mountain of debt.

While the above is this author's overview of the year in motor racing, editor-in-chief Mike Sinclair has again prescribed that I make judgments under several headings, so here goes.


The four best race cars of 2010
To me, there was only one standout -- Red Bull's RB6. Its Renault engine had less horsepower than Ferrari, McLaren's Mercedes or even the Cosworths of Williams and the three new teams that failed to score a world championship points between them and labelled "cripples" by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

What made the RB6 so good was its aerodynamics (the forte of design chief Adrian Newey) and the drivability of that Renault engine. Indeed, the RB6's superb aerodynamics ensured its clear superiority over Renault's own car with the same engine.

None of the modern F1 cars are as enchanting as the creations of the likes of Colin Chapman of the Lotus legend or Derek Gardner of the early Tyrrells, but with 15 pole positions, nine wins and 11 other podiums the RB6 has left its mark as one of the great machines in F1 history.

The Audi R15 Plus and Peugeot 908 were 5.5-litre diesel sportscars at the end of a development cycle but in this author's view were the next best race cars of year.

The 908 HDi beat Audi everywhere they raced except when and where it mattered most -- at the Le Mans 24-hour in France.

While Peugeot set a phenomenal pace at that classic, it suffered three embarrassing engine failures and Audi proved yet again the adage that to finish first, first you must finish. The VW-owned marque's R15s filled the Le Mans podium.

It was a crowning glory for the German manufacturer over its French rival.

It's difficult to nominate a fourth outstanding car of the motor racing year, certainly an all-new race car.

However, a case perhaps could be made for the Chevrolet Cruze that won the World Touring Car Championship, driven by Yvan Muller. It was the first title for Chevrolet and General Motors in a Federation Internationale de l'Autmobile (FIA)-sanction world championship, defeating SEAT and BMW -- with the latter now to concentrate on the DTM, the German Touring Car Championship.

The Cruzes, prepared by Britain's Ray Mallock, were on the podium at 21 of 22 races.

Chevrolet's European motorsport manager Eric Neve recalled that when the Cruze made its racing debut at Monza in Italy in 2005: "our cars finished in positions 21, 22 and 23 -- 3.5 seconds from the pole".

"That shows the long way we've come since then. At the end of that first weekend the list of points to work on included no less than 160 items. I guess we've now gone through all of them," Neve said.

Citroen's C4 won 10 of the 13 rounds of the World Rally Championship, although the skills of Sebastien Loeb may have been the biggest factor in that -- he took another eight wins and a seventh title.

Some may advocate for Triple Eight's first Holden Commodore, in which Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes won 12 of 26 races. However, I think not. As touring cars become more generic -- and will be even more so under the Car of the Future rules -- it is hard to consider any V8 Supercar great.

Well built yes. Great no.

And ditto for NASCAR's Sprint Cup cars.

A project deserving of special mention under this heading was the Delta Wing, a car not even raced and rejected as the IndyCar of the future. It was bold and exciting and hopefully it can still become something more than a concept.


Best race team of 2010
It was a year in which teams might be remembered more for what went wrong than right: Red Bull for Vettel and Webber colliding in the Turkish GP and all its other bickering; Team Vodafone for the glitches that cost Whincup; DJR for its poisonous ownership wrangle, even though Courtney triumphed in the end.

Like Team Vodafone, Hendrick Motorsports made a few blunders in NASCAR yet still got Jimmie Johnson to a fifth straight Sprint Cup crown. It probably wouldn't put itself on the highest pedestal this year, but that achievement was awesome -- and against other great teams like Richard Childress Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Fenwick Roush Racing.

For me, Hendrick is top of the pile.


Surprise of the Year
After the rough ride we Australians have had following Mark Webber's F1 career, it was sheer delight and shock to see him claim two of the 'grand slam' GPs -- Monaco and the British -- among his four victories in 2010. The others were the Spanish and Hungarian races.

Webber's emphatic pole position and lights-to-flag win on the famed streets of Monaco was the high point. It was superb driving in a super car, capped by superb celebrations.

And just a couple of hours earlier, Daniel Ricciardo did the same in the World Series by Renault race.

While Webber's enormous success at the circuit that is F1's crown jewel was such a pleasant surprise, also surprising at the end of the season was that he did not win any of the last six GPs. It has come to light that he had a shoulder injury in the final four races, although he does not offer that as any excuse.

Particularly surprising was the gap between Vettel and Webber at the Abu Dhabi finale, but our man lives to fight another year, or two -- and hopefully continue to surprise us.

An honourable mention under this heading must go to the international drivers at the Gold Coast carnival. Rather than create mayhem in V8 Supercars unfamiliar with, they were a breath of fresh air.

And, while Webber's Monaco and Silverstone F1 victories were the most prestigious victories of the year, the Sunday V8 Supercar race at the Gold Coast takes the prize for sheer thrilling racing (especially between Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen) and excitement


Disappointment of the Year
Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher's comeback to F1, Marcos Ambrose's slide in NASCAR and Will Davison's decline in the V8 Supercar Championship.

Most disappointing with Schumacher was not his lack of results, or that he was consistently outpaced by Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, but that he chose to return at all. He didn't need to detract from his record and reputation.

Now that he is back and staying on it's best that he produce a lot more in 2011 -- and the introduction of Pirelli tyres in place of Bridgestones may level the playing field and allow him to shine again.

Fingers crossed that Ambrose's move to Richard Petty Motorsports will flick his American career into forward gear again -- and likewise Davison's switch from HRT to Ford Performance Racing.


Motorsport Man of the Year
He's maligned, in Australia particularly, because he's our man Webber's biggest rival, but Sebastian Vettel is my Man of the Year.

The only challenger -- and a most worthy contender -- could be Jimmie Johnson, whose five Sprint Cup titles are only two less than legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Senior. And Johnson has won his consecutively. Neither Petty nor Earnhardt won more than two straight.

Vettel became the youngest F1 champion at 23 years and 133 days. He now has 10 GP wins, including five this year -- and 10 poles this season. He rose to the occasion at the Abu Dhabi climax. Pole position and an all-the-way win.

While it was a thrilling F1 season (arguably the best in history) with five drivers in the title hunt most of the year and four still at the end, now that we've had a few weeks to reflect it must be said that Vettel should have won it by much more than the eventual four points over Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.

Gone at the end of the season was the impetuosity still so evident for much of it. Vettel won three of the last four GPs -- and was leading the other, in Korea, until his engine blew.

He's a brilliant young talent with still so much more to come. Perhaps more so than Alonso or Lewis Hamilton, Vettel will be the one whose name in future years will be mentioned in the same breath as Senna, Schumacher and Prost.

While my instinct is that the Man of the Year should be a driver, a case could be made for Red Bull technical director Adrian Newey, although the knighthood Webber suggests for him may be his reward -- on top of his massive salary.

And, in America, team owner Chip Ganassi won the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Championship with Dario Franchitti and the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 NASCAR races with Jamie McMurray. That made Ganassi the first man to win the Daytona and two Indy classics -- and in the one season.

He also won the GrandAm Rolex Sports Car Series with Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas and, in all, 19 races in three series.


Woman of the Year
Wish it wasn't, but it's a thin field... But my winner is certainly not the greatly over-hyped American Danica Patrick, who is going nowhere on the tracks (in Indy or NASCAR) and who Bernie Ecclestone, in a senior moment, suggested again that F1 needed.

A quiet achiever has been young Australian rally driver Molly Taylor, daughter of Coral -- long-time co-driver to multiple Australian rally champion Neal Bates.

Taylor Junior was the year's British Ladies Rally Champion and finished third in the Citroen Racing Trophy. She was also one of six drivers selected (another was fellow Aussie Brendan Reeves) for the World Rally Championship's new junior academy and will compete at six WRC rounds in 2011.

She's my motorsport Woman of the Year -- certainly a genuine rising star from the female ranks.

Another woman deserving of special kudos is Sue Evans, who is retiring as a four-time Australian Rally Championship-winning co-driver to her husband, Simon.

Together they have won ARC titles in Toyota Corollas, a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX and this year a Subaru Impreza WRX STi.


Gripe of 2010
The propaganda from the V8 Supercar Championship organisers, although it seems to have been detuned a bit -- perhaps a consequence of V8SA chairman Tony Cochrane's three-month break, and the dawning of the reality that it's not all "growth, growth, growth", especially in terms of TV audiences and circuit attendances, as was so often claimed.


What we'd pay to see in 2011|
Two Australian drivers, Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo, on the grid in Formula One before the end of the season; an Aussie F1 world champion for the first time since Alan Jones in 1980; our triple world champion Sir Jack Brabham to be accorded due respect by the Australian Grand Prix organizers and celebrated at the GP; Will Power or Ryan Briscoe win the Indianapolis 500 and/or the IndyCar title; Marcos Ambrose turn around his NASCAR fortunes with Richard Petty Motorsports and win his first Sprint Cup race, preferably on an oval track; Chris Atkinson's WRC career to be resurrected; more new winners in V8 Supercar racing, especially young Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen (for the good of the series on both sides of the Tasman); another new face as the V8 Supercar champion; three, four or five drivers in contention for that title until the last round; and Jason Richards to recover fully from his health worries.

Oh, and the Car of the Future engine rules for potential new manufacturers that were due to be publish on June 30... 2010!

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Powered By Motoring.com.au Published : Friday, 31 December 2010


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