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Season Review 2012 4

Damien Smith’s highlight of the year

Just one? That’s a tough call. But to narrow it down, I’d have to go for the closing stages of the Fuji 6 Hours in October.

The new FIA World Endurance Championship really caught my imagination this year, and from what I can gauge the readers of Motor Sport shared my enthusiasm. The return of a proper world championship for sports cars after an absence of 20 years remains, in my view, Jean Todt’s most significant contribution to the sport (so far) since his election as FIA president.

At the start of the year, the impact of Peugeot’s total withdrawal from racing threatened to derail the WEC, as it would become known, before it had even begun. So thank goodness for Toyota. The Japanese giant stepped up its campaign with the new TS030 Hybrid to commit a single entry for every round after Le Mans. Audi desperately needed serious competition, as much as the championship itself, to justify its continued investment in sports car racing. And in Toyota, it found a new and very worthy adversary.

season review 2012  Damien Smiths highlight of the year

After a dramatic and highly promising race debut at Le Mans, the TS030 Hybrid quickly proved at least a match for Audi’s R18 e-tron quattro on pace, and by the time we got to Fuji the Japanese prototype had already scored a maiden victory, at Interlagos.

Now, at its home circuit, in front of the company’s most important executives, expectations had soared.

Kazuki Nakajima, Alex Wurz and Nicolas Lapierre had already shown that the Toyota had the edge on the two Audis as the six-hour mark approached. But strategy dictated that Nakajima would need a ‘splash ’n dash’ for fuel if he was to secure that prized home win.

Behind him, André Lotterer’s Audi had been delayed by a stop-go penalty for contact with Aston Martin’s lone GTE Vantage. The Le Mans winner deemed the penalty “harsh” (I’d disagree) – but whatever, the damage was done. Now Nakajima needed to eke out a gap of 40 seconds to pit and resume with his lead intact.

He just made it. We were on the edge of our seats as Lotterer charged into the braking area for the Turn 1 hairpin. But the former Williams F1 driver had already re-emerged from the pitlane and was on his way to the apex. Now Lotterer faced a struggle on double-stinted tyres, and in this moment the battle was won.

season review 2012  Damien Smiths highlight of the year

Darkness had fallen by the time they took to the podium. These were wonderful scenes to witness, as the ever-contagious Japanese enthusiasm for motor sport was given full throttle. On my first trip to a country I’d always wanted to visit, it was a perfect memory to take away.

By the end of the season, Audi had claimed a full house of the constructors’ World Championship, drivers’ titles for Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler and an 11th victory in 13 years at Le Mans.

But in its first few months of competition, the new Toyota had matched Audi 3-3 in head-to-head meetings, and it’s a rivalry that looks set to explode in 2013. What a shame Peugeot isn’t there to make it a three-way fight. But even so, Silverstone in April can’t come soon enough. As for Le Mans in June, it could be an all-time classic.

Add your comments

4 comments on Damien Smith’s highlight of the year

  1. Rich Ambroson, 26 December 2012 20:31

    I too was concerned about the WEC on reading of Peugeot’s withdrawal earlier this year. I was very happy to see that the Toyota team has come on so strong, and provided much needed competition to the good folks at Audi.

    For me, the WEC is the pinnacle of racing, not the dog and pony show that the CVC folks want to fool us into thinking of as proper Grand Prix racing. Looking forward to more good racing in the WEC next year, and wish Toyota all the best at the Big One in June. (with nothing but the greatest of respect and admiration for what the many fine folks on the Audi team have accomplished there over the years)

  2. Edgar F. Kapp, 27 December 2012 09:59

    Couldn’t agree more! I can’t wait until June.

  3. Al, 27 December 2012 17:55

    Impressive first season for the WEC all things considered.

    The seeds are being shown for this championship to be as important as F1, and arguably more relevant to manufacturer’s and the automotive industry in general.

  4. Ray T, 28 December 2012 17:38

    WEC is bringing back real innovation, and has real racing and passing. WEC is more about the true nature of motorsport than what has been done to F1.

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