Events of the Month
Audi driver Allan McNish joined an illustrious list of winners of the 108-year-old Tourist Trophy after pulling back a half-minute deficit in the closing stages of the opening round of the FIA World Endurance Championship at Silverstone in April. The two-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner couldn't hide his satisfaction at getting his name alongside the likes of Tazio Nuvolari, Rudolf Caracciola and Stirling Moss, as well as fellow Scots Innes Ireland and Tom Walkinshaw.
"You don't think about it when you are out there racing, but when you get up there on the podium and see the names on it, you up on see names on you realise just how special this trophy is," he said. "What makes it special from my point of view is the name Innes Ireland. He was more or less from Dumfries, like me, and was the first Scot to win a grand prix and the first Scot to win this one, too."
McNish and team-mates Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval battled with the sister Audi 13 R18 e-tron quattro, shared by Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer, throughout the six hours. Both cars had spells in the lead, but McNish had to close a 30sec gap to Treluyer over the last 40 minutes after taking on fresh tyres at his final splash-and-dash fuel stop following a quick spin.
"It was a thrilling race from the start to the finish, not just at the end," he said. "It was nip and tuck with the sister car all the way through. We knew it was going to be decided by seconds, you could see that."
McNish was able to close the gap and sweep into the lead at Brooklands with little more than five minutes left to run. The second Audi was powerless to resist because it had lost the power boost from its system after breaking one of the driveshafts to its front-axle motor-generator units.
Toyota failed to take the fight to the latest version of the R18 turbodiesel with its 2012-specification TS030 Hybrid. The revised Audi was quicker than its Japanese rival throughout the race, but the two German cars were able to build a significant lead during the early stints after an incorrect call on tyres blunted the performance of the two TS030s.
Toyota was not surprised that the Audi had leapfrogged its LMP1 contender, the dominant car at the end of last year's WEC, but will field its 2013 car at the next round of the series at Spa in May. It will have one new car at the Belgian race, to be driven by Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima.
Arguably the fact of greatest significance to emerge from a wet and windy Silverstone weekend was that Audi has lost its fuel consumption advantage. The new R18, which appears to be more powerful as well as having more downforce than its predecessor, went fewer laps on a tank of diesel than the Toyota did on one load of petrol. That should mean Toyota will no longer have to pull out a gap of 40-50sec in order to take on a late splash of fuel to beat the Audis. Gary Watkins
Brands Hatch BTCC
For 2013 the British Touring Car Championship boasts a record entry list of 32 cars, as well as some new regulations. There are four former champions lining up on the grid, with the returning Colin Turkington joining Gordon Shedden, Matt Neal and Jason Plato. As in Formula 1, the BTCC now features softer 'option' tyres and each driver must start one of the three races on this rubber each weekend, nominating their choice before qualifying. All in the name of 'the show!
Not every car was ready for the first round on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit on March 31, but 25 were there to entertain the weather-beaten crowds. Qualifying was shortened by snow the day before, leaving potential front-runners struggling to make progress.
Plato won the first race for MG after a battle with Rob Austin's Audi, which was lightningquick on the softer Dunlops before they went off, leaving him third behind Andrew Jordan. Plato had no such bother in race two, taking a huge lead he wouldn't lose, even after a late safety car enabled Jordan to close in again. Shed den finished third but was disqualified for a ride height infraction, promoting Jeff Smith to the podium and leaving the reigning champ at the back of the grid for race three.
Neal won that one after a difficult day for the works Honda squad, but the real spectacle was Shedden dicing his way to second. Third in that race was Sam Tordoff, MG's new recruit from the Porsche Carrera Cup, who showed impressive speed all weekend.
The BTCC now has an official second class with the introduction of the Jack Sears Trophy for Super 2000-spec cars. The racing at the back was competitive all weekend, with series veteran James Kaye taking a class win. Liam Griffin won the last two races and took a healthy class lead to Donington on April 21.
After only one round, the BTCC looks healthier than it did 12 months ago; much healthier, in fact, than it has done since the Super Touring era ended in 2000. Alex Harmer
Monza Euro F3 & WTCC
Ferrari's spectacular young protégé Raffaele Marciello and tin-top superstar Yvan Muller came out on top as the FIA's Formula 3 European and World Touring Car championships kicked off at Monza in late March. Swiss-born Italian Marciello was locked in combat with Pascal Wehrlein for most of the weekend. The German won the qualifying battle with two poles to one, but the local boy reversed the scores in the races.
Wet weather marred Sunday's events, but the F3 chargers got a dry race in on Saturday. Marciello led all the way (below), with Gerhard Berger's nephew Lucas Auer passing Wehrlein for second. Wehrlein at least claimed a wet win on Sunday, demoting Marciello with a stylish move at the Ascari chicane on his last day in an F3 car before replacing Ralf Schumacher in the Mercedes DTM line-up.
Harry Tincknell scored the most points of the seven UK drivers in a superb 30-car field, although he didn't quite manage to make the podium — unlike countrymen Tom Blomqvist and Alex Lynn, who claimed a third apiece. Will Buller took a best finish of fourth, but was part of a scary shunt in the second race with fellow UK racerJordan King and barrel-rolling Swede Mans Grenhagen. All three emerged unscathed.
If anyone thought the withdrawal of official Chevrolet support would throw the WTCC wide open, then they reckoned without the world's best front-wheel-drive touring car racer (Muller, leading above) in the series' fastest car (the Cruze), run by the best team (RML). The Alsatian held team-mate Tom Chilton comfortably at bay in race one, and from 10th on the reversed grid he was leading by the end of the fourth lap of the second to win from the Chevy of Dane Michel Nykjr. A phenomenal start carried Gabriele Tarquini's Honda into the lead of that race, but he lacked pace to stay there and faded to third.
Reigning champion Rob Huff started from the back of the grid after being taken out in qualifying, but recovered to a best of sixth in his SEAT. Julian Carax
Nogaro FIA GT Series
The new FIA GT Series burst into life at Nogaro with a strong grid, excellent racing and a big crowd. The successor of the FIA GT1 World Championship is "here to stay", says promoter Stephane Rate!.
A total of 20 full-season entries took the start at the French track over the Easter weekend, and more teams and cars were expected for round two at Zolder on April 20.
Sebastien Loeb (below), in a McLaren MP4-12C run by his own team, made a perfect start to what he sees as the launch of his racing career, as he winds down his World Rally Championship participation this year. Sharing with McLaren factory driver Alvaro Parente, he came from behind to win the first of two races.
Loeb led the main event, held in wet conditions, from Austrian amateur Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof aboard the best of the Belgian WRT team's trio of Audi R8 LMS ultras. Three-time Porsche Supercup champion Rene Rast emerged in the lead after the pitstops, before Parente tapped the Audi and put the Loeb Racing McLaren back in the lead.
Almost immediately the Portuguese had to take a stop-go penalty, not for his misdemeanour but because Loeb had been caught on the onboard camera undoing his belts before his car stopped. The McLaren duo were further penalised after the race for Parente's actions, leaving them 12th overall.
Mayr-Melnhof and Rast won on the road, but were penalised for another pitstop infringement. That handed victory to the second of the WRT Audis driven by Edward Sandstrom and Frank Stippler, which had come through from the back of the grid after failing to finish the opening race. Gary Watkins