The week in motor sport, 25/04/15



Earlier this week Mat Oxley asked whether the battle between Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi is developing into the best closely matched fight in GP history. For my money (which is, to be fair, worth considerably less than Mat’s in this regard) Rainey vs Schwantz takes the title, simply because of the hate that drove it and the violent machinery it played out on.

Rossi and Márquez don’t have the history for that kind of rivalry, at least at this stage, although things might be different by the end of the season. Right now it’s a pleasure to watch two masterful riders who both seem keenly aware that this might be the best it gets – ‘the great one’ vs ‘the next one’. That kind of enthusiasm makes any racing more fun to watch, especially if you’re not the sort to take sides.

It’s not worth pointing out that this sort of thing isn’t that common in Formula 1 anymore, because it isn’t that common in sport at all. Boxing’s rivalries can be intense, but they’re fleeting fabrications of the participants’ minds, created to exorcise any mercy they may feel for the person they’re punching. Mercy would be a bad thing to lose at 200mph, shoulder-to-shoulder with another rider.

So instead of spending all season pondering who’s really better, who’s got the best bike, who was to blame or who said what about whom, let’s just enjoy ourselves. The situation might occasionally get heated, like it did on Sunday, but overall this is the least cynical rivalry in motor sport. Two of the all-time greats – I don’t think there’s any doubt Márquez belongs in that discussion now – duking it out with smiles on their faces and a thousand tricks up their sleeves. Who’d want to argue about that?

A few years ago, I noticed MotoGP-obsessed friends migrating to F1 because the bikes were becoming a bit processional – the current deluge in the other direction says everything about each series’ ability to deal with lacklustre racing.

United SportsCar Championship

There’s been a fair amount of praise heaped on the WEC after its Silverstone opener and rightly so. But we shouldn’t forget about the United SportsCar Championship, now heading into its second season.

The series supported the IndyCar race at Long Beach over the weekend, with Wayne Taylor Racing (two-time Daytona winner Wayne running the show with sons Ricky and Jordan driving) taking the Prototype class win. IMSA might still lean towards sprint races, just as it did in the GTP days, but when we’ve got such a good prototype endurance series to watch, why not do something different?

Long Beach is a case in point. Americans love a bit of sports car street racing, and it’s not difficult to see why. Single-seaters are always impressive around Monaco, but watching the Taylors’ Corvette DP bouncing over the flower beds south of LA somehow seems like an even hairier prospect.

British Touring Car Championship

The BTCC has finally slipped up. After several years of rule tweaks and steady improvement from its post-Super Touring doldrums, Britain’s biggest series has lost the plot. But only slightly.

This year’s new rules centre around ballast and tyre compounds – the former has increased and the soft version of the latter has become even more unpredictable. And while the ballast might make a difference, it’s still clearly manageable. The tyres, however…

Everybody loves the tension from knowing the leader’s on older or worse tyres than those chasing him. But did anyone really enjoy seeing the likes of Andy Priaulx and Colin Turkington tumble down the order, unable to keep up with even the backmarkers after setting pole?

Some respite will come at Thruxton in two weeks, where the circuit’s characteristics mitigate against the soft tyre, so let’s hope TOCA and Dunlop have figured out a solution by the time the teams arrive at Oulton Park in June.

Names of note

Scott Dixon

Dixon took his first victory at Long Beach – he’s probably the best driver in IndyCar right now and with poor finishes in the other races this season, expect this to be the start of his challenge.

Robert Kubica

Kubica’s been incredibly quick so far in the WRC and has stopped making the sort of mistakes that reduced him to a non-entity last year. But mechanical problems have cursed him thus far, leading to him pulling out of Argentina to restructure his team. Hopefully this leads to a more competitive run down the stretch.

Tom Blomqvist

Stig’s son has made an impact after moving up from European F3 to a DTM drive with BMW Team RBM, setting the fastest times over the first two days of testing at Oschersleben. Interestingly he’s not the only relative of a former driver on the grid: 20-year-old Lucas Auer is the nephew of Gerhard Berger, Adrien Tambay is the son of Can-Am champion Patrick, Daniel Juncadella is the nephew of Luis Pérez-Sala and of course there’s Paul di Resta’s link to the Franchitti clan.

Timo Glock/Bruno Spengler/Alex Zanardi

Talk about an all-star team. Zanardi’s competing at the Spa 24 Hours this year, his first proper endurance race since the accident. That poses problems for BMW, as it has had to develop a car with hand controls that an able-bodied driver can operate without impediment. With veterans Glock and Spengler on-board, they seem to have found a solution. A strong result might be on the cards.

Jann Mardenborough

Mardenborough finished Wednesday as the fastest driver in the GP3 test at Catalunya, but he could be forgiven if his mind was elsewhere after being involved in the death of a spectator at the Nürburgring recently. The crash was in no way Mardenborough’s fault – it was just one of those freak flips when air gets under the car – and it seems especially cruel that it happened to an ex-gamer plucked from obscurity rather than a hardened racer, so it’s good to see that he can bounce back.

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