Last weekend’s dramatic finish to the Daytona 500, in which Denny Hamlin pipped fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr by a foot or two to win NASCAR’s biggest race, got us thinking about other super-close finishes from motorsport’s past. There’ve been plenty, of course, with timekeeping technology in the modern game able to split cars to many decimal places rather better than the rudimentary kit on offer many decades earlier.
Here, we’ve chosen five of racing’s key disciplines and attempted to unearth the closest finishes between the winner and the runner-up for each one.
You won’t find any rallying in here, much as we love it. The photo-finish concept doesn’t really work in the WRC, with cars running solo on the stages. But in case you were wondering, the closest finish in WRC history stands at 0.2 seconds thanks to Citroen driver Sébastien Ogier pipping Ford rival Jari-Matti Latvala in Rally Jordan in 2011. And after more than two-and-three-quarter hours of hurling their cars at the scenery!
Italian Grand Prix, Monza, 1971 (lead video)
British BRM driver Peter Gethin beats Ronnie Peterson’s March by 0.01s in the last of the classic slipstreamers at Monza. The Tyrrell of Francois Cevert, Mike Hailwood’s Surtees and the second BRM of Howden Ganley round out the top five – all of them separated by 0.61s.
Delphi Indy 300, Chicagoland, 2002
The penultimate round of the 2002 season provides a titanic final tussle to the line between the Dallara-Chevrolets of reigning champion Sam Hornish Jr and CART IndyCar legend Al Unser Jr. Hornish’s Panther Racing machine takes victory from Unser’s Kelley Racing example by 0.0024s. Blink and you’ll miss it!
Carolina Dodge Dealers 400, Darlington, 2003
Since 1993, when NASCAR introduced electronic timekeeping, there have been scores of finishes measured in tenths, hundredths and even thousandths of a second, but one sits at the top of the US stockcar-racing premiership, the Sprint Cup. The final lap of the 400-mile Darlington race, round five of the 36-round season, is a panel-bashing duel between Ricky Craven’s PPI Motorsports Pontiac and Kurt Busch’s Roush Racing Ford, with the outcome settled in Craven’s favour by 0.0026s. And after over three hours of racing!
Portuguese GP, Estoril, 2006
The penultimate round of the motorcycle racing’s elite class is still talked about in the two-wheeled world, nearly 10 years on. From 11th on the grid, Spaniard Toni Elias, in his first full season on a privateer Honda, moves up the field to start bothering the frontrunners, including world champion Valentino Rossi. On the last-but-one lap, Rossi and Elias dispense with leader Kenny Roberts Jr to start their elbows-out fight for victory. The pair swap places several times but in the drag race to the line it’s Elias who snatches his maiden win from Rossi’s Yamaha, by 0.002s. Sadly for one-time hero Elias, he’s still waiting for win number two.
British Touring Car Championship
Brands Hatch, 2009*
The final round of Britain’s most popular series takes place on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit and the opening thrash of the three-race weekend features a dash for the line between veteran Jason Plato in his Chevrolet Lacetti and youngster Tom Chilton in a Ford Focus. As the pair round Clearways it seems as though Chilton has the edge, only for the wily Plato to slipstream the Ford and ease past to win – by 0.015s. Clearly fired up by the occasion, JP goes on to win race two, by a more comfortable 1.3s, and race three, by a positively dominant 1.4s, to complete a clean-sweep of all three races in one day, which hasn’t been repeated since.
*Diehard BTCC fans will point out that Tom Onslow-Cole beat Gordon Shedden by 0.009s at Brands in 2010, but it was for second place on the road. Winner Tom Chilton was later disqualified, promoting TO-C to the top step of the podium.