Amid all the fanfare, furore and fever surrounding Lewis Hamilton’s recent Formula 1 World Championship success in Abu Dhabi, it was almost forgotten – except among real motorsport diehards, of course – that another British driver had secured a world title the weekend before. And in a discipline of the sport that I absolutely adore, thanks in part to its close links with the Le Mans 24 Hours – the world’s greatest motor race.
Anthony Davidson has been a key part of Toyota’s factory World Endurance Championship squad for three years and a stellar 2014 season for the former F1 driver, in which he won at Silverstone, Spa-Francorchamps, Fuji and Shanghai and finished on the podium at Le Mans and Austin, meant he clinched the title in the penultimate round in Bahrain – ironically after cruising home in 11th place, his only finish outside the top three all year.
“Davidson’s title success, added to that of Scot Allan McNish for Audi last season, has given sportscar racing renewed impetus among British race fans – well, at least among those for whom racing extends beyond F1”
And the 35-year-old’s runner-up spot in yesterday’s finale at Interlagos in Brazil, alongside team-mate and fellow ex-F1 racer Sebastien Buemi, made sure that his Japanese paymasters secured the manufacturers’ title ahead of rival marques Audi and Porsche.
Such things are tremendously important for these automotive giants and their weekend technology-showcasing efforts.
Davidson’s title success, added to that of Scot Allan McNish for Audi last season, has given sportscar racing renewed impetus among British race fans – well, at least among those for whom racing extends beyond F1. They fondly recall Derek Bell (Porsche), Martin Brundle (Jaguar) and Derek Warwick (Peugeot) taking their World Sportscar Championship titles in the category’s previous and historically significant incarnation.
With the creation of the new-look World Endurance Championship in 2012, long-distance racing got the shot in the arm it deserves. Add to that incumbent brands Toyota, Audi and Porsche demonstrating their engineering prowess in the top-class prototype arena in which engine-recovery technology and hybrid-system application is now de rigueur, this discipline of international motorsport will find itself on more and more people’s radars. Just ask Nissan, which has decided it wants to join in the fun next year.
And it’s not just the thoroughbred, purpose-built prototypes that make all the headlines. The GT-class battles further down the field are equally good. Production supercar manufacturers Aston Martin, Chevrolet, Ferrari and Porsche, whose cars are recognisable among mainstream car lovers, not just true ‘anoraks’, always provide intense competition everywhere they go.
Long may it continue. And keep your fingers crossed that in 2015 Davidson and Toyota can emulate first-generation sportscar racing icons Bell, Brundle, Warwick, Porsche, Jaguar and Peugeot by winning the Le Mans 24 Hours.