After a weekend of manic motorsport action what exactly did we learn from the Brazillian Grand Prix, Rally GB and NASCAR action from Phoenix?
Nico Rosberg isn’t finished yet
Now that the pressure of trying to maintain a title challenge against the formidable force that is Lewis Hamilton has well and truly lifted, Nico Rosberg yesterday nailed his second straight Grand Prix victory in Brazil. Having started from his fifth consecutive pole of the season, the German controlled the race from the moment the lights went out, taking his 13th career win by a comfortable 7.7 seconds from his Mercedes team-mate.
With the real threat of losing second in the drivers’ title race to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel hanging over him, Rosberg defeated his World Champion team-mate in a straight fight after robustly defending his position off the start into the uphill Senna ‘S’. It was Hamiltonesque in its combativeness and, frankly, great to see from a man who’s been bullied in opening-lap skirmishes on several occasions this year.
Rosberg hit a purple patch in the middle of the season, winning three of the four races in a six-week period in May and June. But apart from those wins in Spain, Monaco and Austria – and second in Canada – he’s been in Hamilton’s shadow for most of the season, in qualifying and in races. Indeed, even with the impressive pole/victory double in Mexico and Brazil in the past fortnight, Rosberg trails Hamilton 6-11 in poles and 5-10 in wins.
What the Brazilian GP win did do was confirm that Rosberg can’t now be beaten to second in the points by Vettel, who finished third at Interlagos. The ignominy of having one of the two vastly superior cars on the grid and not finishing at least second would have been praying on Rosberg’s mind, but he’s made sure of a team one-two on that score.
Rosberg will need to carry this scintillating form into 2016 if he’s to prevent a third straight title win for Hamilton – a feat that has only been achieved by three men (Juan Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher and Vettel) in the 65-year-history of the World Championship.
Sometimes rallying isn’t everything
In a rain-lashed and windswept North Wales this past weekend, triple World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier confirmed his status as one of the very best rally drivers the sport has seen by taking a comfortable third victory in Wales Rally Great Britain, the finale to the 2015 WRC campaign.
The Frenchman and his co-driving compatriot Julien Ingrassia got the hammer down from the off in the #1 Volkswagen Polo R WRC, taking stage victories in all three of the first runs through Hafren, Sweet Lamb and Myherin.
Ogier’s task was made easier when his VW team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, twice a winner in Wales, fell off in SS2 – the iconic Sweet Lamb test – beaching the #2 Polo in a ditch, where it would remain for the rest of the day.
British rally fans were then treated to a stirring performance by Citroen’s Northern Irish star Kris Meeke. Winner of Rally Argentina earlier in the year, Meeke was aiming to finish his topsy-turvy season on a high and become the first home hero to get on the podium since the late Richard Burns in 2001.
He took the fight to Ogier, topping the second run through what was the event’s longest stage, the 20-mile loop in the legendary Hafren forest, and held second place throughout the opening day.
Despite a rally lead to defend on Saturday’s loop of nine stages, including two tests after dark, Ogier’s focus was elsewhere following the dreadful news emerging from his homeland’s capital city. The rally wasn’t important, he insisted, but he’d keep going and try to win it for Paris.
And he did just that, taking his season tally to eight wins – a marker that moved him to second in the all-time list, behind only that other great rallying Sebastien, nine-time World Champion and 2014 Festival of Speed winner Monsieur Loeb.
Our man Meeke, another FoS favourite, remained in control of the runner-up spot to head into the winter with the result and confidence he needed to help ensure he hangs on to his Citroen seat. Fingers crossed!
Welsh hopes were upheld by young Elfyn Evans, who fell down the order after a day-one puncture but fought back to finish sixth and best of the M-Sport Ford Fiestas. He too has been the subject of much speculation over his future. Let’s hope this result will convince M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson, himself once a Great British WRC hope from the driving seat of Ford Escorts, Audi Quattros and Metro 6R4s, that Evans should stay.
Jeff Gordon wants to go out in style
After 35 rounds – yes, the schedule is that punishing – NASCAR’s top-flight stockcar class has just the season finale to run. And this weekend’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Miami’s Homestead Speedway will feature a four-way fight for the title.
After this past weekend’s penultimate race at Phoenix, reigning champion Kevin Harvick finds himself in a position to double up for his Stewart Haas Chevrolet squad. Harvick’s Budweiser-liveried SS led 143 of the rain-shortened 219 laps in Arizona but fell to second in the closing stages behind the similar car of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The Californian faces stiff opposition from veteran racer and four-time champion Jeff Gordon, who scales back his programme at the end of this year. Champion in 1995, ’97, ’98 and ’01, 44-year-old Indiana racer Gordon sits third in the all-time wins list and aims to go out on a high this weekend, bringing the curtain down on a career that began in 1992 and has yielded 93 wins.
Their other title challengers are Toyota’s Kyle Busch and Chevrolet runner Martin Truex Jr. Both are targeting a maiden top-series title having already added several second-string championship titles to their CVs.
It’ll be a classic contest and, in true NASCAR style, it won’t shake itself out until the final few laps of the 400-mile thrash.
Pressed to pick a favourite, we’d probably plump for Gordon to snare a farewell fifth title. That’d make for a little bit extra fanfare in Miami on Sunday.
Photography courtesy of Daimler AG, Red Bull Content Pool and LAT