DEC 31st 2015

19 Motorsport Moments from 2015 We'll Remember Forever

I won’t forget the 2015 season in a hurry. The hugely privileged position in which I find myself, writing about and talking to heroes young and old,  presented yet more special opportunities during the busy motorsport year – the sort of moments that feel like the inevitable tap on the shoulder is imminent. I really do wonder when the alarm’s going to go off and some sort of normal life kicks in.

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Whether it was interviewing scores of top names on the main stage at Autosport International, coaxing tales out of McLaren supremo Ron Dennis at a charity fundraiser in the sumptuous surroundings of London’s Claridges Hotel, joshing with four-time World Superbike Champion and ‘King of the Jungle’ Carl Fogarty in front of a packed – and well-oiled! – crowd at MCN Live in the Skegness Butlin’s complex, working the floor armed with a mic at Sir Jackie Stewart’s Grand Prix Trust lunch for retired mechanics at the Williams F1 HQ, as well as at the annual Autosport Awards, chatting to Sir Stirling Moss at his home about 1955 Mille Miglia, British Grand Prix, Tourist Trophy and Targa Florio success for Mercedes-Benz, compering the annual Credit Suisse Historic Racing Forum at the Goodwood Revival in the company of that man Moss, Derek Bell, Jochen Mass, Alain de Cadenet, Jackie Oliver and Dario Franchitti, judging the Royal Automobile Club’s Motoring Book of the Year Award, joining the Goodwood Road & Racing digital content team for what I hope will be hundreds of years, or hosting a series of relaxed Q+As with all manner of legends at the inaugural Classic & Sportscar London Show in the halls of the iconic Alexandra Palace, it’s been as fabulous as it has varied.

And then there’s sharing commentary duties with learned and enthusiastic colleagues at many of the country’s best events: the three Goodwood classics, the 73rd Members’ Meeting, Festival of Speed and Revival Meetings, the Donington Historic Festival, Bournemouth Wheels Festival, Chateau Impney Hillclimb, Silverstone Classic and Wales Rally GB.

But enough about me. What about the men and their magnificent machines that really caught the eye in 2015. Who – or what – really stood out, thanks to more record breaking, a maiden win at the top level, big British success, an underdog performance, a special appearance or a combination of those?

These are the 19 moments, in chronological order, that I’ll remember as those that helped make 2015 an unforgettable season:

January 22 – Loeb returns

Nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb lines up for his 169th and last start at the sport’s top level. It’s the 2015 Monte Carlo Rally and the final showdown between the Frenchman and his countryman, reigning champion and fellow Sebastien, Mr Ogier. It’s Citroen versus Volkswagen on the most historic rally of them all. And Loeb leads for the first six stages. A stage-seven spin for Loeb hands the lead to Ogier, while a stage-eight shunt rules him out of a 79th career win.

February 8 – Nails Bitten at Bathurst

Nissan wins the Bathurst 12 Hours in a nailbiting finish, Katsumasa Chiyo, Wolfgang Reip and Florian Strauss giving the GT-R its first win at the Mount Panorama GT classic. Briton Alex Buncombe joins Chiyo and Reip for the European-based Blancpain Endurance Series and the trio defeats the best from Audi, Bentley, BMW, Ferrari and McLaren to lift the title at the Nürburgring finale. 

March 15 – Verstappen bursts onto the scene

Dutch rookie Max Verstappen arrives in Formula 1, aged just 17 and rocks the establishment with searing pace for Scuderia Toro Rosso and a confidence that belies his tender age. His record may well stand forever thanks to the sport’s governing body’s efforts to clamp down on such early career moves. Regardless, Verstappen twice finishes fourth ­– in Hungary and the USA – and takes 12th in the drivers’ points, proving he’s more than worthy of his place among racing’s elite.

April 26 — Meeke’s WRC Breakthrough

Kris Meeke becomes only the fourth Briton to win a round of the World Rally Championship in the series’ 42-year history, thanks to a stunning performance in Argentina. Meeke joins Roger Clark, Colin McRae and Richard Burns on the winners’ list – ending a drought for home-grown success that had stretched back to 2002 and McRae’s final win, in that year’s Safari Rally.

May 24 – Montoya’s Incredible Indy Win

Outspoken and popular Juan Pablo Montoya takes his second Indianapolis 500 win, 15 years after his first, in only his second season since returning to IndyCar with the crack Penske team. The Colombian leads the championship standings the whole year but misses out in the finale to Scott Dixon, who ties on points but takes the title thanks to more race wins. It’s great to see JPM back where he belongs after his tumultuous eight-year NASCAR journey.

June 12 – McGuinness smashes TT record

John McGuinness bounces back from a difficult week in the Isle of Man to win the big one, the Senior TT, for Honda. The Morecambe Missile makes it TT win number 23 with a record average of 132.701mph! Joey Dunlop’s 26-win milestone is edging closer…

June 14 – Tandy, Hulkenberg and Bamber take Porsche Le Mans glory

Nick Tandy joins the Le Mans elite thanks to victory for Porsche in the French endurance epic. He’s only the fourth Brit, alongside Richard Attwood, Derek Bell and Allan McNish, to win for the German marque, for whom Tandy and team-mates Nico Hulkenberg and Earl Bamber make it a record-extending 17 wins since 1970. Hulkenberg’s presence in the race brings extra kudos, thanks to his status as a current F1 driver.

June 27 – International racing returns to London

An international single-seater series races in London for the first time since the European Formula 2 field took on the Crystal Palace venue for the final time in 1972. Forty-three years on it’s the FIA Formula E electric single-seater fraternity making waves – but not much noise – in Battersea Park for the finale, with Sebastien Buemi and Sam Bird winning the two races and Nelson Piquet Jr securing the title.

June 28 – Rossi’s Sunday at Goodwood

The day after winning the Dutch TT MotoGP qualifier at Assen, Valentino Rossi pitches up at Goodwood for the first time. The Doctor rides a 60th anniversary-liveried Yamaha up a ramp into Goodwood House during the Festival of Speed and then takes a selection of cars up the hill – because he fancies it. Probably the very best moment in 22 years of FoS fever.

October 11 – Lowndes Sixth Bathurst Triumph

Aussie tin-top hero Craig Lowndes takes his sixth Bathurst 1000 win, the 41-year-old guiding the Triple 8 Holden Commodore to victory alongside Steven Richards. Lowndes joins Larry Perkins and 2010- winning team-mate Mark Skaife on six wins, with only Richards’ dad Jim (seven) and the late, great Peter Brock (nine) having won the Great Race more.

October 11 – Vandoorne’s record-breaking GP2 title

Eight wins are more than enough to give amiable Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne the GP2 title. The ART driver’s 12 career wins across two seasons have put him at the top of the F1 feeder formula’s wins list, although it looks as though he may have to race elsewhere in 2016 rather than make the leap into Formula 1. With luck, we’ll see the McLaren protégé at the 74th Members’ Meeting – he rather enjoyed a blast in an ex-Emerson Fittipaldi M23 at the 73rd event in March – and in F1 a year later…

October 11 – ‘Flash’ takes title number 2

Fresh from his battling drive in the St Mary’s Trophy thrash aboard a Team Dynamics Lotus Cortina and stunning RAC TT Celebration win in JD Classics’ Jaguar E-type at September’s Revival meeting, Scot Gordon Shedden nails his second British Touring Car Championship title in the season finale at Brands Hatch. The 30th and final race of the season is a classic as former double champ Jason Plato does what he needs to in order to give himself any chance of stealing the title: win. Sadly for the series’ most successful driver (94 wins and counting), ‘Flash’ Gordon flies through the pack from 19th on the grid to finish fourth – enough to deny Plato. It’s Britain’s biggest championship at its boldest and brilliant best.

October 25 – Hamilton joins the triple-champion greats

Lewis Hamilton’s run of 10 Grand Prix wins for Mercedes ensures he becomes only the second Briton to win three Formula 1 World Championships, joining Sir Jackie Stewart, winner in 1969, ’71 and ’73. Hamilton’s success is made more exciting by the intra-team tension with Nico Rosberg. The 30-year-old German again plays second fiddle to Hamilton but seems to pull his finger out once the title has slipped away, winning the final three GPs of the season – in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. 

November 8 – Kent on top of the world

Danny Kent becomes the first British rider since Barry Sheene in 1977 to a win a motorcycle World Championship at Grand Prix level. The 22-year-old from Wiltshire takes six wins for Honda and seals the Moto3 title in the final round at Valencia.

November 21 – Porsche seal WEC crown

More good news courtesy of Porsche, thanks to its last-gasp World Endurance Championship win with the 919 Hybrid. Ex-F1 star Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard anchor the #17 machine and win four races on the trot to set up a title showdown in the Bahrain finale. It’s Webber’s first championship win of any kind and vindicates his decision to leave F1 at the end of 2013.

November 21 – Bird takes LMP2 crown

Not forgetting Britain’s other sportscar stars of the year, of course. Sam Bird takes the World Endurance Championship ‘baby prototype’ LMP2 title alongside Julien Canal and Roman Rusinov after wins at Silverstone, Austin and Bahrain aboard the G-Drive Ligier-Nissan. Chevrolet veteran Oliver Gavin scores his fifth GT-class win at Le Mans, taking GTE Pro honours in the Corvette to add to his GT1 victories for Chevy in 2002, ’04, ’05 and ’06. Richard Westbrook comes within an ace of the United SportsCar title in the top-class prototype ranks, thanks to two wins in the Spirit of Daytona Coyote-Chevrolet.

November 21 – Huff’s eighth Macau victory

Macau Master and former World Touring Car Champion Rob Huff takes yet another win on the fabled Guia street circuit. The Briton joins the West Coast Honda team for a one-off in the new-for-2015 TCR series and takes its Civic to race-one glory from pole position. It leaves his victory tally in Macau at eight, including seven wins for Chevrolet, SEAT and Lada in the World Touring Car Championship qualifiers there between 2008 and 2014.

November 22 – NASCAR great Gordon bows out

NASCAR veteran Jeff Gordon heads into NASCAR’s Sprint Cup finale at Homestead in with a shout of a fifth title. The 43-year-old has raced at the top level of America’s biggest sporting spectacle for nearly a quarter of a century and he’s only failed to win at least one race in four of those 24 seasons. He falls short in his farewell season, but leaves a lasting legacy: 797 races, 93 wins and 81 pole positions. Everyone will miss car #24.

November 29 – Solberg doubles up in RX

Norwegian Petter Solberg retains his FIA World Rallycross title thanks to three wins – at Hockenheim, Lydden and Catalunya – in his self-run Citroen. It gives the effervescent Solberg three FIA world titles, his first coming in the World Rally Championship for Subaru in 2003.

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