NISSAN CANS LMP1 PROGRAMME
Japanese giant Nissan pulled the plug on its World Endurance Championship programme before Christmas. The controversial GT-R LM – front-engined and front-wheel-drive – was hopelessly outclassed by its LMP1 rivals and didn’t appear again in the series after its low-key Le Mans 24 hours debut. Nissan was working on an upgraded version of the GT-R LM but decided it could not continue to race and develop a new car at the same time. Good job its GT3-spec GT-R racers and LMP2-class engines are flying the flag properly.
Nissan factlette: Its best finish at Le Mans came in 1998, when Aguri Suzuki, Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Masahiko Kageyama took a TWR-run R390 GT1 to third place behind the Porsche 911 GT1-98s.
KUBICA COMMITS TO MONTE CARLO
Polish ace Robert Kubica has entered the Monte Carlo Rally, opening round of the 2016 World Rally Championship. The former Grand Prix winner was unsure during the latter stages of the 2015 WRC season about his future in the sport, claiming he was considering a return to circuit racing, but has chosen to tackle the famous event at the end of the month. He will drive an M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS WRC and, having led on his debut in 2014, is expected to give the frontrunners a hard time. The WRC’s much better off with the 2008 Canadian GP winner in it, of course.
Kubica factlette: He twice finished second in the Macau F3 GP, for Manor Motorsport in 2004 and the following year, for Carlin.
LOEB BACK IN WRC – AS A TEAM BOSS
World Rallying’s greatest-ever driver, Frenchman Sebastien Loeb, will make a return to the sport he dominated for a decade. But the 41-year-old will not be adding to his nine world titles and 78 rally wins as a driver; he’ll be taking his Sebastien Loeb Racing team into the Junior WRC, a series he won in 2001. After four years in various racing activities, SLR will join the JWRC ranks in 2016. Loeb will masterminding the team alongside his long-time co-driver Daniel Elena and their business partner of many years Dominique Heintz, and if he’s as good at it as he was at the controls of a World Rally Car, the others had better watch out.
Loeb factlette: His first WRC ‘win’ came in the 2002 Monte Carlo Rally, before a tyre-change transgression led to disqualification. He first proper victory came in Germany later that season.
ALEX WURZ UNRETIRES – BRIEFLY
Austrian Alex Wurz, who raced in 69 Grands Prix for Benetton, McLaren and Williams between 1997 and 2007, as well as winning Le Mans twice, for Porsche and Peugeot, will come out of a retirement he announced back in November to race in the Daytona 24 Hours. The twice-round-the-clock Florida classic is a race the 41-year-old had always wanted to contest, but had never managed, so the helmet that got hung up after his final outing for Toyota in the WEC will be pressed into action one last time. Wurz will share a Chip Ganassi-run Riley-Ford prototype with Williams F1 youngster Lance Stroll, touring car legend Andy Priaulx and WEC Champ Brendon Hartley before climbing out of a cockpit for the final time – we think!
Wurz factlette: He won the BMX World championship and finished second in the European series in 1986, aged 12!
MEEKE TARGETS WRC TITLE IN 2017/18
With a three-year Citroen contract in his back pocket that’ll allow him to compete in selected events aboard a DS3 WRC in 2016, while testing and developing the all-new C3 WRC for the French firm’s full-time return to the sport in 2017, Northern Irishman Kris Meeke is confident of a title attack. With a breakthrough maiden WRC win now on the CV, thanks to victory in Argentina in April, as well as a strong runner-up finish in his home event, Wales Rally GB, in November, Meeke is ready to take the fight to the all-conquering Volkswagens, winners of the past three drivers’ and constructors’ titles. He’s only the fourth Briton to win at WRC level – along with Roger Clark, Colin McRae and Richard Burns – and it would great to see him join Subaru heroes McRae and Burns as our third World Champion…
Meeke factlette: He contested the 2012 Baja 1000 desert race on a Honda CRF450X, finishing 18th at his first attempt.
WORLD TOURING CAR CHAMPION EYES LE MANS
Double World Touring Car Champion Jose Maria Lopez has hinted that he fancies a crack at sportscar racing when his Citroen WTCC assault finishes at the end of 2016. The Argentinian has one chance to make it three titles with the French marque as Citroen has chosen to focus on the WRC from 2017. Thereafter he’ll have a new badge on his bonnet, in whatever series that may be. The former single-seater racer, who won three TC2000 touring car titles in his homeland after his F1 dream evaporated, is keen on racing in endurance racing’s blue-riband event, the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Lopez factlette: He took one GP2 Series win – for DAMS in the second race at Catalunya in 2005. The title was won that year by Nico Rosberg.
DRAMA IN EARLY DAKAR RUNNING
The Dakar Rally, one of motorsport’s most gruelling events, made headlines for the wrong reasons during the prologue to the main event. The Mini X-Raid of Chinese driver Guo Meiling left the road just past the halfway point of the seven-mile prologue stage near the rally’s host city of Buenos Aires and struck four spectators, who were taken to local hospitals. The prologue stage is a new addition to this year’s Dakar and was used to set the competitors’ starting order for the first real test. Toyota driver Bernhard Ten Brinke was fastest, ahead of the Peugeot of former winner and double World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard’s team-mate, debutant Sebastien Loeb, was 10th. The drama continued into Sunday’s first stage, with torrential rain flooding parts of the Rosario to Villa Carlos Paz stage and causing organisers to cancel it. As a result the overall leader board remained unchanged from the prologue stage.
Dakar factlette: Three men have won the rally on two and four wheels. Bikers Stephane Peterhansel, Hubert Auriol and Nani Roma also went on to win the car class, with record holder in both disciplines Peterhansel currently on five car wins and six bike successes.
FERRARI BOSS WARNS ECCLESTONE
Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne has fired a warning shot to Formula 1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone, saying the 85-year-old must get his house in order to ensure that Formula 1 is in good health when he’s no longer running it. Marchionne, one of the motor industry’s most powerful players, thinks 85-year-old Ecclestone must reveal his succession plan to help grow interest in motorsport’s premier league, especially among the next generation. The comments come on the back of Marchionne claiming Ferrari has plenty of other ways to promote itself should it decide to walk away from F1 in the wake of the drawn-out arguments surrounding engine specification, cost and supply among teams. And that has created much mutual-exclusivity debate on the subject of Ferrari needing F1 and vice versa. Surely as long as Ferrari still gets to hoover up the vast sums of cash just for turning up, it’ll still, er, turn up?
Ecclestone factlette: He tried – and failed – to race in two Grands Prix in a Connaught during the 1958 season. He didn’t qualify at Monaco and didn’t start Silverstone’s British GP.
Photography courtesy of Nissan, Ben Miles, Ferrari, Dakar and David Merret licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.