Four weekend winners in the wide world of motor sport
The Formula 1 season comes to an end this coming weekend in Abu Dhabi, but with Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes-Benz already confirmed as world champions it might be a little anti-climactic.
But for those who care to look, there are always great stories to be found in the wider motor sport world, and that was certainly the case this past weekend, where two major international championships concluded, a young driver survived one of the worst accidents you are ever likely to see and a novel season that spans more than one calendar year splashed through its latest chapter.
F1 isn’t necessarily the be-all and end-all – as this weekend’s big winners would be quick to confirm.
1 Sebastien Ogier: six-time World Rally Champion
Critics are quick to condemn the modern World Rally Championship as a shadow of its former self, but on the face of the action this year the sport actually looks in great shape.
And yes, that’s despite Sebastien Ogier continuing his reign as rallying’s dominant force, with a sixth drivers’ title secured on Sunday at Rally Australia.
Three drivers in three different car brands headed Down Under in with a shout of the title, Ogier’s M-Sport Ford heading Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai by three points, with promising Estonian Ott Tanak a further 20 back for Toyota.
Unfortunately, some of the spice was lost on Friday when Neuville, who had to beat Ogier for any chance of claiming his first WRC crown, found himself on the backfoot after a puncture and an incident with a chicane.
Tanak took the lead on Saturday afternoon, but was relying on Ogier’s misfortune to have any hope of the title. And when he retired on the penultimate stage on Sunday, Ogier’s latest crown – and his last for M-Sport before he switches back to Citroën – was confirmed. Neuville had already crashed out on the first stage of the final loop.
Ogier played it super-safe on his way to fifth on the rally, while Tanak’s team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala won for Toyota – the Japanese manufacturer securing the manufacturers’ crown, its first since 1999.
2 Toyota one-two in World Endurance Championship
Toyota added further glory at a sopping Shanghai circuit on Sunday with another one-two in the World Endurance Championship.
For the second race in succession, the #7 car of Mike Conway, Jose Maria Lopez and Kamui Kobayashi beat the sister TS050 HYBRID of Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi after what continues to be a genuine duel between the pairings. For the sake of a championship with only one factory team in the top class, the fact the battle is real and not fixed is just as well.
Aside from Toyota, Jenson Button – the new All-Japan GT Champion with Honda – scored his first World Endurance Championship podium in his BR1 prototype, while Aston Martin’s new-for-2018 Vantage secured its first win in the fiercely competitive GTE Pro class thanks to the efforts of Danish pairing Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen.
The weird thing with WEC is the season is not at an end, despite this being the final round of the year. The sensible plan to end the championship with a fitting climax at the Le Mans 24 Hours each June has led to the one-off creation this time around of a ‘super season’, which runs into 2019. The series, which started at Spa back in May and has already included this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, reconvenes in four months’ time at Sebring, with the ‘Alonso crew’ leading the #7 line-up by just five points.
Bizzarely, everything is now on hold until March: probably not the best way to maintain a buzz around a major world championship, but it’s a good move for the long-term.
3 Sophia Florsch survives horrific Macau F3 crash
Briton Dan Ticktum won a second consecutive Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix on Sunday, which is some feat from the fiery Red Bull-backed Englishman who is hotly tipped for F1.
But with all due respect to the 19-year-old, he is not the main winner at Macau this year. Instead, we reckon that honour has to go to Sophia Florsch, who was fortunate to survive a terrifying crash when her out of control Van Amersfoot Racing Dallara-Mercedes was launched over Sho Tsuboi’s TOM’S entry at the infamous Lisboa corner at the end of Macau’s main flat-out blast.
The trap at the braking zone measured her speed at 171mph, as she smashed through fencing and into a photographers’ area, injuring a photographer and a marshal.
Florsch, 17, sustained a spinal fracture, but has already taken to social media to report she is “fine”. Tsuboi was also taken to hospital with back pain.
The violence of the accident was truly shocking and in those circumstances, the fact the German racer is well enough to Tweet from her bed is surely the biggest weekend victory of them all.
4 “Old fox” Tarquini, a world champion at 56
Macau also marked the final rounds of the inaugural FIA World Touring Car Cup for TCR tin-tops, following the demise of the old World Touring Car Championship at the end of last year – and the first title winner turned out to be a familiar face: 56-year-old Gabriele Tarquini.
Best known in Britain for his 1994 British Touring Car title with Alfa Romeo, the former F1 driver has long been one of the world’s best tin-top aces – but even the “old fox” himself wouldn’t have expected to be winning major international titles in his mid-50s.
Even better, his rival for the crown was 49-year-old four-time world champion Yvan Muller, who fell short in his quest to beat his old friend by just three points in a thrilling title decider on Sunday morning.
That 15 drivers and all seven car manufacturers represented won races in 2018 tells you much about how competitive this sometimes overlooked series has become in its first year. And there’s plenty of younger talent and established international stars in the field, too – making the Hyundai drivers’ achievements all the more remarkable.
Motor sport, a young man’s game? Try telling that to Tarquini and Muller.