Sports car endurance on ice, a new chapter in tin-tops and single-seater racing with a capital W all added to the mix in a typically varied and action-packed weekend of motor sport in Europe this past weekend. We pick through the highlights to find our magnificent motor racing seven.
Seven weekend winners in motorsport
1. #8 Toyota crew
That’ll be Fernando Alonso, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, who took another step closer to being crowned 2018/19 ‘super season’ World Endurance Champions – and in novel circumstances. Snow in May? It had to be Spa-Francorchamps.
The ‘fickle Ardennes weather’ is a handy motor sport cliché that gets rolled out at most big races at the great circuit, but not usually for the cold white stuff this far into the year.
Proper flurries of flakes hit the Belgian track during a six-hour enduro blighted by four safety car periods, two full course yellows and an eventual red flag that ended the race 11 minutes early.
The pair of Toyota TS050 HYBRIDs are sadly racing themselves in the top LMP1 manufacturer category these days, so a world title for Alonso and his team-mates – while significant – might be a little hollow.
Still, they’ll take it, just as they did this victory after the #7 car, driven by Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez, lost a clear lead with a brake sensor problem that cost them a whole heap of time in the pits. They could only finish sixth behind the privateer entries from Rebellion and SMP Racing.
Alonso and friends head to the final round, the Le Mans 24 Hours next month, with a healthy 31-point lead as they also chase a second consecutive victory in sports car racing’s ‘big one’.
2. Pastor Maldonado
The Venezuelan became something of a joke figure in Formula 1 thanks to his tendency for calamity, especially towards the end of his time in the top flight – and it didn’t help that he could never get away from the ugly ‘pay driver’ label. To some, that’s almost blasphemy in the motor racing vernacular.
But Maldonado will always have the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix, when he heroically held off Alonso to score what turned out to be his only F1 victory, to prove his real worth.
Now at Spa, Maldonado has once again shown that ‘pay driver’ doesn’t always equal ‘privileged and undeserving no-hoper’. In the LMP2 class at the WEC round, he put in a polished performance in the final stint to claim DragonSpeed’s first victory at this level, sharing with fellow ex-F1 driver Anthony Davidson and Roberto Gonzalez.
The 34-year-old passed two rivals to take the lead, opened up a substantial gap, then survived a safety car restart before the weather stopped play. Respect is due.
3. Aston Martin Racing
Also at Spa, the new bright green Vantage GTE claimed its second class victory in the WEC thanks to the efforts of Maxime Martin and Briton Alex Lynn.
In a class that outshines LMP1 for competitiveness, any victory is hard-fought, particularly in these conditions, as Ferrari, BMW and Porsche were left in Aston’s wake.
The question now will be: can the British marque’s Aston Martin Racing arm claim its fifth GT class victory at Le Mans, following GT1 successes in 2007 and ’08, A GTE Am win in 2014 and the most recent GTE Pro success in 2017? The many thousands of British fans who head to La Sarthe each June will be right behind them to help make it so.
4. Jamie Chadwick
The first all-female single-seater race was held at a cold Hockenheim on Saturday, as the new W Series put contention and controversy to one side to kick into action.
Critics still remain vocal, but there’s no doubt that the 18 women who lined up on the grid were grateful for an opportunity to race – without having to supply a budget and doing so in front of a UK terrestrial TV audience, courtesy of Channel 4.
In truth, the clunky coverage didn’t do them justice, but Jamie Chadwick – surely the favourite for the $500,000 purse that goes to the champion – didn’t worry about that. She was more concerned about a downshifting problem with her gearbox that cost her the lead early on in the 30-minute race.
Chadwick overshot the hairpin and dropped a place to fellow Brit Sarah Moore, then claimed it back with an assertive move following a safety car restart. Former GP3 racer Alice Powell kept her honest thereafter, but Chadwick – who became the first woman to win an F3 race last year – wasn’t about to let her lead slip again.
Channel 4 can do better, and so can much of the field of drivers. Still, it was a promising start to something fresh.
5 & 6. Marco Wittmann & René Rast
The Germans both took victories as the DTM’s brave new world began at Hockenheim. The series has been shorn of its traditional V8 brawn in favour of en vogue four-cylinder turbos – and has also lost the might of Mercedes-Benz. Sacrilege on both counts, you’d think, but the action was as thick and fast as usual at the series’ spiritual home.
Those in the DTM still like to think of this series as the cream of the touring car crop, despite the once-unthinkable loss of the three-pointed star. That remains a point of conjecture. But like Chadwick in the W Series, such questions were of no consequence to BMW’s Marco Wittmann and Audi’s René Rast, who rose from a lowly 16th on the grid to win the second race.
As for unlikely newcomer Aston Martin, it claimed a maiden ninth place in race one courtesy of Bruno Juncadella, while Paul di Resta led the second race before fading to seventh by the flag.
7. Mercedes-AMG GT3
Merc might have been missing at Hockenheim, but its stunning GT3 machine was very much in action at a dry Brands Hatch for the first round of the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe.
Silver Cup-class entrants Nico Bastian and Thomas Neubauer took a somewhat surprising win in race one, after their Akka ASP Merc jumped to the front in the pitstops. Black Falcon pairing Maro Engel and Luca Stoltz hit back to win race two, but only after a contested safety car speeding penalty thwarted Akka ASP’s Fabian Schiller, who again had caused something of a stir by leading the more fancied runners.
A decent crowd turned out to watch the supercar action at Brands, and they were well rewarded by some great racing.
Also, it didn’t snow.
Photography courtesy of Motorsport Images and Mercedes.
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