Motorsport: Kiwi drivers’ star on the rise
Aah, ’tis the festive season. ’Tis also the time for the traditional reflection on the year past and, not being one to go against tradition, here is my 10 cents’ worth.
The year started with, hopefully, the end of a divisive and long-running dispute between the warring NZV8 factions — and it’s best to put that all behind us as some astute, hard-working and persuasive people have managed to herd the cats, complete with egos, into one basket with more or less the same vision for the future.
Great. Let’s get on with the racing.
The shining star was again the Toyota Racing Series, with a renewed long-term commitment from Toyota NZ and a grid full of potential international champions driving a new state-of-the-art FT50.
After some initial teething problems with the car, the racing was hard and uncompromising and saw many of the drivers go on, as in past years, to climb the motorsport ladder.
Now internationally recognised as an important step in the careers of junior drivers from around the world, the TRS was again the major player in the summer of motorsport.
TRS 2016 is looking even better.
In the American IndyCar series, Scott Dixon won his fourth championship title after a very close battle.
After the close contest of 2014, anticipation was the word as the Formula 1 season got under way, but it soon turned into one of the less memorable seasons — unless you were part of the all-conquering Mercedes team.
A Ferrari resurgence of sorts did threaten to unseat the Mercedes dominance but it seemed the scarlet Italians could do that only with the co-operation of the silver cars’ mistakes. Despite Sebastian Vettel winning three grands prix and being a regular visitor to the podium, there was never any real doubt about the championship outcome.
The rest of the teams went more or less as expected, with McLaren the biggest disappointment.
As is the norm with Formula 1, politics played the biggest part, dominated by Red Bull digging themselves a huge hole over their engine supply and then blaming everybody but themselves for how deep that hole was.
I will get to the good bits now, the very good bits.
The Le Mans 24-hour race featured a Kiwi winner in Earl Bamber and another Kiwi in second place, Brendon Hartley.
Yes, I do know they both drove with others to achieve those results but I make no apologies for featuring them alone.
Also in the race was Mitch Evans, who finished second-in-class, and Richie Stanaway, who came close to winning his class but ultimately finished sixth.
The good news continued with all four Kiwis for the rest of the year with Hartley (and his co-drivers) winning the World Endurance Championship with Porsche.
Rallying also had its own Kiwi stars, with Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard exceeding all their, and the Hyundai team’s, expectations resulting in them joining the top-flight WRC field for 2016.
To all of this add Nick Cassidy winning the Japanese Formula 3 championship, Chris Van der Drift winning the Porsche Asia Carrera Cup Championship and the Kiwis in the Australian V8 Supercars series consistently in the top flight.
Hartley, Evans and Stanaway were also recognised by the world’s foremost racing group, the British Racing Drivers Club.
Hartley received a BRDC Gold Star — the club’s premier annual award, marking the year’s strongest performance by a member in international motorsport. The 2014 Gold Star winner was Lewis Hamilton.
Cassidy was presented with the Bruce McLaren Trophy, awarded to the Commonwealth driver who has established the most meritorious performances in international motor racing. Cassidy is also the only New Zealander in the BRDC's Rising Stars driver programme.
Evans won the Woolf Barnato Trophy, awarded to the highest-placed finishing British and/or Commonwealth driver in a British car in the Le Mans 24-Hour Race.
With these ambassadors for New Zealand motorsport and more young drivers coming up through the ranks, the future is looking bright and, perhaps, just perhaps, we are entering a new era for Kiwi drivers’ success on the world stage.
Remember, motor racing is dangerous, but driving on our public roads can be much more so.
Assume the other driver is an idiot because they assume you are.
Be careful out there!