F1 flashback: Watson’s record win as F1 leaves Long Beach

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Thanks to the record-breaking exploits of John Watson, F1’s last race at Long Beach 30 years ago today was a humdinger.

Watson scorched his way through the field to win from 22nd on the grid – the lowest starting position any has ever won an F1 race from.

Then as now, it was tires that shaped the race and its extraordinary outcome. McLaren could not master their Michelins in qualifying and their drivers lined up 22nd and 23rd on the 26-car grid.

But when the race began the pair of MP4-1Cs swiftly made their way to the front. What their tires lacked in one-lap performance they more than made up for in durability across a race stint.

All the action at the front of the field centered on reigning world champion Keke Rosberg. From third on the grid he clouted Rene Arnoux’s Ferrari then performed a 360-degree spin in front of the field while only losing one place.

Later on he turfed Patrick Tambay out of the lead with an ill-judged move at that perennial Long Beach trouble spot, the hairpin leading onto Shoreline Drive.

Meanwhile the McLarens had patiently made their way through the field, Watson passing team mate Niki Lauda who’d opted for the softer Michelins.

When Watson passed Rosberg’s team mate Jacques Laffite he didn’t realise he’d just taken the lead as he hadn’t noticed Brabham’s Riccardo Patrese heading down an escape road earlier.

Watson’s feat has never been equaled and with just 22 cars in the field this year it won’t be beaten any time soon. Sebastian Vettel came close last year, climbing to third in Abu Dhabi having lined up in the pit lane with 23 cars on the grid.

Since F1 left Long Beach IndyCar has been a fixture at the track. You can watch this year’s Long Beach Grand Prix on April 21st live on NBC Sports Network.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”