The Year in Motors, Part 1: F1, IndyCar, Sports Cars

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Over the last two months roughly, since the IndyCar season ended in Fontana, Calif., we’ve had a look back at the racing seasons here on MotorSportsTalk. But in case you missed any of it, here are some brief recaps of the open-wheel and sports car seasons:

Formula One

Sebastian Vettel won his fourth straight World Championship, and Red Bull its fourth straight Constructor’s Championship, after the pair’s most dominant season yet. Vettel won a record-tying 13 wins in the 19 races, including the last nine in a row.

Elsewhere Mark Webber departed for the FIA World Endurance Championship at year’s end, Fernando Alonso overachieved at Ferrari, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton raised Mercedes’ profile, Kimi Raikkonen bailed early from Lotus after allegedly not being paid, Nico Hulkenberg led the midfield contingent, Pirelli’s tires were in the headlines way too frequently and the manufacturer eventually changed its construction midseason, a raft of regulation changes were announced for 2014, and Max Chilton finished all 19 races for Marussia.

What was far from a classic season on track took a worse turn just yesterday with the news Michael Schumacher has been injured in a skiing accident, and is in critical condition. Frankly, his recovery is the most important story and item going forward for F1, if not for the racing world in its entirety.

IndyCar

Scott Dixon completed a comeback from more than 90 points back at the midseason point of the 2013 IndyCar season, with four second half race wins to clinch his third championship. All have come in periods of five years (2003, 2008, 2013), and this one left Helio Castroneves still waiting for his elusive first title. The Brazilian did well but a disastrous Houston weekend and a lack of “big” results proved his ultimate undoing.

It was a very competitive season as a whole with 10 different race winners, including four first-timers, and 20 different podium finishers in the 19 races. Tony Kanaan won his elusive first Indianapolis 500, easily the moment of the year, while James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato engaged in a thrilling battle for the Brazil win. Doubleheader weekends proved popular to fans if not great for the crews.

Off-track, “Turbo’s” release brought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series into the mainstream, public sphere for the first time in years, generated more than $250 million worldwide and spawned a Netflix cartoon, which can’t be a bad thing. Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles made his first moves in the organizational structure, and the paddock mostly seems pleased with Derrick Walker now in the role of leading competition and operations.

Sports Cars

The GRAND-AM Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series concluded their last years as independent entities before merging into the unified TUDOR United SportsCar Championship for 2014. There’s still a number of rules and regulations that need to shake out from the combination, but the merged series does have a decent schedule on tap and a good car count, north of 60 cars projected for next year.

Elsewhere the Pirelli World Challenge and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge continued to put on great shows for their races; PWC operates in a sprint-race format while Continental runs two-plus hour events.

The FIA World Endurance Championship’s second year produced a similarly strong car count and a few standout performances.

Further recaps of each of the five series’ seasons are below:

Theriault clinches ARCA title before finale at Kansas

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) There is no long, convoluted story about how Austin Theriault came to Ken Schrader Racing, forging a team that so dominated the ARCA Series that it captured the title simply by showing up for the finale.

“We both wanted something to do,” the folksy Schrader said with a smile and shrug before Friday night’s race at Kansas Speedway. “He didn’t have a car to drive and I didn’t have a driver.”

So, they solved each other’s problem.

Theriault hopped into the seat and proceeded to win seven times over the first 19 races, building such a lead on his nearest challenger that he sewed up the title at Kentucky. And that made for a rather enjoyable weekend at Kansas, where all the pressure was off their team.

Along the way, Theriault became the first driver to win at a superspeedway, short track, dirt track and road event in the same season, and he swept the superspeedway and short-track challenges.

If there was something to win, he won it.

“I hoped we’d have a shot at it and it’s proved out this year that we’ve really exceeded anybody’s expectations,” Theriault said. “We had some things to work on early. We kind of dusted off a bit, went back to work. We had some time between Daytona and the mile-and-a-halfs that came up later in the season, and we realized where we were strong and where we had to work.

“But in the end it came back to pure dedication, I think,” he explained. “The amount of time it took behind the scenes to make this happen.”

The 23-year-old driver from Fort Kent, Maine, knows something about dedication. He appeared to be on racing’s fast track, scoring a Truck Series ride a few years ago for Brad Keselowski, when a terrifying crash at Las Vegas left him with a broken back and sitting on the sidelines.

The best ride he could find last year was in the K&N Pro Series.

It was at a trade show in Indianapolis last December that Theriault ran into Schrader, who was busy putting together a team for this season. They had dinner a couple nights later and, Schrader said, it was his wife Ann who came away impressed by the yes-sir, no-sir driver.

“My wife doesn’t go to all the races,” Schrader said. “After we talked she said, `I like that guy. How good is he?’ She doesn’t know. I knew he was racing well in Keselowski’s truck, had an unfortunate wreck, had to sit out a bit. I told her, `That’s somebody who could make us very happy next year.”‘

Theriault delivered on that promise.

They weren’t the only ones happy Friday, either. Zane Smith earned his second pole of the season, beating teammate Sheldon Creed to earn the top spot for the Kansas ARCA 150, while 20-year-old Natalie Decker announced a full-time ride with Venturini Motorsports next season.

“This is obviously a big step in my career,” said Decker, who made six starts as a rookie this season. “I’m confident and ready for this next move. After tonight my focus shifts to next season. We’ll be ready to go at Daytona.”