We’ll be talking about the 2014 Australian GP in years to come

7 Comments

The 2014 Australian Grand Prix was one of the most hotly anticipated races in years as a whole new era of the sport began on Sunday in Melbourne. And boy did it live up to the hype.

It was maybe not a classic race, but certainly an important one that was aided by a number of poignant and rather warming storylines. As the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton floundered, the new generation of young and exciting drivers came to the fore. Bear in mind that Vettel is just 26 and Hamilton is 29 – they seemed like the old boys on Sunday, though.

Instead, it was about four drivers in particular: Kevin Magnussen, Valtteri Bottas, Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo. At an average age of 22, this quartet is set to become the young upstarts pestering the older drivers and giving them grief in 2014. It sure feels good to be writing about some new names…

Although Ricciardo’s disqualification did put a dampener on his race weekend, it was a great display from the Australian driver to finish second on track. With Vettel retiring on lap five, the result saw him become alpha male at Red Bull for a few hours at least. The images of him on the podium will go down in Australian motorsport folklore, and there will be a great push for the FIA’s decision to be overturned upon appeal.

Magnussen was one of the main beneficiaries, rising up to second place as a result. In the race, the F1 rookie – making his debut on Sunday – duped Hamilton at the start and then produced a fine display to remain in the top three for the whole race. Fellow rookie Daniil Kvyat became the youngest ever points scorer in the race, finishing tenth and then being promoted to ninth following Ricciardo’s exclusion. He too ran well throughout the race, kept himself out of trouble and produced a very mature drive.

And then we have Bottas. The Finnish driver was simply spectacular on Sunday, making 19 passes for position. Having started in P15, he jumped up to sixth place before suffering a puncture after hitting the wall at turn ten. Back down to P16? No problem: he simply re-overtook the drivers he had passed earlier. Compatriot Kimi Raikkonen was one of a handful of drivers to have the ignominy of being passed twice by the Williams. It was a remarkable display, and one would imagine that without the puncture he would have been vying for a podium finish.

Of course, we cannot forget Nico Rosberg. Although they are great friends and Mercedes do run an ‘equal driver’ policy, it sometimes feels like the German driver is overshadowed by superstar teammate Lewis Hamilton. However, when he’s at his best, Rosberg is a very tough driver to beat. With so many other storylines dominating the coverage of the race, it is quite easy to forget that he won the race with relative ease.

Once again, a German driver won the race by over 20 seconds. On the face of things, that’s a continuation from 2013. In reality though, the sport is a completely new animal.

In years to come, this race will be spoken about by journalists, broadcasters and fans.

“Remember Magnussen’s first race?”

“Remember Kvyat’s debut?”

“Remember when Bottas passed everyone twice!?

Some very memorable moments indeed. Long may this continue.

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
Leave a comment

Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”