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:

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.