As GP2 turns 10 years old, where is the Class of ’05 now?

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Time to cut some cake and put up some balloons. GP2, F1’s premier feeder championship, turns ten years old today.

GP2 was first established back in 2005 as a revamped version of the International F3000 championship, intended to be the final stepping stone to F1.

Over the past ten seasons, it has been exactly that for an array of the sport’s biggest talents. In all, 26 drivers have graduated from GP2 to F1 over the past ten years, making it the greatest contributor to the sport in the modern era. Eight of the current field raced in the championship, four of whom were champions.

But it all began at Imola on April 23, 2005 in support of the San Marino Grand Prix. The opening feature race of the new championship was won by Heikki Kovalainen after he capitalized on a problem for Giorgio Pantano, taking the lead with three laps remaining.

Looking back on the grid, there are a few names that have disappeared from mainstream motorsport. However, the majority are still racing, boasting a huge number of championships and race wins between them.

Let’s take a look at what all of the “class of ’05” are up to some ten years after racing in the first ever GP2 event.

GP2 Series’ “Class of ’05” – Where Are They Now?

Nico Rosberg – ART Grand Prix (2005 GP2 champion, 120 points)

Rosberg is the best-known member of the GP2 debutants in 2005. After winning the inaugural title, he joined Williams for the 2006 F1 season. After five years, he secured a switch to Mercedes, with whom he finished as the runner-up in last year’s world championship behind teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Heikki Kovalainen – Arden International (series runner-up, 105 points)

Despite winning the very first race, Kovalainen fell just short for the title, but joined Renault F1 Team in a reserve role for 2006. He replaced Fernando Alonso twice in two years (at Renault in 2007 and McLaren in 2008), only to be dropped in favor of Jenson Button for 2010 after winning just one grand prix. Three difficult years with Caterham followed before two races for Lotus in 2013 that proved to be his last in F1. Heikki is now racing in the Japanese Super GT series.

Scott Speed – iSport International (3rd, 67.5 points)

American driver Scott Speed moved into F1 with Scuderia Toro Rosso for 2006, but was dropped midway through the 2007 season for Sebastian Vettel. He moved back to the United States and focused on NASCAR, but is now back in single seaters with the Andretti Formula E team, with whom he finished second on debut in Miami last month. He races full-time in Red Bull Global Rallycross with Andretti’s Volkswagen team.

Alexandre Premat – ART Grand Prix (4th, 67 points)

Premat balanced his GP2 commitments with a successful campaign in the A1 Grand Prix series, helping France to win the inaugural championship in 2005-2006. He remained in GP2 for 2006, finishing third in the standings before joining Audi in its DTM and LMP1 programmes. Premat recorded a best finish of fourth at Le Mans in 2008, but has spent the last few years racing in the Australian V8 Supercars series.

Adam Carroll – Super Nova Racing (5th, 53 points)

Carroll won the first ever GP2 sprint race the day after Kovalainen’s victory at Imola, but he never managed to better his 2005 championship position of fifth place. The Irishman made his last GP2 appearance in 2011, having won the final A1 GP title in 2009 and raced in two IndyCar races in the meantime. He is now racing in the British GT Championship for in the Ferrari-powered FF Corse team and in the European Le Mans Series with Gulf Racing UK.

Giorgio Pantano – Super Nova Racing (6th, 49 points)

Pantano’s case is a strange one. He entered GP2 in 2005 after 14 races in F1 with Jordan, and would have won the first race had it not been for a gearbox issue. The Italian driver went on to win the title in 2008, but could not find a seat in F1. He raced occasionally in IndyCar and planned to remain in America, but it never quite worked out. Pantano raced in the Blancpain GT series last year, and undoubtedly goes down as one of the biggest GP2 talents that never made it back to F1.

Neel Jani – Racing Engineering (7th, 48 points)

Jani only raced four more times in GP2 after 2005, but went on to win the A1 GP title for Switzerland in 2008. He moved over to the United States to race in Champ Car in 2007, scoring three podiums, and spent four years with Rebellion Racing’s LMP1 programme at Le Mans before joining Porsche’s revived LMP1 factory team in the FIA World Endurance Championship. He won his first race last November, and is in the hunt for an outright Le Mans win this year.

Nelson Piquet Jr – Hitech/Piquet Racing (8th, 46 points)

Piquet ran Lewis Hamilton close for the GP2 title in 2006, finishing as runner-up to the Briton. He moved into F1 in 2008 with Renault, scoring a podium finish, but his career in the sport will always be remembered for the infamous ‘Crashgate’ scandal, where he deliberately crashed his car at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to help fix the race. He moved into NASCAR after being sacked by Renault in 2009 ahead of the scandal becoming public knowledge, and after years on the move, now appears settled in Formula E where he is fighting for the championship in its inaugural season. He is also racing in the Red Bull GRC, with SH Rallycross.

Jose Maria Lopez – DAMS (9th, 36 points)

American fans may remember Lopez best for getting one of the drives with US F1 ahead of its planned entry to F1. After this fell apart in 2010, he moved into touring cars and met great success. The Argentinian won last year’s World Touring Car Championship, and leads the way for Citroen in this year’s series after two rounds.

Gianmaria Bruni – Coloni Motorsport (10th, 35 points)

Like Pantano, Bruni already had a season of F1 under his belt before entering GP2 after spending 2004 with Minardi. The Italian won three races in two years in GP2 before turning his attention to endurance racing where he has established himself as one of the best GT racers in the world. Bruni is a three-time class winner at Le Mans and three-time GT FIA WEC champion with AF Corse, and will be chasing another victory in 2015.

EJ Viso – BCN Competicion (11th, 21 points)

Viso will again be well-known to the American audience. He finished sixth in GP2 in 2006 before turning his attention to the American racing circuit, securing an IndyCar seat in 2008. He remained in the championship until 2013, and is now racing in the Stadium Super Trucks series – even winning the race at Long Beach just four days ago.

Nicolas Lapierre – Arden International (12th, 21 points)

Lapierre raced in GP2 until 2007 before turning his attention to endurance racing, where he has found great success. The Frenchman finished third at Le Mans last year with Toyota’s LMP1 team, but withdrew for the 6 Hours of Fuji due to personal reasons. Lapierre will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for the 6 Hours of Spa in two weeks’ time with KCMG in LMP2, and continues to compete at a very high level.

Olivier Pla – David Price Racing (13th, 20 points)

Another Frenchman who found success in endurance racing is Olivier Pla. After winning twice in 2005, Pla failed to score another point in GP2 before moving into Le Mans racers for the 2008 season in LMP2. He finished second in class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2013 with Oak Racing, and fell agonizingly short of the FIA WEC LMP2 drivers’ title in 2014 when his car was forced to retire at the final race in Sao Paulo. Pla is now a part of Nissan’s LMP1 programme for 2015, and is set to make his debut at Le Mans. Another man to land on his feet out of GP2.

Borja Garcia – Racing Engineering (14th, 17.5 points)

Garcia raced in a variety of single seater championships after his debut GP2 season. The Spaniard moved to Formula Renault 3.5 for 2006 (finishing second), returned to GP2 for 2007, and then went back to FR3.5 for 2008. Short stints Superleague Formula and Formula Atlantic followed, and is now racing in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, bringing a taste of American racing to European shores.

Clivio Piccione – Durango (15th, 14 points)

Piccione won at the Nurburgring in 2005, but it would prove to be the height of his GP2 career. The Monegasque racer raced for Team Monaco in A1 GP, and spent two years in the FIA GT1 Championship, and now organizes karting events in Monaco.

Hiroki Yoshimoto – BCN Competicion (16th, 14 points)

Yoshimoto’s life and career is another stand-out one from the class of 2005. He eventually succeeded on the racing front in Japan, racing in the Super GT series and finishing as the runner-up in 2012. Away from racing though, he is a vocalist in the Japanese band “doa” and runs a car mod shop.

Ferdinando Monfardini – Durango/Coloni (17th, 5 points)

Monfardini spent two years in GP2 before moving into GT racing, taking part in the International GT Open in 2008 and the FIA GT championship the year after.

Juan Cruz Alvarez – Campos Racing (18th, 4.5 points)

Alvarez only spent one season in GP2 before returning to his native Argentina to take part in the national touring car series, Top Race V6, where he still races and is an occasional race winner.

Alexandre Negrao – Hitech/Piquet Racing (19th, 4 points)

Negrao remained in GP2 until 2007 before racing at Le Mans in 2008, where he failed to finish. He then returned to Brazil to race in the national stock car series, and won the national GT championship in 2012. Negrao occasionally races in other GT events, finishing tenth at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2014.

Sergio Hernandez – Campos Racing (20th, 3 points)

Hernandez scored just four points across three years in GP2, and, like many, then moved into touring cars. Four years in the WTCC yielded a single victory, and was last racing in the Superstars series in Italy back in 2011.

Mathias Lauda – Coloni Motorsport (21st, 3 points)

Son of F1 legend Niki Lauda, Mathias spent just one year in GP2. He then raced for Austria in A1 GP before moving into tin-tops, taking part in the DTM series, the Porsche Supercup and the GT1 World Championship. For 2015, he has now joined Aston Martin Racing in the WEC, and claimed class victory on debut at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Can Artam – iSport International (22nd, 2 points)

Artam spent just one year in GP2 before taking a step back from racing after being called into military service. He returned to the track in 2013 in the Turkish Touring Car Championship, and now runs his own racing academy in Turkey.

Ryan Sharp – David Price Racing (23rd, 2 points)

Sharp completed just half a season in GP2 in 2005 before moving into the WTCC for 2006 – winning the European Touring Car Cup the same year – and then into the FIA GT championship the year after that alongside Karl Wendlinger.

Fairuz Fauzy – DAMS (24th, 0 points)

Fauzy dotted around single seater championship following two years in GP2 in 2005 and 2006, scoring zero points from 44 races. He worked as a test driver for Spyker, Lotus Racing (which would become Caterham) and Lotus Renault (now Lotus F1 Team) in F1, and is now racing GTs from time to time.

Toni Vilander – Coloni Motorsport (25th, 0 points)

An odd inclusion given he only raced four times in GP2, but Vilander soon found great success in GT racing. Alongside Gianmaria Bruni, he has two class wins at Le Mans for AF Corse, and shared last year’s WEC GT title with the man he replaced at Coloni Motorsport in 2005. Another big success story that GP2 can claim, only just, some credit for.

Giorgio Mondini – David Price Racing (26th, 0 points)

Mondini raced just ten times in GP2, but worked as a test driver for both Midland and Renault in Formula 1. He finished ninth at Le Mans in 2009 for Colin Kolles’ team and tested for HRT F1 Team in 2011 before the team went out of business one year later.

***

Of course, many more drivers followed. Lewis Hamilton won the title in 2006, whilst Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean were champions in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Jules Bianchi and Sergio Perez cut their teeth in GP2 as well, and with the likes of Stoffel Vandoorne, Pierre Gasly and Raffaele Marciello all impressing in the series at the moment, the future is very bright for F1’s leading feeder series.

So happy birthday GP2. Thank you for the memories, and here’s to another ten years of continued success and great racing.

NHRA: Top 10 storylines of the 2019 season

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The 2019 NHRA season wound up being one where there was almost as much news and highlights made off the drag strip as on it.

That was the case in two of the top four storylines for the recently completed season, with the top story occurring even before the first pass down a drag strip in competition took place.

We’ve also included a poll for you to vote and see if you agree with our picks or not.

Here’s how our top 10 looks:

1. A Force-ful departure: Just two weeks before the 2019 season was due to open, Funny Car driver Courtney Force, daughter of 16-time champion John Force, stunned the drag racing world by announcing she was taking a hiatus from the sport – although she insisted she was not retiring. The wife of IndyCar driver Graham Rahal, Force turned over her high dollar Advance Auto Parts sponsorship to sister and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, who had previously been sponsored by Monster Energy. Courtney Force became the second high-profile female drag racer to step away from the sport in just over a year, joining fellow Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria, who went on hiatus after the 2017 season. This past October, DeJoria announced she would return to full-time NHRA competition in 2020. But as for Courtney, she remains on hiatus for at least the time being.

2. Torrence’s Texas two-step: Proud Texas native Steve Torrence won his second consecutive Top Fuel championship in 2019, winning nine races (including eight in a nine-race stretch). While Torrence enjoyed an outstanding season in 2018, winning 11 races and becoming the first driver in NHRA history to win all six races in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs, he won just one playoff race in 2019. But he still managed to earn just enough points to hold off his closest rival, Doug Kalitta, by a mere three points for the second championship. Also of note: Steve’s father Billy finished a career-best fifth in the final standings, even though he competed in just 16 of the season’s 24 national events.

3. What happened to ‘The Sarge’? Tony Schumacher is the winningest Top Fuel driver in NHRA history, with eight championships and 84 national event wins. But he was essentially AWOL in 2019, failing to compete in even one race. The reason: sponsorship. Or more precisely, lack thereof. The U.S. Army, which had sponsored Schumacher for nearly 20 years – which prompted him to adopt the colorful nickname of “The Sarge” — pulled its funding after the 2018 season, leaving Schumacher without a fully-funded ride for 2019. Rather than try to race piecemeal from race to race with limited sponsorship, the son of team owner Don Schumacher decided to watch the season from the sidelines. How Schumacher could not attract a new big dollar sponsor, given his domination and success in the Top Fuel class, is almost unfathomable. Unfortunately, it’s looking like Schumacher – who turns 50 on Christmas Day – may remain sidelined in 2020.

John Force

4. A Force to be reckoned with once again: Even though he fell short of adding to his record 16 NHRA Funny Car championships, the 2019 season was definitely one of resurgence for John Force, the sport’s winningest and most popular driver ever. Force, who turned 70 years old in May, isn’t letting age slow him down, earning two wins during the season – including a milestone 150th Funny Car victory of his career – and finished fourth in the standings (up from ninth in 2018, seventh in 2017, and his best finish since he ended up fourth in 2016).

Robert Hight

5. At the Hight of his success: Robert Hight isn’t flashy or verbose as his boss, John Force. But when he’s not working as president of John Force Racing, the soft-spoken Hight has become one of the premier drivers in Funny Car history. In 2019, he earned his third Funny Car championship – his second in the last three seasons and third since 2009. Along the way, he captured six wins (including a milestone 50th win), was runner-up three other times, reached the semifinals five times and led all drivers as the No. 1 qualifier for eight races (a full one-third of the season). This was perhaps the most dominant championship of all for Hight, including leading the Funny Car standings for 23 of the 24-race season.

Erica Enders

6. Erica’s baaaaccckkkk: Erica Enders is back on top of her game, and on top of the Pro Stock category, earning her third championship in the last six seasons (and first since 2015). Admittedly, her championship came in the first year of a shortened Pro Stock schedule, having been cut from a full 24 races to just 18. Still, the Texas native won two races, finished runner-up three other times and reached the semifinals four other times. Also of note, Enders’ Elite Motorsports teammate, five-time Pro Stoc champ Jeg Coughlin Jr., came oh, so close to winning his sixth title, finishing just 21 points behind Enders in the final standings.

Doug Kalitta

7. What does he have to do to win first championship? Doug Kalitta came the closest he ever has to earning the first Top Fuel championship of his 20-year drag racing career, finishing just three points behind Steve Torrence in the Top Fuel rankings. It was almost heartbreaking as Kalitta seemingly did everything he needed to do to win the championship, including winning the season-ending race in Pomona, California, one of three wins he earned (as well as two runner-up finishes and six semifinal showings). Kalitta began the season with a win at Pomona, as well. But Torrence came into the season-ending event at Pomona with just enough of a lead (and reached the semifinals) to hold off Kalitta’s challenge. How close was Kalitta from winning the championship? If he had advanced one more round in any of the six playoff races, he would have bested Torrence. Unfortunately, in a sense, Kalitta – nephew of legendary NHRA team owner and racer Connie Kalitta – has become the Mark Martin of NHRA Top Fuel: always a bridesmaid but never a bride when it comes to winning a championship. But there’s still hope, Kalitta fans: he’s going to give it another try in 2020. Maybe that will be his year – finally.

Andrew Hines

8. He’s one heck of an easy rider: Andrew Hines made it look easy in 2019 – although it was far from it – when he earned his sixth career NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle championship (and first since 2015). Son of past PSM champion Byron Hines, Andrew Hines enjoyed one of the most dominating seasons ever of his career — not to mention one of the most dominating seasons in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category — winning eight of the 16 PSM events contested, along with earning two runner-up and three semifinal finishes. Hines held off 2016 PSM champ Jerry Savoie by 26 points and 2018 champ Matt Smith by 46 points.

JR Todd

9. What a difference a year makes: JR Todd had an exceptional season in 2018, with six wins, two runner-up finishes and six semifinal showings. Not surprisingly, the Indiana native went on to win the Funny Car championship that season for Kalitta Motorsports. But one year later, Todd was seemingly an afterthought when it came to challenging for the Funny Car crown once again. For as good as he was in 2018, Todd struggled through much of the 2019 season with just one win, three runner-up and two other semifinal finishes, ultimately finishing seventh in the standings, a distant 246 points behind series champ Robert Hight, who was second to Todd in 2018.

Austin Prock

10. Strong start for sport’s top rookie: When your father is renowned crew chief Jimmy Prock, it’s clear that the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. Such is the case of Austin Prock, who finished his first season in Top Fuel by earning NHRA’s rookie of the year honors. The younger Prock finished eighth in the Top Fuel season standings, including one win and five semifinal finishes driving for John Force Racing. Ironically, he finished one spot higher than three-time Top Fuel champ Antron Brown, who had a rough season, finishing ninth in the standings, with no wins, two runner-up showings and reached the semifinals just five times.

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