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MotorSportsTalk’s 2015 Stories of the Year

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It was an interesting year to say the least across the board for MotorSportsTalk, our third season since joining the NBCSports.com family in 2013.

We split off our NASCAR content into the new NASCAR Talk site back in February and in September, just after the Verizon IndyCar Series season concluded, the full complement of Talk sites on NBCSports.com got a face lift.

Still, with more than 13 million reads over the year, we’re thankful for all your reading and support.

Here’s some of the stories, good and bad, that stood out over the course of the year, either via read count on MST or magnitude on the motorsports scale, in no particular order:

August: Justin Wilson succumbs to his injuries at Pocono

The benevolent badass, gentle giant and friendly face in the IndyCar paddock died from head injuries sustained at Pocono Raceway in August at age 37. Words could never fully encapsulate the measure of the man Wilson was, although I gave it a shot immediately afterwards. Robin Miller did a better job of it. The racing community came together to support the Wilson Children’s Fund thereafter, Oriol Servia did the No. 25 car proud at Sonoma under trying circumstances, several cars went across the Golden Gate Bridge in tribute, and Stefan Wilson grew by leaps and bounds from his already mature-beyond-his-years state to carry on the torch for the family from there. We miss you, J-Dub, but we’ll never forget you – and we’ll seek to live in the manner you did.

July: Jules Bianchi dies after his Suzuka 2014 accident

While Wilson’s death came within 24 hours of his accident at Pocono, young Bianchi perished in July at age 25, nine months after his accident at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. It was always going to be a struggle for Bianchi to recover from the savage injuries sustained when his car went under a crane during that race. But while Bianchi’s loss stings, and was the first F1 fatality for more than 20 years, he still made an undeniable impact on the sport. The morale boost he provided to Marussia, with that team’s first points, was indescribable. He had such a bright future ahead of him – he was destined for Ferrari – and he even had his No. 17 retired (although not without some debate with my MST partner-in-crime, our lead F1 writer Luke Smith).

January: NASCAR’s offseason gets weird, then gets sentimental as Jeff Gordon announces his retirement

Before we had the NT/MST break off earlier this year, one of the areas I noted was how the Busch brothers – and what seems like an eternity ago when Patricia Driscoll was still a name being written frequently – and other items took the NASCAR offseason and turned it into a soap opera of weirdness.

All those “first world problems” topics though took a back seat once NASCAR’s biggest stories of the year emerged in January, just before media week in Charlotte, that Jeff Gordon would be retiring at year’s end. It spawned a litany of Gordon-related stories throughout the season, and even re-entered the “bigger than NASCAR” world by his final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, when Lewis Hamilton and Mario Andretti wanted to make sure to see the 24 one last time.

May: James Hinchcliffe’s savage accident and incredible recovery

James Hinchcliffe needed a miracle to survive a violent, vicious accident the Monday before the Indianapolis 500. He did, and his recovery following the efforts of the Holmatro Safety Team and Trauma Pit Crew were recognized. By late September, he was back in an IndyCar – testing at Road America – and feeling eternally grateful for the opportunity.

May: A month of controversy, drama and finally success at Indianapolis

The month of May, 2015, was weird. Prior to the series of aerial acrobatics that took center stage after the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the Grand Prix itself had a bit of controversy with the first lap, first turn crash that saw Helio Castroneves’ points penalty change from an eight-point hit to only a three-point hit. From there, we had Simona de Silvestro’s fire, Castroneves’, Josef Newgarden’s and Ed Carpenter’s respective flips, much consternation about qualifying, and finally Juan Pablo Montoya emerging ahead of Will Power to score the Indianapolis 500 win.

June: Porsche’s upstart trio wins 24 Hours of Le Mans

The thinking was that this was Porsche’s year to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The thinking was not that it would be the trio of Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg that did it. Yet Porsche’s third car, with three LMP1 rookies, the latter two in their first ever starts at La Sarthe, pulled it off courtesy of a flawless, trouble-free drive in a great race. Their reward… is Tandy and Bamber getting split off into separate GTE-Pro cars, provided their entries are accepted by the ACO (as it should be), and Hulkenberg not getting any chance to defend courtesy of the rather stupid Baku F1/Le Mans date clash.

June-July: IndyCar has a great Fontana race, then controversial Rule 9.3.8 gets introduced

The teeth-clenching race of the year for me in the Verizon IndyCar Series came at Auto Club Speedway, and this was only via watching from a hotel room at another event. A few drivers didn’t like how the race went off, with the closest thing to pack racing. Then Rule 9.3.8 – which wasn’t officially a “gag order” but was referred to by some as such – got introduced. The punchy quotes seemed to fall off as the year went on, intentional or not.

August: Spencer Massey released by Don Schumacher Racing, effective immediately

My colleague Jerry Bonkowski did a bang-up job on the NHRA beat for the majority of the season but neither he nor I really saw this one coming. Surprisingly, this was our top-viewed drag racing story of the season, when Massey violated a Don Schumacher Racing policy and was released effective immediately. Considering this came in-season, and didn’t have the season-long storyline of a switch, as John Force’s team’s move from Castrol and Ford to Peak and Chevrolet was, it generated a lot of attention.

November: Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross completes comeback for Red Bull GRC title

Scott Speed and Tanner Foust were out of it in the early stages of 2015, but through a dynamic comeback (recapped in first and second parts of a two-part feature) managed to deliver the Red Bull Global Rallycross title for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross.

It was a great triumph for Speed; even better for Michael Andretti, whose team endured a tough season with the dissolving of his Andretti Sports Marketing company (reincarnated as LST Marketing), failed to mount a serious IndyCar title challenge, and saw its new FIA Formula E chassis fail to turn much of a wheel in testing before reverting back to its old car.

Year-round F1: Mercedes’ dominance, Ferrari’s rise, Red Bull and Renault’s saga, McLaren-Honda’s woes

Without picking out any specific posts that stood out, these were arguably the stories of the season in F1. As for 2016, the next step in these respective topics include: does Merc’s dominance continue? Can Ferrari mount a full-season challenge? How will the Red Bull and rebranded Renault-as-TAG go off? Will McLaren-Honda get any better or will it get even worse? Stay tuned…

Year-round IndyCar: Aero kits change the game, even as the title contenders remain the same

The much-ballyhooed aero kits made their race debut. They brought controversy. They brought competition (sort of). They brought copious amounts of debris cautions.

What they did not bring was a new champion; Scott Dixon earned it at year’s end, although he might have double points slightly to thank for the opportunity. Juan Pablo Montoya had a dynamic year but lost his title hopes at the final race. For Dixon, his fourth series title was one of typical resilience, yet cool, for one of this generation’s finest drivers.

Year-round Sports Cars: Corvette stars early, Porsche and Nick Tandy star throughout

Excluding the more background topics such as BoP or driver ratings (we don’t have enough energy to stomach or put together the umpteenth article about either of these topics), Corvette and Porsche were without question the two manufacturer stars of the year. Corvette Racing captured a rare endurance triple crown, winning at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans, while Porsche won just about everything else – Le Mans overall, FIA WEC overall and GTE championships (Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley took driver’s World Championship, Richard Lietz won GTE), IMSA GTE (Patrick Pilet).

And then there was the aforementioned Tandy, who won at Le Mans and Petit Le Mans overall in two separate cars (Porsche 919 Hybrid and Porsche 911 RSR), three other GT Le Mans class races in IMSA and an FIA WEC race in LMP2 with the KCMG Oreca 05 Nissan. The likable Englishman was easily the sports car driver of the year.

Year-round NHRA: Changes to some teams, business side, Peter Clifford’s introduction

It was a year of changing of the guard in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. John Force Racing went from Ford to Chevrolet. The TV coverage had its final year on ESPN before it will move to FOX. Gary Gerould hung up his microphone and reflected on 37 phenomenal years. Peter Clifford became the new president replacing Tom Compton, and instantly became a story over the year (ideas, major changes posts linked here).

Adam Cianciarulo sweeps to second straight Pro Motocross 450 win

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Adam Cianciarulo (450) and Dylan Ferrandis (250) swept both motos of their divisions Saturday in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship event at Spring Creek MX Park in Millville, Minnesota, significantly impacting the points standings.

After scoring his first career victory Sept. 8 at RedBud, Cianciarulo made it two consecutive victories on his Monster Energy Kawasaki. He won the first moto by 1.7 seconds over Blake Baggett and the second moto by 2.7 seconds over Baggett.

“Man, what a dream come true,” Cianciarulo said. “I really wanted to go 1-1 last round at RedBud and had that silly mistake. Today, we got the job done and made it happen. Two consecutive victories in the 450 Class just feels really good. I just want to keep the ball rolling.”

With three rounds remaining, Cianciarulo is ranked second in the standings at a 15-point deficit to Zach Osborne, who won three of the first five rounds.

In the 250 standings, Dylan Ferrandis jumped ahead of Jeremy Martin (who won three consecutive events earlier in the season) by three points (257-254).

Dylan Ferrandis swept both motos for his second win of the season in the 250 class (Align Media).

Ferrandis beat third-ranked RJ Hampshire in the first moto and nipping Martin by 0.4 seconds in the second.

“That was a difficult race in the second moto and the pressure was on,” Ferrandis said. “It was really good for me to have that battle and come out on top in the second moto. The championship is really close and I think that we were able to put on a good show for everyone today. Jeremy [Martin] and I have a good relationship I think and we congratulated each other and talked about the battle after the race.”

NEXT: The Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship will hold its seventh round Sept. 26 with the Geico Motorcycle WW Ranch National at Jacksonville, Florida.


RESULTS

Thor Spring Creek National (Spring Creek MX Park, Millville, Minnesota)

450 Class Overall Results (Moto Finish)

  1. Adam Cianciarulo, Port Orange, Fla., Kawasaki (1-1)
  2. Blake Baggett, Grand Terrace, Calif., KTM (2-2)
  3. Justin Barcia, Monroe, N.Y., Yamaha (5-4)
  4. Chase Sexton, La Moille, Ill., Honda (8-3)
  5. Eli Tomac, Cortez, Colo., Kawasaki (6-5)
  6. Marvin Musquin, France, KTM (3-10)
  7. Christian Craig, El Cajon, Calif., Honda (7-6)
  8. Joey Savatgy, , Suzuki (9-7)
  9. Max Anstie, United Kingdom, Suzuki (10-8)
  10. Zach Osborne, Abingdon, Va., Husqvarna (4-16)

450 Class Championship Standings

  1. Zach Osborne, Abingdon, Va., Husqvarna – 235
  2. Adam Cianciarulo, Port Orange, Fla., Kawasaki – 220
  3. Marvin Musquin, France, KTM – 215
  4. Eli Tomac, Cortez, Colo., Kawasaki – 196
  5. Justin Barcia, Monroe, N.Y., Yamaha – 194
  6. Blake Baggett, Grand Terrace, Calif., KTM – 190
  7. Chase Sexton, La Moille, Ill., Honda – 173
  8. Christian Craig, El Cajon, Calif., Honda – 141
  9. Broc Tickle, Holly, Mich., Yamaha – 134
  10. Joey Savatgy, Tallahassee, Fla., Suzuki – 122

250 Class Overall Results (Moto Finish)

  1. Dylan Ferrandis, France, Yamaha (1-1)
  2. Jeremy Martin, Millville, Minn., Honda (5-2)
  3. Alex Martin, Millville, Minn., Suzuki (4-4)
  4. Jett Lawrence, Australia, Honda (3-6)
  5. Justin Cooper, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., Yamaha (9-3)
  6. RJ Hampshire, Hudson, Fla., Husqvarna (2-11)
  7. Hunter Lawrence, Australia, Honda (7-5)
  8. Jo Shimoda, Japan, Honda (12-8)
  9. Mitchell Harrison, Brighton, Mich., Kawasaki (11-9)
  10. Derek Drake, San Luis Obispo, Calif., KTM (8-12)

250 Class Championship Standings

  1. Dylan Ferrandis, France, Yamaha – 257
  2. Jeremy Martin, Millville, Minn., Honda – 254
  3. RJ Hampshire, Hudson, Fla., Husqvarna – 202
  4. Alex Martin, Millville, Minn., Suzuki – 194
  5. Shane McElrath, Canton, N.C., Yamaha – 186
  6. Justin Cooper, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., Yamaha – 164
  7. Jett Lawrence, Australia, Honda – 162
  8. Cameron McAdoo, Sioux City, Iowa, Kawasaki – 140
  9. Mitchell Harrison, Brighton, Mich., Kawasaki – 123
  10. Brandon Hartranft, Brick, N.J., KTM – 114
Adam Cianciarulo won the holeshot in both motos at Spring Creek (Align Media).