2013 Motorsport’s winners and losers

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With the end of another year upon us, here’s a quick run through the good and bad of an interesting, action-packed and controversial global motorsport season.

Winners

Mark Webber
Pretty sure they broke the mould after Webber. In a day and age where most drivers have zero personality, and seem to only want to spout either tired out clichés about the performance of their car/crew/themselves or plug sponsors at pre or post-race press conferences, the feisty Australian has been a breath of fresh air from the first day he set foot in a Formula One paddock. He will be sorely missed.

It’s been a difficult year for the ‘other guy’ at Red Bull Racing.

It must be hard to feel all warm and fuzzy about your team and what you’re trying to achieve as a unit when your alleged-teammate disobeys a direct radio order not to pass and shows little to no contrition for said move thereafter.

Still, Webber’s held his head high and continues on being a professional as the Court of Public Opinion began to truly realise what sort of a brat Sebastian Vettel has become.

As bitter as he must have been, he refused to be bated by reporters, except for this one gem, a response to a reporter asking why he hasn’t punched Vettel: “My dad always said you shouldn’t hit boys, mate.” Priceless.

It’ll be a case of greener pastures in 2014 for Webber, who joins Porsche for their all-out assault on the World Endurance Championship, whose centrepiece is the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans.

There’s no doubt that Webber is still a driver with lots to give, and he figures to flourish in a non-toxic team environment.

Most importantly, Webber leaves Formula One with his head held high, and that much as earned him many new fans. He’ll be far better off away from the Hornet’s Nest that Red Bull Racing seems to have become.

Indycar: I’ve watched a lot of racing this year, and I can, without a doubt, say that, consistently, the best has been in the IndyCar Series.

It’s also the toughest test of a driver’s ability. To win the championship, you must perform well on short bullring ovals, intermediate speedways, the big superspeedways (like Indianapolis) as well as on permanent road courses and temporary street circuits. Not easy.

The 2013 season had everything that a racing fan could want. How’s this for some impressive numbers: four first time winners, standing starts, double-headers at some events, close racing no matter the venue, extraordinary passes and finishes, incredible engine and chassis reliability.

It seemed that there was a dramatic storyline attached to every race. From James Hinchcliffe’s last-gasp pass of Takuma Sato to win on the streets of Sao Paolo, Brazil to a frenetic, lead change-filled Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend (68 changes among 14 drivers).

The race was finally – and popularly – won by Brazil’s Tony Kanaan, and the craziness of Toronto’s first race, there was something for everyone. Long may this sort of competitiveness continue!

With Colombian superstar Juan Pablo Montoya returning to Indycar in 2014 with Roger Penske after years away first in Formula One (successfully) and NASCAR (not so successfully), the series is primed for an even more action-packed season, if that’s even possible.

The only sad thing is that there was barely anyone tuning in on TV.

Jimmie Johnson
If the driver of the #48 Lowes Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports isn’t already recognised as a legend of NASCAR racing, there’s something wrong.

Love him or loath him – I’m in the latter category – there’s no denying that Johnson is head and shoulders above everyone else in the 43-car field that races week in, week out.

The year which saw Johnson win his sixth Sprint Cup Series title began in style in Daytona, where JJ won his second Daytona 500 crown and rattled off another five wins (plus three poles) en route to outlasting Matt Kenseth’s #20 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet for ultimate supremacy.

In the end, Johnson cruised to the title with a ninth-place finish in the season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

You can’t say much more about Johnson than what has already been said.

Yes, he deserves his place among the sport’s out-and-out legends Petty, Earnhardt, but unless there’s a dramatic change in the way Johnson conducts himself, it’s impossible, for mine, to see him achieving even a fraction of the long-lasting popularity that The King and Dale Earnhardt Jr have – and will always have.

Like Sebastian Vettel in Formula One, Johnson has never gelled with the fans. They see him as standoffish and lacking in personality.

That may be true, but the guy certainly can drive a stock car. He’s winning races and championships in NASCAR’s toughest era, where drivers and cars are markedly better than they were during the sport’s southern glory days.

Those six titles didn’t fall into his lap.

Losers

The 24 Hours of Le Mans
Despite another tremendous win by the undisputed king of Le Mans, Tom Kristensen, the 2013 edition of the French classic will forever be remembered because of what happened to another Danish ace, some twenty-four hours before TK and the #2 Audi R18 shared by Kristensen, Scotland’s Alan McNish and Frenchman Loic Duval crossed the line.

On the third lap of the famed twice-around-the-clock endurance test, Dane Alan Simonsen tragically lost his life following a horrific crash at the Tetre Rouge corner.

The Aston Martin Vantage GTE that Simonsen had driven off the rolling start sustained a fearful impact with the barriers.

Though Simonsen was apparently extricated from the wreckage of his car conscious and evacuated to the track’s medical facility, the popular driver later succumbed to his injuries.

The Danish flag flew at half-mast above the podium in honour of Simonsen, and Kristensen dedicated the win to his fallen countryman.

A classy tribute from a classy driver followed by many others, including some especially heartfelt ones from Australia, where Simonsen was a well-regarded competitor in GT and V8 Supercar racing.

Casey Stoner
A rough year for the MotoGP champion who left two-wheeled racing at the end of 2012 in favour of a V8 Supercar, stating dissatisfaction with the trajectory of motorcycle racing.

It wasn’t hard to see where this was supposed to lead: a year or two plying his trade in the development series before graduating to a main game V8 Supercar championship drive. Except that the script didn’t play out.

Stoner had all sorts of trouble adapting to the big cars, and was off the pace far more than most pundits expected he would.

Late in a season that must have been gratingly frustrating for a guy who’s long been used to being at the pointy end of the grid, rather than languishing at the bottom end, scrapping for meagre championship points.

His MotoGP replacement Marc Marquez won the Wold Championship on his first attempt, came news that he wouldn’t be racing V8s – or, perhaps, anywhere – in 2014, favouring a trip around Australia in a caravan with his young family.

Most disappointingly are the stories that emerged of Stoner being distant and standoffish from fans during the season.

It’s a dramatic departure from the stories of a happy Aussie on the world stage, taking all before him, and seeming like a genuinely nice guy.

I guess you become a different person when you go from winning all the time to not even challenging for a podium all season.

It’s hard to see what the future holds for Stoner. Unless there’s some dramatic change in the way MotoGP is run and regulated, it’s unlikely that we’ll see him return there, and V8 racing doesn’t seem to be his thing, either. Time will tell.

V8 Supercar Fans: Yes, plenty has been said about the dollar signs attached to the new $241 million media rights – television and the all-important digital rights – deal just completed, which will see V8 Supercar racing leave Channel Seven at the completion of the 2014 season, in favour of the Ten and Foxtel networks.

The thing is, though, that only six championship rounds will be shown on Channel Ten. The rest, only on Foxtel – presumably through it’s SPEED network.

I love the idea of every practice, qualifying session and race live in HD, as well as those of the myriad support categories that follow the V8 circus across Australia, but spare a thought for those diehard V8 fans who don’t have the luxury of Foxtel.

They’re going to miss more than half of their favourite sport’s season every year from 2015 through at least 2020.

The one-hour highlights package on Channel Ten for all the races that they don’t show live aren’t going to placate fans who are doing it tough and simply don’t have enough money to fork out for Foxtel, an expensive proposition as it currently stands, and one that that will likely get more expensive on the back of these programming additions.

The deal, trumpeted by V8 Supercars as being the best that the sport has ever seen, certainly is that, but it’s more a good deal for the stakeholders in V8 Supercars rather than the true fans themselves.

The true fans are being short-changed here, and they know it. There’s already been backlash on social media from fans, and you can expect that to continue throughout this season as the little details are ironed out and made public.

Happy New Year, everyone! Looking forward to more great racing and, hopefully, less tragedy, in 2014!

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