Celebrating disabled drivers

In any sport it’s an incredible feat to be able to compete whilst having a physical disability. Motorsport is one of those sports where the differences between a driver without a physical impairment and drivers who do, can be highlighted in some areas but can be completely unnoticeable if you weren’t aware of a driver’s disability beforehand.

To mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we decided to talk about a few drivers who are breaking down barriers in racing for those with disabilities.

Alex Zanardi

Having competed in F1 for many years, Alex was competing in the CART World Series at the Lausitzring in 2001. Exiting the pits 12 laps from the end of the race, he lost grip on cold tyres and slid into oncoming traffic, where he was hit by another car at over 200mph. He survived despite losing nearly 75% of his blood volume, but lost both his legs in the crash.

With the use of hand controls Alex went on to race again in the World Touring Car Championship, Blancpain Sprint Series, Spa 24 Hours, Daytona 24 Hours, and also made a one-off appearance in DTM in 2018 at Misano. However he made a real name for himself by competing in the Paralympics.

Alex won a handcycling gold and a relay silver in the London 2012 Paralympics (both events taking place at Brands Hatch) and another gold and silver in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics, as well as plenty of other accolades in the Para-cycling World Championships.

Unfortunately Alex was involved in a para-cycling road race accident in June of this year, when he lost control of his handbike on a hill and hit an oncoming truck. He suffered severe facial and cranial trauma, and was placed into a medically induced coma.

We all know from the ordeals he’s had to go through that if anyone can overcome this, it’ll be Alex Zanardi. A true hero to disabled people all around the world.

Billy Monger

After great success in karting, Billy Monger was competing at Donington in British F4 in 2017. In race three he collided with a slow moving car and his legs were buried in the wreckage. He was extracted and airlifted to hospital, but unfortunately had to have his legs amputated.

But this didn’t break Billy Whizz’s spirit. With the help of hand controls, Billy returned to single seaters in the 2018 British F3 championship, scoring four podiums and two pole positions to end the season sixth in the standings.

Billy moved up to EuroFormula the following year, where he achieved the seemingly impossible in a wet Pau Grand Prix. Making a clever call to pit for wets on the formation lap, Billy rose through the field to third then held his nerve in the tricky conditions to win after the two leaders collided.

You’ll see Billy as part of Channel 4’s F1 coverage, and he’s expressed interest in joining the new Extreme E off-road electric series for next year. I certainly hope this happens as Monger is one of the most inspiring individuals you could ever know and he deserves to race.

Nathalie McGloin

McGloin is a British racing driver who is also a tetraplegic. She injured her spine in a road traffic accident as a teenager and has been competing in the Porsche Sprint Challenge against able bodied men. She’s the only disabled woman in the whole of the UK to hold a race and rally licence in the UK, and competes with radial hand controls that she pushes forward to brake and backward to accelerate, meaning she steers with one hand at all times!

Not only has she managed many podium finishes in the Porsche championship (including an outright victory at Silverstone in 2018), she’s also the President of the FIA Disability and Accessibility Commission. Definitely deserving of a place on this list.

Robert Kubica

Robert Kubica, Alfa Romeo (Florent Gooden, DPPI / Alfa Romeo Media)

Perhaps the most well known name on this list. He enjoyed huge success as the first Polish driver in F1, including his famous win with BMW Sauber in 2008. However all that changed in the lead up to the 2011 season.

After testing his new Renault F1 car, Robert entered an amateur rally event and collided with a guardrail, resulting in elbow, shoulder and leg fractures and partially severing his right forearm. He thankfully survived, but the injuries put him out of F1 for the foreseeable future.

Robert stuck to the rallying scene on his road to recovery and won the WRC-2 championship in 2013. But in 2017 he returned to F1 machinery with a Renault test, which ultimately led to a fairytale opportunity to return as a full time driver with Williams for 2019.

He scored their only point of the year at Hockenheim but wasn’t kept on for 2020. Nevertheless seeing Kubica back in F1 did feel right, and he has since took up a position as Alfa Romeo’s development driver while also competing in DTM this year, where he took a podium at Zolder.

Nic Hamilton

The first thing you’d think of is that he’s the brother of a certain seven-time F1 world champion. But the younger Hamilton has been making a name for himself for years.

Nic has had cerebal palsy since birth, resulting in physical impairments his whole life. But having initially gotten a taste for competition on video games (long before Esports was in the mainstream), he started competing in the BTCC-supporting Renault Clio Cup and then in European Touring Cars.

2019 however was when he finally got to where I feel he belonged, British Touring Cars. Seeing someone with cerebal palsy in the headline races on a terrestrial TV channel is incredibly uplifting to witness.

Frédéric Sausset

When on holiday in 2012, businessman and motorsport enthusiast Frédéric contracted a life-threatening infection from a scratch on his finger, which resulted in him becoming a quadruple amputee. However he didn’t let this prevent him from fulfilling his lifelong ambition of racing the 24 hours of Le Mans.

OAK Racing converted one of their LMP2 cars so Frédéric could drive it in the 2016 race. He used a special steering wheel which connected to a prosthetic on his right arm, and he had two thigh operated paddles built into his seat insert for the accelerator and brake.

The result was that Sausset and his teammates entered into the grueling round-the-clock race and finished it. A remarkable achievement and one that cannot even be imaginable for someone in his position, but he did it.

Caleb McDuff

Caleb McDuff (Photo courtesy of Ian McDuff)

Last but not least, Caleb McDuff is a 12-year old kart racer who is profoundly deaf. When he competes in karting, he can’t utilise his implants and so he races in total silence. Which, when you consider how reliant a lot of drivers are on the sound of their vehicle to race, is just incredible to think about.

Not only is Caleb able to compete in karting but he’s actually pretty good. Last year, he won the Super One National Karting Championship’s Honda Cadet category so he’s clearly capable of overcoming his impairments. I would very much hope he’s able to make the step up to cars in the future, whether that be single seaters or tin-tops.

Every single one of these people are so incredibly inspiring and serve as reminders that the human spirit is impenetrable. Whatever the cards you are dealt with in life, you can achieve whatever you set your mind to and we are bound by absolutely nothing. So happy International Day of Persons with Disabilities to you all!

Gerhard Berger Is New DTM Boss

(c) dtm.com

In an attempt to improve the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, series‘ governing body is under restructuration and appointed Gerhard Berger as its new boss.

Former Formula 1 driver and team co-owner Berger will replace Hans Werner Aufrecht, who led ITR for over 30 years. The Austrian will return to the managerial role for the first time since he left the FIA single-seater commission at the end of 2014.

Commenting on his new role, Berger said: “I started my motor-racing career in touring car racing and always followed DTM with a lot of interest. DTM is a top-class product with independent, powerful regulations, with strong manufacturers, top sponsors, important international partnerships and many fans.

This is a good starting point with great potential for the future. The first task I will focus on in the coming weeks is gaining a deeper insight into the details with the support of my colleagues. We will then use this strong basis for creating a joint strategy for the future. While doing so, I consider the further development of our international partnerships – also with regards to new manufacturers –, spectacular racing cars that also command the drivers’ respect as well as a format combining both sport and entertainment as particularly important”.

Although Berger himself ran in only one DTM race (8th place in Zolder 1985), he is connected to the series through his nephew Lucas Auer who will spend his third season as a Mercedes-AMG driver this year.

Tomasz Kubiak

Twitter: @tomekkubiak

DTM – Vallelunga Test

(c) DTM

DTM teams completed three-day test at Vallelunga.

All three manufacturers of the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters came to Vallelunga for a three-day test. It was the first time the cars were present in the fully homologated 2017 spec.

Audi Sport brought to Italy Mattias Ekström and Jamie Green. It was Ekström who gave the new RS 5 DTM first public laps and was very pleased with the experience:

(c) DTM

“We tried out a lot of different things: short stints, long runs, qualifying simulations and many different set-up variants. The new DTM cars are definitely more demanding in terms of driving skills. Plus, finding a perfect set-up compromise for the softer tires and the changed aerodynamics is a great challenge. The season is going to be packed with excitement for sure!” Ekstrom commented.

Both Audi drivers covered 2121 kilometres between them.

Mercedes-AMG’s drivers Robert Wickens, Gary Paffett and Edoardo Mortara posted 518 laps between them, equating to 2116 km. The Stuttgart brand focused mainly on a better understanding of the new-for-2017 softer compound tyres from series’ supplier Hankook.

(c) DTM

Head of the Mercedes-AMG’s programme Ulrich Fritz commented:

“The hard work has paid off so far with plenty of kilometres posted and data collected during two successful weeks of testing. Still, our work is far from over. We must now evaluate all the info, especially with regard to the new generation of tyres, and draw the right conclusions before final testing in Hockenheim.”

(c) DTM

BMW Motorsport decided not to share much information about their participation in testing. The Bavarian brand brought to the track Maxime Martin and Tom Blomqvist, who are understood to have spent the three days understanding the behaviour of the new M4 DTM, which under the new rules was given more power and less downforce than its predecessor.

The last round of collective testing will take place in Hockenheim on 3-6 April. The same track will host the season opener on 6-7 May.

Tomasz Kubiak

Twitter: @tomekkubiak

DTM Test

Photo: (c) DTM

 

All three Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters manufacturers were present in Algarve for the last collective testing before the cars have to be submitted to homologation on March 1.

Photo Credit: (c) Audi Sport

Audi Sport brought their former champion Mattias Ekström to perform the initial shakedown, before handing the RS 5 DTM to Loïc Duval and René Rast, both new full-season drivers in the series and Jamie Green, who took the car for the final of three days.

Photo Credit: (c) Mercedes-AMG

Mercedes-AMG also had a mix of experienced drivers and new signings. The Stuttgart-based brand focused on completing as many laps as possible with Gary Paffett, Paul di Resta and Audi refugee Edoardo Mortara. The three drivers together crossed the finish line 438 times.

Photo Credit: (c) BMW Motorsport

BMW Motorsport was the only manufacturer to have only two drivers with Augusto Farfus and reigning series champion Marco Wittmann sharing the driving duties. The München-based squad focussed on getting to know the new for 2017 tyres which are much softer, as an effect of a tyre warmers ban.

The sessions were not timed and it is understood that not all cars were in their full 2017 trims.

This will change for the next collective test, which will take place in Italian Vallelunga on March 14-17.

Tomasz Kubiak

Twitter: @tomekkubiak

Audi To Utilize 3 Teams

Audi will utilize three existing teams in DTM.

Audi is the last Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters manufacturer to announce their team structure for the 2017 season.

For the first time since 2011, the DTM field will consist of only 18 cars, which comes as a result of an agreement between competing brands to run six cars each, instead of eight. While BMW and Mercedes-AMG took the opportunity to reduce the number of their teams to two and one respectively, Audi decided to keep all its existing outfits in place.

That move was possible as Hans-Jürgen Abt’s Team Abt Sportsline, which used to run four cars, will scale down its programme to two cars, in order to keep in line with Team Phoenix and Team Rosberg.

Each full-time 2016 driver will remain with their existing teams. Therefore, Mattias Ekström and Nico Müller will form the Abt squad, while Jamie Green and Mike Rockenfeller will lead Rosberg and Phoenix respectively. As for rookie goes, Loïc Duval will join Team Phoenix while René Rast will switch to Team Rosberg for his first full-season ride.

Rast and Duval also announced their race numbers – the German decided not to retain the #72 he used for a few races last year and chose to race with #33 while the French opted for #77.

Tomasz Kubiak

Twitter: @tomekkubiak

DTM – 2017 Line-Up Is Complete

Touring Cars

Photo Credit: (c) DTM

 

Mercedes-AMG is the last of the three Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters manufacturers to announce driver line-ups for the 2017 season, which means that all 18 names are now known.

As each brand will enter six cars this year instead of eight, Mercedes-AMG had to lay off some drivers.

The Stuttgart marque decided to keep only half of last year’s squad. Christian Vietoris, Maximilian Götz and Daniel Juncadella will therefore no longer be part of the DTM effort.

The team decided to keep Garry Paffett, Lucas Auer, Robert Wickens and Paul di Resta. Paffett and di Resta are both former series champions whilst Auer and Wickens have six victories and seven pole positions between them. They will be joined by last year’s runner-up and long-time Audi driver Edoardo Mortara, who will be the only driver to switch brands during the off season, and Maro Engel. The German driver will return to DTM for the first time since 2011 and at the moment is the only Mercedes-AMG driver who is yet to stand on the podium.

In order to reduce costs, all six Mercedes-AMG’s cars will be run by Team HWA this year.

BMW was the first brand to announce its 2017 line-up consisted of current champion Marco Wittmann, Timo Glock, Augusto Farfus, Bruno Spengler, Tom Blomqvist and Maxime Martin, whilst Mattias Ekström, Nico Müller, Jamie Green, René Rast, Mike Rockenfeller and Loïc Duval will form the Audi team.

The 2017 DTM season will start in Hockenheim on 6-7 May.

Tomasz Kubiak