Pato O’Ward secures pole ahead of Alexander Rossi in IndyCar season opener

Arrow McLaren SP’s Patricio O’Ward kicked off his 2021 IndyCar campaign in style – taking pole position for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The Mexican extraordinaire looked extremely quick throughout the day, topping all the sessions he featured in throughout qualifying. He narrowly edged out Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi by nearly seven-hundredths of a second on route to securing his second career pole.

Third fastest and quickest of the Chip Ganassi drivers went to series sophomore Alex Palou in his first qualifying run for Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda, while four-time Barber polesitter Will Power was top Team Penske driver in fourth.

Six-time and reigning champion Scott Dixon, who is seeking his first Barber win, will line up fifth, alongside teammate Marcus Ericsson, making it three Ganassi cars in the first three rows.

Romain Grosjean, who drove with a custom helmet designed by his children, drove superbly to secure seventh on his debut. He will start ahead of two-time series champion Josef Newgarden in eighth and young superstar Colton Herta in ninth with Conor Daly rounding out the top ten.

Courtesy of Chris Owens

The qualifying session was not without its drama. The second group session was first disrupted by James Hinchcliffe understeering off the track into the tire wall at Turn 5, bringing out the red flag. Pato O’Ward himself narrowly saved a huge moment at the top of the crest between Turns 13 and 14 on his way to topping the session.

However, his teammate Felix Rosenqvist was not so lucky. The Swede dropped it at the final turn which brought out the second red flag of the session. Despite crossing the line, the lap-time was deleted.

Other notable mentions include our other two star rookies, Australian Supercar Champion Scott McLaughlin and multiple-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson who will start 12th and 22nd respectively.

CLASSIFICATION:

  1. Patricio O’Ward
  2. Alexander Rossi
  3. Alex Palou
  4. Will Power
  5. Scott Dixon
  6. Marcus Ericsson
  7. Romain Grosjean
  8. Josef Newgarden
  9. Colton Herta
  10. Conor Daly
  11. Jack Harvey
  12. Scott McLaughlin
  13. Ed Jones
  14. Rinus VeeKay
  15. Simon Pagenaud
  16. Sebastien Bourdais
  17. Ryan Hunter-Reay
  18. Graham Rahal
  19. Takuma Sato
  20. Max Chilton
  21. Jimmie Johnson
  22. Felix Rosenqvist
  23. Dalton Kelett
  24. James Hinchcliffe

 

Dual in the desert Bahrain

What a race…

Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

After what seemed like an unusually long winter Formula 1 is back with a bang in the desert.

After winter testing, three practice sessions and qualifying all that we knew for sure was the grid had indeed tightened up, especially for the top two teams in Mercedes and Red Bull.

Max Verstappen had taken pole position from Lewis Hamilton by just under four tenths of a second with the sister Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas in third and Charles Leclerc in fourth.

Even sitting thousands of miles away the anticipation at the start was palpable.

The instillation lap did nothing to calm the nerves as Checo Perez loses power initialising a second instal lap.

He did manage to power up the ailing Red Bull but had to start from the pit lane.

Five red lights go out and we’re away for the Bahrain Grand Prix and indeed the start of the 2021 season. Unsurprisingly to many fans the number two Haas crashes out at turn one and his race ends before it can even start, leaving Mick Schumacher the sole Haas driver as the safety car is deployed.

Leclerc had managed to snatch third from Bottas before the safety car was deployed! Sainz lost out at the start and is down in P10, with Alonso and Stroll both gaining a position from him.

Verstappen leads the pack away from Hamilton who is left to defend from Leclerc into turn one.

Bottas takes third place back as we settle into a familiar pattern.

Verstappen pulls out a small lead of just under two seconds.

Further down the pack Sergio Perez starts to haul the Red bull through the field.

Mercedes are first to blink and try the undercut, putting the hard tyres on and it looks like a great decision as Red bull stays out as Lewis starts pumping in purple sectors and is the fastest man on track.

Verstappen’s in at last! And goes from mediums to mediums, he will have to stop again. He exits the pits nearly seven seconds behind Hamilton!

The top three are Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas. Further down the field Vettel and Alonso are fighting it out for P8!

Max is putting in the strong laps now on tyres ten laps newer than Hamilton’s. He closes to within two seconds or so, as Mercedes once again throws the dice and pull Lewis in for a new set of hard boots.

He exits the pits in third behinds Bottas in second and Max in first.

Bottas stops but there’s a problem with the front left! It’s a 10.9s stop and he comes out behind Leclerc in P5

Verstappen pits for hards and is stationary for an incredible 1.9 seconds and leaves himself 8.7s to make up to Hamilton in the final 17 laps.

Hamilton’s trying to keep his tyres going until the end, andy it’s falling back into Verstappen’s hands as he starts to take chunks off Lewis.

Verstappen is eating into Hamilton’s lead like its an open buffet. Half a second out in the middle sector alone, and he can see the Mercedes on the straights now.

Hamilton brakes another record this time for the most laps led in F1 with 5,112!

Vettel and Ocon have come together. Both have got going again, but Vettel has some damage to his front wing. Looks like Sebs fault but that’s one for the stewards to decide.

Max is like a lion hunting down his prey with only the odd back marker to hold him back, Lewis locks up and goes wide at Turn ten! He keeps the lead but Verstappen is just a second behind now and within DRS range.

Lap 52 and Hamilton only has half a second over Verstappen as he tries around the outside of Turn one but Hamilton holds him off!

Down to Turn four and Verstappen goes around the outside again, and this time he takes the lead!

Max Is immediately told by his team to give the place back as he’s left the circuit whilst taking the position, if he doesn’t do it a penalty could be costly.

Verstappen’s loses grip in Hamilton’s wake but he’s now out of DRS range on the start finish straight.

Bottas stops for a new set of tyres as he attempts to grab the extra point for fastest lap.

Hamilton starts the final lap and Verstappen is back within DRS range, no matter how well Max has driven this weekend he just can’t get passed the exuberant Hamilton who takes the win from Verstappen and Bottas.

Norris, Perez, Ricardo and Yuki Tsunoda all make impressive debuts, Alonso and Seb looked good and should improve as we get further into the season.

Mick Schumacher had a quiet race finishing last but that’s all that can be expected in the under developed Haas.

HAM

VER

BOT

NOR

PER

LEC

RIC

SAI

TSU

STR

RAI

GIO

OCO

RUS

VET

MSC

DNF: GAS, LAT, ALO, MAZ

Qatar MotoGP Grand Prix Qualifying

Qualifying for the Qatar MotoGP Grand Prix was dominated by Ducati and Yamaha, who between them occupied the first seven places on the grid.

Fabio Quartararo, Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP, Picture courtesy of YamahaRacing.com

Francesco Bagnaia was the star of the day as he beat both factory Yamaha riders, the satellite Yamaha of Valentino Rossi and his own Ducati teammate Jack Miller to pole position with a fantastic late lap. It is the first pole in the 24-year-old’s MotoGP career but on this performance, it won’t be his last.

Factory Yamaha riders Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Vinales had a great battle for the front row and will hope their race pace is just as good tomorrow. Rossi will start his first race for a non-factory team in twenty years from fourth place which is probably better than he would have expected after free practice. He is joined on the second row by the Ducatis of Jack Miller and Johann Zarco.

Fabio Quartararo, Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP, Picture courtesy of YamahaRacing.com
Fabio Quartararo, Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP, Picture courtesy of YamahaRacing.com

Franco Morbidelli heads row three with Aleix Espargaro impressing for Aprilia in eighth place and apparently having good race pace for tomorrow. Alex Rins completes the third row after a rather average qualifying overall.

Reigning champion Joan Mir fared even worse than his teammate and had to come through Q1 to get to his place on row four.

Taka Nakagami also came through Q1 and finished as top Honda rider in 11th place, just ahead of factory rider Pol Espargaro.

 

1 – Francesco Bagnaia – ITA – Ducati

2 – Fabio Quartararo – FRA – Yamaha

3 – Maverick Vinales – SPA – Yamaha

4 – Valentino Rossi – ITA – Yamaha

5 – Jack Miller – AUS – Ducati

6 – Johann Zarco – FRA – Ducati

7 – Franco Morbidelli – ITA – Yamaha

8 – Aleix Espargaro – SPA – Aprilia

9 – Alex Rins – SPA – Suzuki

10 – Joan Mir – SPA – Suzuki

11 – Taka Nakagami – JAP – Honda

12 – Pol Espargaro – SPA – Honda

IndyCar’s Race for Equality and Change

“RIGHTS. JUSTICE. OPPORTUNITY.”

Those words were taken from IndyCar veteran JR Hildebrand in a Twitter post in August 2020.

This was in response to the lack of diversity in American motorsport, a few months following killing of George Floyd:

“I’ve been confronted with the inarguable fact that our experience in this country is not all the same, and that some critical disadvantages that black Americans (along w other ethnic & racial minorities) face have existed for far too long (and it’s not good for anyone!)”

A quick glance at the 2021 grid may give the impression that IndyCar has listened to it’s critics. Latin American drivers are a main-stay in the series, including the likes of Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Pablo Montoya.

Japan’s Takuma Sato reached the very pinnacle of American motorsport winning the Indy 500 while Danicka Patrick has held the torch for female representation at the Indy 500 every year since 2000.

An exuberant Takuma Sato celebrates his second Indianapolis 500 win. For the first time, the Indy 500 winner and his car were raised on to the Victory Podium. — Photo by: Chris Jones

However, on closer inspection the reality is somewhat more bleak. The only African-American drivers to compete in IndyCar were Willy T. Ribbs in 1991 and George Mack in 2002.

On review of the current 2021 grid there are no female or BAME drivers who have full-time race seats as of 8th February 2021.

Doug Boles and Willy T. Ribbs posing for a photo at SVRA 2019. — Photo by: Dana Garrett

In addition, IndyCar is facing an uphill battle with its viewership. An IndyCar survey revealed that out of 69 million self-declared IndyCar fans worldwide, a staggering 79% are white, Caucasian while 66% are male.

However, we should not be surprised with these percentages as traditional social conventions surrounding motorsport, wealth inequities and lack of representation are bound to cause an environment with little accessibility.

So what is being done to change this?

Race for Equality & Change is a multi-point plan envisioned by IndyCar, a long-term strategy to dealing with inequality in the sport.

Key focuses include:

  • Recruiting and developing a diverse workforce throughout all levels of IndyCar and IMS.
  • Diversifying the competitive driver field at the grassroots, Road to Indy and NTT IndyCar levels.
  • Supporting impactful grassroots youth motorsports programs, including enhancing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s longstanding partnership with Nexgeneracers, a 501c3 that introduces minority students to the world of motorsports.
  • Diversifying employment, leadership and ownership within the SERIES and with Indycar promoters.
  • Investment in minority communities to encourage greater engagement with IndyCar and IMS.
  • Establishing a procurement program to meaningfully increase the number of minority-owned businesses that contract with IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway each year.

Results quickly followed. African American Jimmie McMillan was installed as Chief Diversity Officer for Penske Entertainment Corp. Meanwhile, Penske announced a partnership with NXG Youth Motorsport, an organisation founded on the principle of introducing minority students into motorsport.

(Courtesy of MylesRoweRacing.com)

In December, the Force Indy team became the first all-African American team in the Road to Indy’s junior categories.  Myles Rowe was the first African American driver to take part in the IndyCar ‘Equality and Change’ program testing a USF2000 and has just been announced as Force Indy’s first official driver.

Andretti Autosport driver, Simona de Silvestro, watches Indianapolis 500 practice along the pit wall at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — Photo by: Chris Owens

Meanwhile, Paretta Autosport will be the first all-female team to compete at this year’s Indianapolis 500. Simona De Silvestro has been announced as their official driver.

 “IndyCar has been a leader and a welcoming place for women for many years because of the hard work of many women and men before us” team principal Beth Baretta explained, “but now we have a stronger commitment with IndyCar‘s Race for Equality & Change’ to make sure opportunities continue in the future”.

This is some remarkably positive news that signal a change in the ethos in American motorsports. Too long have the political divisions in America spilled out into the dogmatic, hierarchical community of racing. There is a growing optimism that IndyCar want to take this seriously, putting into place pragmatic steps to represent the entirety of American society, rather than a tiny sect of it.

There is a long road to go. Children need to be convinced that motorsport is a place they will feel welcomed, valued, and full of opportunity. Spectators and fans need to feel IndyCar is a place they can call family, with sportspeople they can related to and look to for inspiration.

We have not even completed year one of IndyCar’s ‘Race for Equality and Change’, but I sincerely hope IndyCar’s race is not a sprint that peters out after 200m, but more of a marathon that charges relentlessly for years to come.

Let us see if they can keep this momentum and show what they can do in 2021.

Alpine Academy launches their 2021 line-up

Alpine Academy rebrand (Courtesy of AlpineCars)

Alpine has relaunched their young driver academy with the aim of nurturing emerging talent towards Formula 1.

Alpine – until recently known as the Renault F1 Team – has a rich history of developing young talent, including Robert Kubica, Pastor Maldonado, Heikki Kovalainen, Romain Grosjean and Esteban Ocon.

Since 2002, the programme has gone through multiple iterations including the RF1 Driver Programme, Renault Driver Development Programme, LRGP Academy, Lotus F1 Team iRace Professional Programme, Lotus F1 Junior Team and until recently the Renault Sport Academy.

Their FIA Formula 2 roster will include Guanyu Zhou, who will race alongside Felipe Drugovich at UNI-Virtuosi. Zhou will be returning for his third season having claimed his maiden victory in the series last at Sochi.

Guanyu Zhou, UNI-Virtuosi (Clive Mason / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Christian Lungaard will be alongside Theo Pourchaire at ART after a rookie season in which he scored two sprint race victories, six podiums and a maiden pole position at Mugello.

Christian Lundgaard, ART (Clive Mason / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

FIA Formula F3 champion Oscar Piastri will also debut alongside Ferrari protégé Robert Schwartzman at Prema.

With six combined wins across two championships last year, Alpine are confident their drivers will have no trouble competing at the very top in 2021. In particular, Alpine Academy Director,Mia Sharizman has high hopes that the likes of Zhou and Lungaard will challenge for the title:

“For Zhou and Lungaard it is to challenge for the title, and they know that themselves.” Mia said during the official Alpine Academy launch.

“That is always the aim and especially when you are a returning driver with knowledge and experience. That is something for us to look at moving forward with a view to Formula 1. “

Likewise, for debutant Oscar Piastri there are high hopes the Australian who impressed against Logan Sargeant for the Formula  3 title. It will be a tough learning year for Oscar, Mia suggested:

“For Oscar, the approach is similar to when he started in Formula 3. You take it step by step. You get your first pole, your first podium, your first win and suddenly it just rolls on.”

Oscar Piastri, Prema (Courtesy of Prema Racing)

Alpine have been reluctant to promote their junior drivers to Formula 1 for a number of years with Fernando Alonso getting the nod for 2021 over its academy prospects. However, they wlll certainly have their targets set for 2022-2023.

“At the end of the day for all of them there has to be a good pressure, a good target because whatever they do this year it will impact the plans for them next year.”

Meanwhile, Victor Martins and Ciao Collet will race as teammates at MP Motorsports in FIA Formula 3. Mia was keen to underplay the pressure on both drivers, citing experience and learning as key targets.

“If you look at the level below the FIA Formula 3, Ciao and Victor were the top two drivers in that level of category. […] we believe they will be able to work together, raise the bar and we’re quietly confident of them making their mark. Again, step by step with the team the right package and the engineers.”

Caio Collet, R-Ace (François Flamand, DPPI / Alpine Racing Media)

Laurent Rossi, Chief Executive Officer at Alpine presented a clear case for the academy, placing it central to Alpine’s future plans:

We are proud to announce the Academy’s sixth ever driver line-up and its first as part of the Alpine Racing universe. Having a young driver programme is part of our DNA as a race team and as in previous years, the Academy will draw benefits from the development of the Formula 1 team.

Rossi also made it clear of Alpine’s intentions to see an academy prospect in Formula 1 in the near future:

“The Academy’s goal has been to develop and push our young drivers into Formula 1 to become a champion with the F1 team, and we remain committed as ever to seeing this goal achieved. This year we are eager to watch our Academy prospects in both Formula 2 and Formula 3 continue to go from strength to strength as they represent the Alpine name.”

Nicky “The Kentucky Kid” Hayden – the Legend

Nicky Hayden “The Kentucky Kid” was known for his natural ability to ride motorbikes, his respectful polite attitude and for his abundance of charisma.

Nicky Hayden is all smiles (Image: Circuitricardotormo.com)

Born July 30th 1981 Nicky Hayden sadly passed away May 22nd 2017, from injuries sustained from riding a bicycle in Italy, aged just 36 years old. During these years he led an incredible life and a career many would be jealous of. His brother Tommy said “He dreamed as a kid of being a pro-rider and he not only achieved that but also managed to reach the pinnacle of his chosen sport.”*

So how did Nicky Hayden manage to achieve all this?

At age 3 Nicky started to ride dirt bikes with his family and by age 5 was racing them. Aged just 16 he had turned professional and followed his brother (Tommy) into AMA Superbike racing. Aged 21 he won the Daytona 200 and became the youngest AMA Superbike champion, which propelled him into his Moto GP career.

Racing with the number 69 he carried on where he left off in AMA and rode for (Repsol) Honda in 2003 and became Valentino Rossi’s team-mate. An interesting choice as Hayden hadn’t come through the normal rankings to participate in Moto GP. He finished a respectful 5th place in the season. The same time he won Rookie of the year. He was definitely showing that he was one to watch.

2004 saw Nicky Hayden with a new team-mate – Alex Barros (the year that Rossi left Honda to move to Yamaha). Hayden sustained injuries from a broken collarbone which hampered his championship hopes and ended the season in 8th place, alongside Carlos Checca and Loris Capirossi.

Having his best season so far in 2005, Nicky Hayden secured his first win on home soil at Laguna Seca (America), making it an ever sweeter victory as Moto GP hadn’t returned here since 1994 (11 years). He also finished 3rd overall in the championship with 206 points, his best result yet. Honda also paired him up with yet another new team-mate – Max Biaggi.

Emotional Nicky Hayden winning 2006 championship (Image: Motorsport.com)

Now with 3 year’s of experience, The Kentucky Kid was definitely making a name for himself. Through constant strong performances and sheer determination Hayden became the 2006 Moto GP World Champion. He had now “managed to reach the pinnacle of his chosen sport”. This season Nicky was riding the prototype Honda, that no-one else had used and was helping to develop it all the while with his eyes on the prize. Honda also decided that he would have another new team-mate to get used to, this time saw Dani Pedrosa who progressed from 250’s, from this point on Pedrosa remained his team mate at Honda.

Hayden won the 2006 championship only 5 points above Rossi (252 points). Finishing 3rd in the final round at Valencia. He also finished 3rd at Istanbul Park celebrating his 50th Moto GP race and at Assen he gave Honda their 200th race win in the top-class. He also became the only other champion in the 990cc class, other than Rossi. Showing that consistency really does pay off.

The new engine format ruling brought into Moto GP for 2007, saw 990cc engines go to 800cc, this seemed a challenge for Nicky’s riding style which culminated in him finishing 8th overall in the championship.

Continuing with Honda, Hayden sustained injuries again, this time to his foot which hampered his championship throughout 2008 and he finished 6th for the season.

2009 was the year for a switch-up. Hayden left Honda for the first time in his professional career and teamed up with Casey Stoner at Marlboro Ducati. Adjustments were needed for the new change, Nicky tried his best but finished outside the top ten for the first time in a season, finishing 13th.

Riding for Ducati (Image: Motorcycle News)

Sticking with Ducati for 2010, he ended the year in 7th, a large improvement following on from the previous year.

Valentino then joined Ducati in 2011. Pairing up with his old team-mate and friend, Hayden and Rossi should have been the perfect team to lead Ducati to the championship. But, things were not perfect, even after all effort was made to make the bikes more competitive they just never amounted to much and Hayden finished 8th in the championship.

Nicky Hayden continued to ride for Ducati in 2012 and 2013. Finishing in 9th place, both seasons.

Hoping to find some new form and possibly another championship win, Hayden returned to Honda (2014) where he stayed for the next two years. Finishing 16th and 20th. The worst results in his career. Nicky decided enough was enough and left Moto GP for a new challenge in World Superbikes.

Before his last race at Valencia in 2015 however, the FIM recognised Nicky’s achievements and named him Moto GP’s 22nd Legend. He was now alongside such names as Agostini, Simoncelli, Rainey and Sheene – to name a few. Normally this status is awarded posthumously, but in his case, an exception was made.

Nicky Hayden leading the pack in WSB (Image: Motorsport.com)

2016 was definitely the injection Hayden needed. New challenges, new bike (still with Honda), new team, new tracks, new experiences saw Hayden finish 5th in the championship, mirroring his first year in Moto GP and not only that but winning at Malaysia and finishing on the podium a further three times.

If his first season in WSB was anything to go by, he was on his way to becoming champion there too. Tragedy struck though in 2017 and saw a shining star taken suddenly from us all.

Ride on Kentucky Kid – always remembered.

*(https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/motorsport/39972058)

Russell bests Albon in Virtual British GP duel

Image courtesy of F1 2020 gameplay

After last weekend’s Virtual Grand Prix return at the Red Bull Ring, it was round two at Silverstone before the finale next weekend on the Interlagos circuit.

It was nine of the ten teams competing last weekend with Racing Point/Aston Martin electing to sit out, but despite coming perilously close to winning at the Austrian GP circuit with driver Stoffel Vandoorne, Mercedes chose to not compete in the second event.

The line-up for the event is as follows, with the driver competing in the main 50% distance race listed accordingly with the Formula 1 Esports driver doing the five-lap sprint race to determine their grid positions next to them in brackets:

Red Bull
Alex Albon (Marcel Kiefer)
Liam Lawson (Frederik Rasmussen)

McLaren
Benjamin ‘Tiametmarduk’ Daly (Josh Idowu)
Jimmy Broadbent (James Baldwin)

Alpine
Lucas ‘Squeezie’ Hauchard (Bence Szabó-Kónyi)
Aléthéa ‘Theamusante’ Boucq (Fabrizio Donoso)

Ferrari
Callum Ilott (Brendon Leigh)
Robert Shwartzman (Amos Laurito)

AlphaTauri
Luca Salvadori (Joni Törmälä)
Vitantonio Liuzzi (Manuel Biancolilla)

Alfa Romeo
Thibaut Courtois (Dani Bereznay)
Jack ‘PieFace’ McDermott (Simon Weigang)

Haas
Pietro Fittipaldi (Samuel Libeert)
Enzo Fittipaldi (Floris Wijers)

Williams
George Russell (Álvaro Carretón)
Nicholas Latifi (Alessio Di Capua)

Note: 2019 F1 Esports champion David Tonizza was meant to be qualifying the car for Robert Shwartzman but had to withdraw due to a foot injury, and Nicolas Longuet had to withdraw from qualifying the car for Squeezie due to unknown reasons.

Before the five-lap sprint was a one-shot qualifying for the Esports drivers, and it was Marcel Kiefer who came out on top in that session looking to seal that position in the feature race for Alex Albon.

The sprint race began and Ferrari’s Brendon Leigh got up to third ahead of Floris Wijers whilst Kiefer held off Alessio Di Capua. Wijers spun heading into Village, whilst Leigh put an incredible move on Di Capua into The Loop and was now in second behind Kiefer.

Lap two and Haas’ other driver Samuel Libeert had just passed McLaren’s Josh Idowu and the Welshman wasn’t taking it lying down, he tried a move heading into Village but suddenly had the Williams of Álvaro Carretón and the Alfa Romeo of Simon Weigang either side of him coming out of The Loop. He held off Weigang but Carretón held his ground going onto the Wellington straight and pulled off an outside move into Brooklands.

Back at the front, Leigh looked to be weighing up a move on the leading Kiefer. Lap four heading into Brooklands, the two-time champion pulls off the maneauver into the lead looking to get fellow Brit and Ferrari reserve driver Callum Ilott pole position for their home Virtual Grand Prix.

Kiefer had no answer to Leigh and so it was the Ferrari driver winning on his home track, meanwhile just behind them Alfa Romeo’s Dani Bereznay pulled off a pass on Alessio Di Capua, who then proceeded to spin right at the end which plummeted him from at the very least fourth to what would become twelfth at the line.

Thanks to Leigh’s efforts, Callum Ilott would start the feature race from pole ahead of Alex Albon, with the remainder of the top 10 consisting of Thibaut Courtois, Jimmy Broadbent, George Russell, PieFace, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Benjamin Daly, Pietro Fittipaldi and Squeezie. The previous Virtual Grand Prix winner Enzo Fittipaldi would have all the work to do as his sprint race teammate Floris Wijers couldn’t improve his position after his first-lap spin, thus the younger Fittipaldi brother would start 16th and last on the grid.

Onto the all-important Virtual Grand Prix main race, 26 laps around Silverstone.

At the start, Ilott elected to start on softs whilst Albon was on mediums, so Ilott got away well whilst Albon held off the charging Courtois. McLaren’s Jimmy Broadbent had a shocker, he had hardware issues as his racing wheel disconnected, undoing all the hard work by James Baldwin in the sprint race.

The other McLaren of fellow YouTube racing gamer Benjamin Daly spun coming through The Loop after potentially getting into contact with the Alfa Romeo of PieFace. So it was the worst possible start for the McLaren duo.

At the front, Ilott rocketed into an early lead and Albon was attempting to hold off a Real Madrid goalkeeper. Courtois was on the grippier softer tyres and seemed very eager to pass the two-time podium finisher, and subsequently used up a lot of his ERS in the process. He used it all to great effect though as he managed an outside move into Maggots! A stunning move. One that George Russell teased Albon about over their shared game chat.

Albon immediately attempted a move on Courtois heading into the Village-The Loop complex but it resulted in Russell getting the better of his childhood friend. Russell was now up to third, and a lap later once again on the Wellington straight with the help of DRS, he put a move on the Belgian goalkeeper who held his line, but relinquished the position after exiting Luffield. He then got immediately passed by Albon on the run up to Copse.

It was becoming increasingly clear that the fight was between Ilott, Russell and Albon. The Ferrari driver was on a different strategy and was trying to use up his softs in the first stint to get as big a gap on the other two who would then get the grippier tyres in the second stint.

Behind them though, the Haas drivers had gotten past Courtois. Enzo Fittipaldi inparticular benefited hugely from the first lap melee to get himself from last into a strong points paying position. His brother Pietro made inroads on Albon and attempted an audacious maneuver heading into Village but outbraked himself and the Red Bull driver got back past.

Further down the field, Benjamin Daly was holding off the advances of 2021 Formula 2 drivers Robert Shwartzman and Liam Lawson. First the Ferrari driver got through on the YouTuber and then Lawson attempted to follow but couldn’t avoid smacking the rear of the McLaren, sending the Aussie into a half-spin.

Laps 9 and 10 saw the Fittipaldi brothers pitting in, both of whom ran the soft tyres so it was clear that longtime race leader Callum Ilott would be pitting soon. Surely enough, the following lap saw Ilott pitting as Albon pulled off an overtake on Russell just in time to take the lead.

Ilott rejoined behind the AlphaTauri pair of Liuzzi and Salvadori, but he made quick work of Liuzzi and put himself in relatively clear air to ensure he could have the gap to Albon and Russell when they both pitted. Speaking of Albon, he was the first of the leading group to pick up a three-second time penalty for track limit warnings, which would prove later on to be pivotal.

The Thai driver came into the pits on lap 14 to fit the softs, and just rejoined ahead of the Fittipaldi duo and behind Ilott. Russell followed suit the next lap and slotted in behind Albon who was just eating into Ilott’s lead. Lap 17 and Albon managed to pull off an immense move on Ilott around the Abbey and Farm complex to run side by side with Ilott, held it on the outside through Village which turned to the inside of The Loop. He was now in the lead, but still had that three second penalty looming over him.

Later on in the lap, Russell caught Ilott but couldn’t pass him on the Hangar straight even with DRS assistance, so attempted again on the Wellington straight and made it stick. It was now inevitably a straight battle between Albon and Russell for the win.

Lap 23, a few laps from home and football game streamer PieFace elected to pit for softs to go for a fastest lap attempt, which despite being on a controller when everyone else was using a wheel and pedals, he actually managed to do! But Alex Albon quickly took that back later on to earn the point for fastest lap.

Back at the front on the following lap, George Russell pulled the pin when he didn’t have to, and overtook Albon for the lead. As long as Russell didn’t get a corner cutting penalty, he could have sat behind Albon and still win but he wanted to win it on track too.

It wasn’t long before Albon got it back, as with the usage of DRS on the Wellington straight on the last lap, he flew past Russell and brought it home first over the line. However of course on penalties, it meant that it was George Russell, the unofficial Virtual Grand Prix champion winning yet again. He won the last four Virtual Grand Prix races before the 2020 season got up and running, and made it five wins in his last five entries.

Joining Russell and Albon on the virtual podium was Callum Ilott, a valiant effort from who many believe to be deserving of a full time F1 seat. The top 10 were completed by Pietro and Enzo Fittipaldi, Liam Lawson, Nicholas Latifi, Robert Shwartzman, Benjamin Daly and Luca Salvadori.

In the team’s standings, Haas still lead the way on 57 points from Ferrari with 42 and Red Bull on 39. Williams get off the mark on 31 whilst the absent Mercedes hold 22. Then at the tail end of the standings we have Alpine on 6, AlphaTauri 3, and finally McLaren and Alfa Romeo tying on 2 points. Their finishing positions will dictate which of the team’s elected charities will net the most money from F1’s £100,000 prize pool after next weekend’s finale around the Interlagos circuit.

Be sure to tune in next Sunday at 6pm UK time to F1’s official Twitch, YouTube and Facebook social media channels and potentially your country’s F1 broadcasting channel to see who will come out on top in this Virtual Grand Prix series.

Enzo Fittipaldi victorious in Virtual Austrian Grand Prix

Image courtesy of Red Bull Racing

After a successful first run of virtual races during the extended off-season, Formula 1 has brought back the Virtual Grand Prix for a three-race mini championship to sustain us until lights go out in Bahrain on March 28th. The first event was held at the Red Bull Ring and featured a star-studded line-up.

Nine of the ten teams competed with their official Esports drivers from the F1 Esports Series taking to the track for a five-lap sprint race to determine the grid order for their feature race counterparts. Each team are competing for a share of a £100,000 prize pot, the better their results in the feature race, the more money they get to go toward a charity of their choice.

The line-up is as follows, with the feature race driver and then their sprint race counterpart in brackets:

Mercedes:
Stoffel Vandoorne (Jarno Opmeer)
Anthony Davidson (Dani Moreno)

Red Bull:
Alex Albon (Marcel Kiefer)
Jeffrey Herlings (Frederik Rasmussen)

McLaren:
Benjamin ‘Tiametmarduk’ Daly (James Baldwin)
Jimmy Broadbent (Josh Idowu)

Alpine:
Christian Lundgaard (Fabrizio Donoso)
Oscar Piastri (Nicholas Longuet)

Ferrari:
Marcus Armstrong (David Tonizza)
Arthur Leclerc (Brendon Leigh)

AlphaTauri:
Luca Salvadori (Joni Törmälä)
Vitantonio Liuzzi (Manuel Biancolilla)

Alfa Romeo:
Thibaut Courtois (Dani Bereznay)
Jack ‘Pieface23’ McDermott (Thijmen Schutte)

Haas:
Pietro Fittipaldi (Samuel Libeert)
Enzo Fittipaldi (Cedric Thomé)

Williams:
Alejandro ‘Flowstreet’ Pérez (Álvaro Carretón)
Nicholas Latifi (Alessio Di Capua)

Note: George Russell was meant to be driving for Williams alongside Latifi but due to unknown reasons, was forced to withdraw last minute. Also, Aston Martin elected to not take part most likely due to the F1 2020 game still housing their BWT-branded Racing Point livery.

Before the sprint race started, a one-lap qualifying determined the grid and it was David Tonizza who would start on pole looking to seal that slot for F2 driver Armstrong. The race got underway and Tonizza held off the advances of Mercedes’ Dani Moreno and Red Bull’s Marcel Kiefer.

Further back it was carnage as Williams’ Álvaro Carretón was sent into a spin after he tapped Alfa Romeo’s Dani Bereznay, and AlphaTauri’s Manuel Biancolilla also got caught in an incident and both subsequently went to the back of the field. The very fast and rapid Red Bull Ring being only 2.7-miles long meant the race was over with quite quickly but it didn’t stop there being battles.

2017 and 2018 F1 Esports champion Brendon Leigh who has just moved to Ferrari for this year, pulled off an incredible move on Marcel Kiefer on the last lap by going round the outside at turn four, and holding his line into turn five to guarantee Arthur Leclerc a third place start behind Davidson and Armstrong.

Now onto the 36 lap feature race. The race began with predictably some chaos, as Motocross champion Jeffrey Herlings either forgot to calibrate his brake pedal or just decided to not brake, and he collected a few drivers in the process. Meanwhile, the Ferrari academy drivers got away well but Davidson in the Merc seemed to be suffering from some technical issues as his car was all over the place.

But Jimmy Broadbent starred in the opening laps. Thanks to the efforts of Josh Idowu, he lined up fifth on the grid and opted to start on the mediums, and was up to third when he dispatched of the lag-strewn Davidson. As Armstrong and Leclerc established an early lead, it was Broadbent ahead of a group featuring the Fittipaldi brothers, Vandoorne and Courtois.

Up at the front, no team orders were holding back the Ferrari drivers. Arthur Leclerc put a move on Armstrong for the lead, and then Enzo Fittipaldi passed Broadbent to take third which would prove pivotal later on.

Rather inevitably, drivers would begin to rack up penalties due to track extending, with the only exception being Formula 3 champion Oscar Piastri. It got so bad, former F1 driver Vitantonio Liuzzi even got disqualified for racking up so many penalties. This would also play a part in deciding the eventual winner.

Leclerc was the first to bite the penalty cherry of the leading group heading onto lap 11, which put Armstrong in a good position to take advantage. A few laps later, Leclerc was in to the pits and held off Enzo Fittipaldi who had stopped a few laps prior to Leclerc, but when Armstrong pitted to cover off his team mate, he didn’t slow down in time for the pit entry line and got a five second penalty. To add insult to injury, he not only rejoined behind his team mate but also Enzo Fittipaldi.

Stoffel Vandoorne was heading the field having started on the medium tyres and would come to pit on lap 22. This began a charge from Vandoorne propelling him past Pietro Fittipaldi and Marcus Armstrong.

Heading into the last ten laps, Enzo Fittipaldi tailed Arthur Leclerc and it was hotting up between them. The pin was pulled on lap 28 as Enzo tapped Leclerc in the rear heading into turn three and sent the Ferrari driver wide, and he took quick advantage. Three laps later, Leclerc repasses him at the same corner.

He would later rack up another track extension penalty which meant up until that point when Leclerc and Enzo Fittipaldi both had the single three-second penalty, the Ferrari driver now had two of them. This was immediately followed by a wheel banging tussle from the start of the lap all the way up to turn four, and they continued to battle all the way up until Leclerc attempted an extremely over-optimistic move into turn three on the last lap which sent him wide.

That left the Haas driver to take victory, Leclerc followed him home but due to penalties, lost second-place to Stoffel Vandoorne who had caught up to the pair of them incredibly and had the race gone on for an extra lap, he could very well have won with the pace he had.

Alex Albon was classified fourth ahead of Pietro Fittipaldi, Marcus Armstrong, Oscar Piastri, Anthony Davidson, Luca Salvadori and Thibaut Courtois who also scored an extra point for fastest lap.

An immensely entertaining race and there’s more where that came from! The Virtual Grand Prix racing will return this Sunday at Silverstone, and then the finale will be Interlagos the Sunday afterwards. To watch, check F1’s official social media channels (Twitch, YouTube, Facebook) as well as your appropriate F1 broadcast channels in your country at 6pm UK time to watch the rest of this virtual madness.

Steve ‘Stavros’ Parrish – Motorcycle Racer, Truck Racer, Commentator and Master Prankster

So I know the burning question on your lips is the same as mine – ‘Why is Steve Parrish known as Stavros?’ The answer is that back in his motorcycle racing days when he was teammates with Barry Sheene, Barry nicknamed him Stavros after a character in the TV show ‘Kojak’ as both had a mop of black curly hair. The name Stavros has stuck since then!

Steve began racing at the age of 19 after he ‘got too wild for the roads’ and in 1975 Steve was the Best Young Rider winning the Grovewood Award. The following year, at the age of 22, he started professional motorbike racing and won the British Solo Championship that same year.

Joining Suzuki in 1977 with Barry Sheene as his teammate, Steve finished 5th overall in the 500cc World Championship and returned to British based riding in 1978 where he became the 500cc ACU Gold Star Champion followed by the 500cc Shellsport Motorcycle Champion in 1979 and 1980. Steve went on to become the British Superbike Champion in 1981,

I think it’s safe to say Steve is well known in the paddock and indeed, out of the paddock, as a practical joker. With his infectious smile, mischief seems to follow Steve.

During one qualifying session, Sheene, turned up … um….shall we say, hungover and so Steve donned his teammate’s overalls and helmet and qualified on his behalf on the RG500 Suzuki. Back in the pits, Steve then put his own overalls and helmet on and went out and did his own qualifying lap, annoyingly finishing further down the grid than the qualifying lap he put in for Sheene! Can you imagine something like that happening these days?

Setting off firecrackers outside a brothel where a few of his fellow riders were being, I’m not quite sure how to put this, serviced, saw Steve being banned from Macau and then there was the incident in Finland where the toilet block burnt down …..

Then there was the time Steve posed as a medical doctor in Japan to enable John Hopkins to fly to the Australian GP. I am willing to bet that Steve could make a book out of his antics!

In 1986 Steve retired from motorcycle racing to start a five year stint as the team manager for the Yamaha factory team for whom he used to ride where he led the team to victory winning three British Championship titles.

Alongside managing the Yamaha team, Steve began a fifteen year career as a truck racer becoming the most successful truck racer ever. In 1987 he won the British Open Truck Racing Championship, came 2nd in the series in 1989 and went on to win the European and British Truck Racing Championship in 1990 followed by the 1991 British Championship.

Steve then went on to win the European title for the next three years, coming 2nd in 1995 and then taking the title again in 1996. Steve continued to compete in truck racing until he retired in 2002.

Talking about racing motorbikes and trucks, Steve says there is quite an affinity between the two sports explaining that a motorbike doesn’t want to change direction quickly and has to be coaxed into corners which is much like a 5 tonne truck, it doesn’t want to shift around corners either and there is an awful lot more weight to shift than a motorbike!

In 1985 Steve started commentating for BBC radio before moving to Sky alongside Barry Nutley. From 1990 he started commentating for the BBC on the British 125 championship before moving onto MotoGP coverage with Charlie Cox where the pair also commentated on British Touring Cars, British Superbikes and World Superbikes.

As a qualified pilot, commentating on the Red Bull Air Race series is a perfect transition for Steve also.

Alongside former racer James Whitham, the pair commentate on the Isle of Man TT.

I think we can safely say that whatever Steve turns his hand to, he makes a success out of it. Indeed, Steve has even managed to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for, and I quote, ‘The Fastest Speed Achieved in Reverse’! In a Caterham!! I didn’t even know that was a ‘thing’. Sure sounds like fun though ……

Steve is an expert witness for motor racing incidents and can regularly be seen testing various vehicles and racing machines. Steve’s own personal vehicle collection includes a hearse, an ambulance and a fire engine!

You can imagine the antics Steve and his vehicles manage to get themselves into – apparently for example, driving the hearse very slowly until there is a long trail of cars behind and then tearing off up the road leaving the queue behind!

Or when Steve visits the bank in his ambulance – he pulls up outside the bank and parks on the yellow lines, leaves the rear doors open and then pops into the bank to do his banking!

Or the time Steve pulled up outside his friend’s pub on a Sunday afternoon in his fire engine and hosed down the inside of the packed pub!

I think if you see Steve coming, you should certainly have your wits about you as you really just don’t know what mayhem is to come.

A truly talented motorcycle racer, truck racer, commentator and master prankster, I believe that makes Steve a legend in my book.

What makes Jonathan Rea a success – from the fans

When Jonathan Rea took the 2020 World Superbike Championship for the sixth time it made him the most successful World Superbike Rider in the history of the series. He is also credited with the highest number of race wins in the Championship.

Before moving to Superbikes, Rea was runner up in World Supersport in 2008 on the Ten Kate Honda and previously took the HM Plant Honda to be runner up in the 2007 BSB Championship.

In 2012, Rea made two MotoGP appearances replacing the injured Casey Stoner. He finished both inside the top ten – 8th in Misano and 7th at Aragon before making his return to World Superbikes.

So what is it that has helped the 33 year old from just outside Larne to be so successful? We asked our social media followers their thoughts, and there were clear themes – dedication, commitment, riding style and race craft as well as a supportive team and family.

@Simon46storm called out dedication, commitment and being surrounded by a supportive team.

@vickster1984 also suggested the support of a team who understand you as a person and are willing to learn and grow with you, has played a part.

Earlier this year, Rea said himself ‘I’m really happy at Kawasaki, it suits the way I work. I have a great support network around me, and my mechanics are incredible. When things aren’t going well, instead of feeling the pressure of why we aren’t winning, they are really pushing me up and helping me. That helps you in the tough times”

 

Jonathan Rea is set to break all the records in WorldSBK history.

As well as the team, @LJHammond1 attributed Rea’s success to being fast and smooth, and conserving his tyres. He tweeted: ‘Fast, smooth, conserves his tyres (Sykes often out-qualified him and remained in contention until the closing laps when his tyres went off but Rea’s didn’t), wins most of his races and usually finishes when he can’t win (unlike Davies who often crashed from a winning position)’.

It is true – Rea can set a pace that affords him a comfortable lead yet crucially conserves the tyres, and undoubtedly this has been a strong contributor to his consistency. That said he is not averse to baring his teeth and showing aggression, the second race at Aragon in September this year (2020) was a case in point.

As well as the team, we cannot overlook the role family plays. @FifiSimbaBSD says “I think having children grounds you…..children don’t care how many races you have won when they want to play…” Family truly is important to Rea – two years ago, after clinching his fourth WSBK title he dedicated the win to them and said “My family sacrifice a lot to be here, trailing after me, supporting my dream, but I’m really proud to have them with me. They ground me in such a great way. It means a lot.”

With her tweet, @RSnugglebutt talks about his love for what he does, and how at the end of 2019 he said he would enjoy winning for as long as it lasts – he certainly has a great attitude, and it’s really apparent he has the love for the job as much as ever.

@MarkLawrence77 says it is down to hard work and along with @DoubleMRacing, reckons Rea should have gone to MotoGP (the latter also said he could still have been winning and adds ‘might as well set your World Championships in stone, keep winning so you are unbeatable with World Champs’).

Jonathan Rea 2020. Picture courtesy of Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK

So what is next for the man who grew up in Ballyclare? Well, in June he renewed his contract on a multi season deal, so surely achieving a century of career victories must be in his sights (he’s currently on 99), and a seventh title in 2021 would bring him to the same number of consecutive titles achieved by Giacomo Agostini between 1966 and 1972. We are eagerly anticipating the start of the 2021 season to see how he does.

Thank you to everyone who responded to our question, but my favourite response to the question of what makes Jonathan Rea so successful has to be the one from @Paulmur22095740 who quite simply said… “Him!”

Laura Sawyer