Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Look Back On 2013

Another year is in the books.

As I get older it, the years seem to get shorter. I'm sure I am not the only one who feels this way and I am sure sooner rather than later I'll get use to it but the events happening late this year sure didn't seem imaginable when the ball dropped nearly twelve months ago.

Dario Franchitti and Allan McNish have both retired. Mark Webber is leaving Formula One for World Endurance Championship and to drive for Porsche. Kimi Räikkönen is return to Ferrari. Juan Pablo Montoya is returning to IndyCar... to drive for Penske!

What happened!?

Things change. They always have and always will. This is just another period of sudden and in some ways unexpected change. Retirements are going to happen. We have become accustomed to them being laid out, announced prior to the season and making a retirement tour out of it. In these cases, Franchitti is walking away due to injuries but it feels he has more in the tank and McNish is just calling it a career but we know he still has it. They aren't holding on for too long but it sure feels are ending their careers too soon.

Series-by-series we look at the major events of 2013.

After nearly losing the title in 2012, Sebastian Vettel made sure their was no dispute he was the top driver in Formula One and ended the season winning nine consecutive races but behind Vettel so many other things happened that deserve as much attention. Pirelli had a rough season and received their fair share of criticism as they try to construct a tire that is safe while also providing the best racing product possible.

While Vettel was running away with the title, Räikkönen announced his return to Ferrari where he will team with Fernando Alonso. Arguably two of best drivers since the turn of the millennium driving for the arguably the most notable name in motorsports. Who is going to take the number two role in that team? We all remember the McLaren debacle with Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. It's hard to imagine this Räikkönen is going to play second fiddle.

IndyCar turned out to have one of it's finest seasons after having a tumultuous offseason. Politics and front office changes were put on the back burner and the racing was brought to the forefront. From the green flag at St. Petersburg to the checkers at Fontana, the racing was the some of the best the series has seen. Even Belle Isle had good races. Pocono had a successful return. The series saw ten different winners, one off the record. There were four first time winners and twenty different drivers got a podium in 2013. The points battle saw Scott Dixon complete a terrific comeback and denied Helio Castroneves from scoring his first championship.

Jimmie Johnson picked up another championship after a ten week fight with Matt Kenseth. Johnson never put a foot wrong during the Chase but had an impressive season with six victories including sweeping Daytona for the first time in over thirty years. Meanwhile Austin Dillon won the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship despite not winning a race all season, further adding fuel to the debate about limiting the amount of times a Cup driver can race in the second national touring division. Matt Crafton won the Trucks title with one victory as the series saw the rise of young drivers such as Ty Dillon, Jeb Burton, Ryan Blaney, Darrell Wallace, Jr., Chase Elliott, Erik Jones and Ross Chastain.

Rookie Marc Márquez was able to beat the veterans of MotoGP and winning the World Riders' Championship in his first season. He, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa formed a three-headed Spanish monster that kept a firm grasp on the podium all season long. Valentino Rossi's return to Yamaha wasn't as exciting as originally thought but The Doctor in nearly three years. In World Superbikes Tom Sykes won the championship after falling to Max Biaggi by a half point in 2012.

Audi dominated the World Endurance Championship as Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Loïc Duval won the world championship. Toyota had a slight sophomore slump but turned it around at the end of the season winning two of the final three rounds. GT featured a great battle between Ferrari, Aston Martin and Porsche with Gianmaria Bruni leading Ferrari past Aston Martin for the title. Stateside saw the final years for Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series. Pickett Racing and drivers Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf set a record for consecutive races won winning the eight rounds between Sebring and Road Atlanta. Corvette and Rahal Letterman Lanigan BMW went toe-to-toe at each event with Corvette taking the title. Max Angelelli and Ricky Taylor won the final three rounds of the Rolex Sports Car Series and the title in Angelelli's final year of full-time competition.

In DTM, Mike Rockenfeller won his first career title over Augusto Farfus but BMW was able to take the manufactures' title over Audi and Mercedes-Benz after winning five of the ten rounds. Jamie Whincup tied the record for most V8 Supercar championships by winning his fifth. Yvan Muller won his fourth World Touring Car Championship and his seventeenth title in his career.

Sébastien Ogier dominated the World Rally Championship as Sébastien Loeb retired from full-time competition. The Volkswagen defeated Citroën after the French manufacture had won five consecutive titles and eight of the last ten.

The overarching theme of 2013 in motorsport was a deep pool of talented drivers but a shortage of seats and the benefits to having money backing a drivers career than talent alone. In Formula One Nico Hülkenberg struggles to break through to a big team while Pastor Maldonado moves to Lotus because the team needs money and the Venezuelan is bring over €40 million with him. Jules Bianchi will race another year at Marussia but the . Paul di Resta may be forced out of Formula One not because of his results but lack of funding which some teams, such as Caterham expects a driver to bring funding with them.

Drivers have trouble just even breaking through to Formula One. Sam Bird can't get a seat but Russian teenager Sergey Sirotkin who has less experience in the lower Formulas, less success and less seat time in any Formula One car is lined up to drive for Sauber in 2014 despite not having an FIA Super License.

Across the pond it is no different. IndyCar has it's most talented field in series history but seats are few and far in-between. The likes of Simona de Silvestro, Oriol Servià, Alex Tagliani, James Jakes, Tristan Vautier, Sebastián Saavedra, Conor Daly, Sam Bird and Sage Karam are all looking for full-time rides but at best four of those drivers will get what they are looking for. In NASCAR, more now than ever is financial backing becoming crucial in a drivers future. Martin Truex, Jr. lost his ride at Michael Waltrip Racing after Napa pull the plug on funding after their team orders debacle at Richmond. Sam Hornish, Jr. is out of a ride at Penske Racing after finishing second in the Nationwide Series by only three points.

It wouldn't be right to look back on 2013 without acknowledging those who lost their lives in motorsports. The notable names being Allan Simonsen, Sean Edwards, Andrea Antonelli. Kurt Caselli, Jason Leffler and Josh Burton but also to those who lost their lives racing for the love of it. The drivers who were never going to see the big pay days or fame that major motorsport can provide. We remember them and our prayers go to their families. While safety has improved leaps and bounds and fatalities have become fewer than ever before it will never get easier when a driver loses their life.

The year might be over but as I have said before, 2014 is in our sights. This was a good year for racing. It had it's moments of frustration and disappointment but every year will have it's ups and downs. For all the negatives, the were at least two positives to negate them. We focus on the negative too much. We allow it to consume us and run our emotions and in doing so fail to see all that is good. There is plenty of positives but we need to be more acknowledgeable of them.

One positive is this: Racing will resume soon as another year of memories lay ahead of us.