Monday, December 21, 2015

2015 For the Love of Indy Awards

A lot has happened in 2015. From contact to contracts, passes to parkings, pit lane kerfuffles to rainy red-flagged periods. Records fell and I think 2015 left us realizing how great motorsports can be with drivers showing great diversity in running many different disciplines. Some races were duds but others shined. There have comebacks made by drivers from around the globe. Not everyone had a great season and they are looking toward 2016 but those who excelled never want the calendar to turn over. Today, we look back at the great moments from the 2015 motorsports season.

Racer of the Year
Description: Given to the best racer over the course of 2015.
And the Nominees are:
Jonathan Rea
Nick Tandy
Lewis Hamilton
Scott Dixon
Sébastien Bourdais

And the winner is... Nick Tandy
The British driver won at Le Mans overall in his first time competing in the LMP1 class. He won in LMP2 at the Nürburgring and finished on the class podium on two other occasions. He won four times in GTLM in the 2015 IMSA season, including the unbelievable overall victory in the sloppy Petit Le Mans. Tandy drove his way to the front at Road Atlanta that day. It was a shining performance on an otherwise gloomy day. While he didn't take home a championship, Nick Tandy demonstrated motorsports excellence in multiple types of machinery. He succeeded in situations when he and his teammates were not expected to be front-runners.

On the other nominees:
Jonathan Rea had a spectacular 2015 World Superbike season. The British rider started the season by finishing on the podium in 20 consecutive races and won 12 of those races, including sweeping four weekends. He ended the season with 14 victories and 23 podiums from 24 races. He finished in the top four in 23 races and the lone retirement occurred in the final race of the season.

Lewis Hamilton won his third World Drivers' Championship after winning ten of 19 races, scoring 17 podiums and winning 11 pole positions. He clinched the title with three races to go after winning a thrilling wet-to-dry-to-wet United States Grand Prix. More importantly, Hamilton shattered the notion that a driver can't succeed in Formula One and live in the United States and Hamilton spend so much damn time in the colonies at fashion shows and basketball games and walked away with the title.

Scott Dixon won his fourth IndyCar title this season and won three races, including his first Grand Prix of Long Beach and the season finale at Sonoma to give him the title on tiebreaker over Juan Pablo Montoya. He also scored his second career Indianapolis 500 pole position. The Kiwi not only excelled in IndyCar. He had a dominating drive at the 24 Hours of Daytona that put the pressure on the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP and that team cracked. They went over on Jordan Taylor's drive time and Dixon cruised to victory and etched Tony Kanaan, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson in the record book as 24 Hours of Daytona winners. Dixon also finished second in class at Petit Le Mans.

Sébastien Bourdais didn't win a championship but he had two IndyCar victories, including a dominating drive at Milwaukee; he won the 12 Hours of Sebring and won the Prototype class at Petit Le Mans with João Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi and that trio finished second in the 24 Hours of Daytona. To top all that off, the Frenchman had a seventh in the Sandown 500 and ninth in the Bathurst 1000 as he ran the V8 Supercars endurance races in his free time during the ungodly long IndyCar off-season. 

Past Winners
2012: Kyle Larson
2013: Marc Márquez
2014: Marc Márquez

Race of the Year
Description: Best Race of 2015.
And the Nominees are:
The 6 Hours of Silverstone
Australian motorcycle Grand Prix
United States Grand Prix
Putrajaya ePrix

And the winner is... Australian motorcycle Grand Prix
It was 40 minutes of pure motorsports with four riders going at it. It had back-and-forth action. It had a final lap pass for the victory as Marc Márquez defeated Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone and Valentino Rossi for the victory. The top four were covered by 1.058 seconds. There was not one boring lap of that race. Iannone murdered a seagull with his head. How many other races feature that? There was no separation between the top four.

And it wasn't just the top four. Dani Pedrosa had a good battle for fifth with Maverick Viñales. The Espargaró brothers went at it, the British riders of Bradley Smith and Scott Redding had a decent battle for a position inside the top ten. There was nothing but phenomenal racing up and down the field from the time the lights went out until the checkered flag waved.

On the other nominees...
The 6 Hours of Silverstone was just foreshadowing for the entire 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship season. It featured Audi vs. Porsche for six hours. Heck, Toyota was even up there. You all three manufactures finish on the lead lap and the #7 Audi faced a potential penalty for exceeding track limits on what would be the race winning pass. Audi won that battle but Porsche would win the war but what a way to start a season.

The MAVTV 500 was one of the most exciting IndyCar races ever. There was a record-setting 80 lead changes but it didn't feel like there were 80 lead changes. It was a race that didn't feature any cautions and then there were a slew of them. There wasn't any pack racing and then the cars could never separate. There was a botched pit lane penalty that should have been called against Graham Rahal for leaving the pit lane with the fuel nozzle engaged. Rahal then got away with a block as he charged to the front and won the race while Ryan Briscoe got airborne but walked away.

What ended up being the World Drivers' Championship deciding race was fantastic. Practice had been limited due to heavy rain. Nico Rosberg was on pole but Lewis Hamilton came away with the lead in turn one. Sebastian Vettel would have to charge from 13th on the grid after serving a penalty for an engine change. Vettel wasn't the only one on the move. Max Verstappen climbed up from eighth, Jenson Button from 11th and Carlos Sainz, Jr. from 20th. Right when it appeared the race would Rosberg's for the taking and the championship would go to Mexico, he ran wide and Hamilton swept by. The British driver won and clinched the title while Rosberg and Vettel rounded out the podium and Verstappen finished an impressive fourth.

It appeared Sébastien Buemi was on his way to another grand slam in the second round of the 2015-16 Formula E season. After it had not occurred in the first season, Buemi scored maximum points in the first race from Beijing and was walking away at Putrajaya. And then he stopped. The heat and the humidity of the early Malaysian afternoon caused havoc on the race. Buemi's race was ruined, Nicolas Prost's race was ruined, Lucas di Grassi slid through to the race lead. Nelson Piquet, Jr. saved energy to perfection and it appeared the race would fall in his lap. António Félix da Costa had a lurch while in second. Both Dragon Racing cars retired. Sam Bird moved to second after Robin Frijns tapped the wall. The Dutchman would finish third after Jérôme d'Ambrosio hit the barrier. Frijns crabbed his way home as he suffered significant damage from tapping the wall. Di Grassi won the race but it never seemed to be a sure thing.

Past Winners
2012: Indianapolis 500
2013: British motorcycle Grand Prix
2014: Bathurst 1000

Achievement of the Year
Description: Best success by a driver, team, manufacture, etc.
And the Nominees are:
Scott Dixon: Fourth IndyCar Championship
Jonathan Rea: Fourteen victories and 23 podiums from 26 races.
Justin Wilson Memorial Charity Auction: Over $600,000 raised for Justin Wilson's family.
Craig Lowndes: First V8 Supercars driver to score 100 victories.
Pascal Wehrlein: Youngest DTM champion at 21 years old.

And the winner is... Justin Wilson Memorial Family Auction
The motorsports community rallied around the Wilson family after the death of Justin Wilson at Pocono. It wasn't just an IndyCar thing. All credit to those who organized the auction and those who organized the gathering of items that were put up for auction. From IndyCar to NASCAR, Formula One to Sports Cars, the motorsports community came to the aid of the Wilson's and there were items from other major international sports figures as well. It was a heart-warming event that showed how closely knit the motorsports community is and I cannot forget to mention all the t-shirts that were sold and the proceeds went to the Wilson family. I know I am one of many who couldn't afford to buy a firesuit for $15,000 but could drop $25. It wasn't much but I think many people just wanted to help anyway they could.

On the other nominees... 
The air is getting thinner around Scott Dixon. The only other drivers with at least four IndyCar championships are AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Sébastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti. He could grab sole possession of second in IndyCar championships in 2016 and at only 35, he could tie Foyt's seven championships.

I think Jonathan Rea needs more credit for the season he had. Entering this season, he had 15 career victories; he won 14 alone in 2015. He went from 17th to sixth all-time behind only Carl Fogarty, Troy Bayliss, Noriyuki Haga, Troy Corser and Colin Edwards. He tied Ben Spies and Troy Corser for third most wins in a season. His 23 podiums is the second most in a season behind only Edwards' 25 podiums in 2002. It was a remarkable season.

It seemed inevitable that Craig Lowndes was going to get 100 V8 Supercars race victories but nothing is guaranteed. Race weekend formats have changed and have made it possible for a driver to win 100 races in a career but it is still impressive nonetheless.

Pascal Wehrlein came from behind to win the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship. In his three seasons in DTM, Wehrlein has developed into one of the best young drivers in the world. He consistently brought the car home in points. He is such a smart driver and only turned 21 years old on the final day of the season. Great things are in his future.

Past Winners
2012: DeltaWing
2013: Sebastian Vettel for winning nine consecutive races on his way to a fourth consecutive title
2014: Marc Márquez: Setting the record for most wins in a premier class season.

Moment of the Year
Description: The Most Memorable Moment in the World of Racing during the 2015 season.
And the Nominees are:
Nico Hülkenberg winning Le Mans
"Schieb Ihn Raus"
Porsche 911 RSR defeating Prototypes at Petit Le Mans
Matt Kenseth vs. Joey Logano
Valentino Rossi vs. Marc Márquez

And the winner is... Matt Kenseth vs. Joey Logano
After Joey Logano spun Matt Kenseth while Kenseth was leading at Kansas, payback was just a matter of time. It didn't seem likely when Logano advanced to the semifinal round of the Chase and Kenseth was eliminated from championship contention but Kenseth didn't let that stop him. He drove into the side of Logano at Martinsville and set the bar for what NASCAR will allow. Logano went unpunished for his incident at Kansas but Kenseth was suspended for the following two races. Logano could not recover and would not be one of the four drivers championship eligible at Homestead. It was a black eye for NASCAR as it highlighted the series incompetence to distribute consistent penalties.

On the other nominees...
Nico Hülkenberg won overall Le Mans winners this year with Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber. While Hülkenberg's Formula One season was not nearly as successful as his first appearance at Le Mans, I think Hülkenberg should be recognized for taking advantage of an opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He didn't let his day job get in the way. Unlike many drivers who are leashed, Hülkenberg realized what opportunities laid at his fingertips with the talent he had. It got more people talking about trying Le Mans, running the Indianapolis 500, running NASCAR races. Hopefully drivers start cross-pollinating more. Carpe Diem boys and girl. Seize the day. Hülkenberg did just that.

"Schieb Ihn Raus" (translated: Push him out) was the command Timo Scheider received over his radio while battling Pascal Wehrlein and Robert Wickens for position in the second DTM race from Red Bull Ring. Scheider did just take, sliding into the back of the Canadian and like dominos, sending him into Wehrlein. Both Mercedes ended in the gravel trap, Scheider finished sixth. After the race, Scheider was disqualified and head of Audi Sport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich was banned from the remaining four rounds of the DTM season.

I mentioned it before when honoring Nick Tandy, the Porsche 911 RSR defeated the mighty Prototypes class to win Petit Le Mans. Granted, that race did end prematurely and had it not been restarted, a prototype would have won overall and not a GTLM car. But Tandy drove a phenomenal race and GTLM champion Patrick Pilet held his own while the Prototypes struggled on their wet tires. GTs beating prototypes is rare and it should be honored.

2015 could be labeled as "The Year of Contact." From "Schieb Ihn Raus" to Kenseth-Logano and then there was Valentino Rossi-Marc Márquez at Sepang. The Italian kicked the Spaniard off his bike and it cost Rossi big time. He kept his second but had to start last at the season finale at Valencia. He got up to fourth but it wasn't enough and Jorge Lorenzo took the championship despite entering trailing by seven points.

Past Winners
2012: Alex Zanardi
2013: 24 Hours of Le Mans
2014: Post-race at the Charlotte and Texas Chase races.

Pass of the Year
Description: Best pass of 2015.
And the Nominees are:
Final corner of Bathurst 12 Hour: Laurens Vanthoor from 4th to 2nd on the outside
Sage Karam at the 24 Hours of Daytona: From 3rd to 1st on the outside on a restart
Sergio Canamasas on Arthur Pic at Sainte Devote
Graham Rahal on Takuma Sato and Simon Pagenaud at Toronto
Kyle Busch at Loudon, unlapping himself on his way to victory

And the winner is... Laurens Vanthoor from 4th to 2nd on the outside
Twelve hours and the final podium positions came down to the final turn. Vanthoor got some help as Stefan Mücke, who was third, drove into the side of the Bentley of Matthew Bell but Vanthoor went around the outside and put the power down on exit of the corner and just avoided contact with Bell. Mücke thought he was going to end up second but because of Vanthoor's intelligence, the German ended up fourth.

On the other nominees... 
Sage Karam's move early in the 24 Hours of Daytona was impressive as he used the outside to get around his Ganassi teammate and the Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP. He also had some help as slower GT traffic was throwing picks.

Sergio Canamasas isn't the greatest driver on the planet but when he races at Monaco he enters another atmosphere. The Spaniard made a daring move on Arthur Pic entering Sainte Devote and came out on the other side with the position. No contact with the Frenchman. No contact with the barrier. Canamasas ended up on the podium because of that move.

Turn three is the best passing zone at Toronto. Graham Rahal was able to get up the inside of Takuma Sato entering turn three but completed the pass in turn four and then slid up the inside of Simon Pagenaud in turn five to get another position out of nowhere. That move ended up giving Rahal a ninth place finish while Sato was tenth and Pagenaud was 11th.

In July, Kyle Busch had to win races if he hoped to make the Chase. At New Hampshire, Busch was a lap down but drove down the leaders Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. On the front straightaway, Busch powered passed Keselowski on the outside and then dove to the inside and drove past Harvick to get back on the lead lap. Busch would go on to win the race.

Past Winners
2012: Simon Pagenaud at Baltimore
2013: Robert Wickens at Nürburgring and Peter Dempsey in the Freedom 100
2014: Ryan Blaney on Germán Quiroga

The Eric Idle Award
Description: "When You're Chewing on Life's Gristle, Don't Grumble, Give a Whistle, And This'll Help Things Turn Out For The Best, and...  Always Look On The Bright Side of Life."
And the Nominees are:
Team Penske
Marcos Ambrose
Jota Sport

And the winner is... McLaren
It was a terrible year for McLaren. Nobody was happy. Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button were able to find moments of comic relief to the painful season but both drivers struggled all season with an unreliable car that was down on power to its competitors. On the bright side, it couldn't get any worse for McLaren and hopefully year two with Honda is a massive leap forward.

On the other nominees:
Team Penske choked away another IndyCar championship despite having three bullets at the season finale. To make matters worse, Penske had a chance to win the NASCAR championship and ended up with zero drivers eligible for the title at the finale despite having the driver with the most Cup victories this season.

Nissan brought out all the bells and whistles for their LMP1 return. They unveiled the car in a Super Bowl commercial! They painted the car in Manchester City colors! Here they were to take on Toyota, Audi and Porsche. And then they got the snout beat out of them at Le Mans and they didn't return and the entire future of the program was thrown into question after one race.

Marcos Ambrose returned to Australia but his time in V8SC lasted one round. He was replaced and returned for the endurance races. It was a disappointing ending to a great career.

For the second consecutive year, Jota Sport lost the title despite entering the final round of the European Le Mans Series season leading the championships. What will it take for this exceptional sports car team to win a title?

Past Winners
2012: Ben Spies
2013: Sam Hornish, Jr.
2014: Alexander Rossi

Comeback of the Year
Description: The Best Comeback in the 2015 season.
And the Nominees are:
Kyle Busch
Scott Dixon
Dani Pedrosa
Vincent Abril/Maximilian Buhk
Laurens Vanthoor

And the winner is... Kyle Busch
He broke his leg and won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Many didn't like that he could win the title despite missing 11 races but before the Chase, he would four races and was 25th in points ahead of Tony Stewart, Sam Hornish, Jr., Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who had all started every race of the season. Don't hate the player, hate the game. The system allows for it to be possible for a driver to win the title despite missing a handful of races. We rarely see drivers return from injury during a season and be remotely competitive but Busch was dominant over the summer and he held his own in autumn and it paid off with a championship.

On the other nominees... 
Scott Dixon entered the IndyCar finale from Sonoma 47 points behind Juan Pablo Montoya. He did all he had to do. He won the race and led the most laps from ninth on the grid! It was a drive that you would frame and show your kids on giving it your all even when the odds are stacked against you.

Dani Pedrosa missed three races after getting arm-pump surgery but he returned from surgery and finished fourth in the championship and won two races and scored six podiums.

Vincent Abril and Maximilian Buhk entered the Blancpain Sprint Series finale trailing Robin Frijns by eight points. The Bentley drivers scored maximum points (34) and won the final race of the season with Frijns finishing second, 0.375 seconds back. Abril and Buhk took the title by eight points.

Laurens Vanthoor would have been in that BSS title fight as Frijns' co-driver but he broke his leg at the previous round at Misano and it ruled him out for the finale. Vanthoor returned to competition at the Sepang 12 Hours but it's not just Vanthoor's return that should be acknowledged. The Belgian was running second, in rainy conditions and erased the 12-second lead Christopher Mies held in twenty minutes with 40 minutes to go in the race. Vanthoor would go on to win the race with Stéphane Ortelli (in his final race with Audi) and Stuart Leonard by over eight seconds.

Past Winners
2013: Michael Shank Racing at the 24 Hours of Daytona
2014: Juan Pablo Montoya to IndyCar

Most Improved
Description: Racer Who Improved The Most from 2014 to 2015.
And the Nominees are:
Jamie Green: From 10th to 2nd in DTM with four victories after not winning since 2012.
Martin Truex, Jr.: From 24th to 4th in NASCAR. One victory and 22 top-tens after only five top ten in 2014.
Danilo Petrucci: From 20th to 10th in MotoGP. Scored 96 points more in 2015 than 2014. Scored his first career podium. Finished in the points in 16 of 18 races.
Hiroaki Ishiura: From 5th to Super Formula Champion. Scored his first career victory in his 45th career start. Five podiums in 2015 after five podiums in his entire career entering this season.
Graham Rahal: From 19th to 4th. Ended a record 124-race winless drought. Won two races. Six podiums after six podiums in the previous four seasons.

And the winner is... Graham Rahal
This was the year we have all been waiting for from Graham Rahal. He was a championship contender and if it weren't for double points and Sébastien Bourdais, he would have probably finished second in the IndyCar championships. And he did it with no teammate and with an aero package that was behind that of Chevrolets. He really didn't put a wheel wrong all season. The poor results are mostly because he was an innocent bystander or was taken out (where was Tristan Vautier going?!) But now the pressure is really on Rahal. Can he build off his 2015 success or will he revert to his 2013-2014 form?

On the other nominees... 
Jamie Green won three of the first four races and then kind of disappeared but he did end up finishing second to Wehrlein and he finished on the podium in both races at the final weekend at Hockenheim, including a race victory to close out the season.

Martin Truex, Jr. had a massive turn around. He finished fourth because of the Chase format but without the Chase format, he would have finished fifth in the championship. It was a great year. He only had the one victory but he consistently ran at the front.

Danilo Petrucci kept finishing in the points and finished second at Silverstone in the wet. He never scored more than 27 points in a season and he ended up scoring 117 points in 2015 on a customer Ducati nonetheless.

I just want to acknowledge the season Hiroaki Ishiura had. He never lit the world on fire prior to this season and in Super Formula, where the grid features the like of André Lotterer, Kazuki Nakajima, Kamui Kobayashi and João Paulo de Oliveira, he drove smart, caught some breaks as Nakajima missed a round due to injury and won the title by constantly finding his way onto the podium.

Past Winners
2012: Esteban Guerrieri
2013: Marco Andretti
2014: Chaz Mostert

And there you have it. I would like to congratulate all the champions and race winners this year in the world of motorsports and I want to thank all of you who have been following along to this blog. Keep an eye out over the final two weeks of the year, as there will be more predictions for 2016 and other fun things to come as 2015 comes to a close.