Friday, February 5, 2016

Hitting Fifty

On Sunday, the 50th Super Bowl takes place from Santa Clara, California. The Carolina Panthers look for its first title and Carolina will take on twice champion Denver Broncos. While the biggest sporting event in the United States reaches 50 this year, many historic races in motorsports have already made it to 50 and plenty have surpassed it.

The oldest race in the world is the French Grand Prix and while it hasn't been run since 2008, it was the oldest grand prix. First run in 1906, the 50th running didn't occur until 1964 after interruptions because of two World Wars. That race took place at Rouen and was won by Daniel Sexton Gurney in a Brabham. It was Gurney's second grand prix victory and first in two years after he won what is still Porsche's only victory in Formula One. Graham Hill finished second with Jack Brabham rounding out the podium.

Two years later, the Indianapolis 500 would hit the half-century mark. The roadster was fighting to hang on but the rear-engine cars had firmly rooted into the landscape of motorsports. Eleven cars were eliminated right when the green flag waved to start the race when Canadian Billy Foster on the front straightaway. Drivers taken out in the accident included Gurney, A.J. Foyt, Don Branson and rookie Cale Yarborough. Surprising, the only injury in the accident was a cut to Foyt's hand after he climbed the catch fence to avoid a potential fire.

The race was restarted after over an hour under the red flag. Jim Clark was going for back-to-back victories and the Scotsman battled Lloyd Ruby. Ruby led the most laps in the race but started losing oil and had to surrender the race lead to Jackie Stewart while Graham Hill passed Clark after Clark mistakenly thought Hill was a lap down. Stewart lead for 40 laps but oil pressure issues ended his chance to be rookie winner with ten laps to go. Hill would go on to win in his first Indianapolis 500 after starting 15th.

There would be a hiatus in major races hitting the 50th race milestone but in 1982, three motorsports stables would hit the milestone. Walter Röhrl won the 50th Rallye Monte-Carlo. The German would go on to win his second World Rally Championship title that year. Later that June, the 24 Hours of Le Mans would hit fifty. It was the first race under Group C regulations and the Porsche 956 dominated the race. Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell would take the victory. It was Ickx's record-setting sixth and final Le Mans victory. It would be Bell's third of five Le Mans victory. Three months later, the 50th Italian Grand Prix was run at Monza. René Arnoux took the victory in a Renault ahead of the Ferraris of Patrick Tambay and Mario Andretti. It was Andretti's final Formula One podium in his penultimate start.

While the 1985 Australian Grand Prix was the first time Formula One went to the country, it was the 50th running of the event. Prior to Formula One, the race had been contested by sports cars, Formula Libre, Tasman Series, Formula 5000 and Formula Mondial. The race in 1985 was the first on the streets of Adelaide. Keke Rosberg took the victory, his final in Formula One.

In 1988, Ayrton Senna won the 50th German Grand Prix at the Hockheimring. Four years later, Senna would win the 50th running of the Monaco Grand Prix. It was Senna's fifth victory at Monaco and fourth consecutive. He took the lead after Nigel Mansell had to make a late pit stop for a loose wheel nut. The Brit chased down the Brazilian but could not pass him and finished just over three-tenths back. Later in 1992, the Belgian Grand Prix hit fifty at Spa-Francorchamps and Michael Schumacher took his first of 91 grand prix victory.

There would be nearly five years until the next grand prix made it to fifty and that next race would be the British Grand Prix. Jacques Villeneuve won that day at Silverstone after Mika Häkkinen's engine expired while leading with eight laps to go. The next 50th running wouldn't occur until the 2008 Spanish Grand Prix where Kimi Räikkönen won after leading 62 of 66 laps from pole position. The 2008 Spanish Grand Prix was only the final race for Super Aguri.  The most recent grand prix to reach 50 was the Canadian Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel won the 50th running of the race North of the Border in 2013.

It's not just sports cars and Formula One that has had event lasted for over half a century. Dirt races have made it to fifty. The 50th Turkey Night Grand Prix was the final one to take place at Ascot Park and that was won by Stan Fox. The 50th Hoosier Hundred was won by Tony Elliott in 2001 and Dave Darland won the 50th Hut Hundred in 2003. The Knoxville Nationals reached fifty in 2010 and Tim Shaffer took the victory and ended Donny Schatz reign. Schatz had won the four previous Knoxville Nationals. Schatz has won the five Knoxville Nationals since Shaffer's victory.

The once famous Daytona 200 reached fifty in 1991. Miguel Duhamel won the race, his first of a record five Daytona 200 victories. Mick Doohan won the 50th Dutch TT in 1998. It was Doohan's final Dutch TT as he went on to win his fifth and final world championship.

Beside Rallye Monte-Carlo, other rallies to hit the 50-running milestone include Wales Rally GB. Colin McRae won the 50th Wales Rally GB in 1994. McRae was the first Brit to win the event since Roger Clark won in 1976. Marcus Grönholm won the 50th running of his home rally, Rally Finland in 2000. The following year, Finn Harri Rovanperä surprisingly won the 50th Rally Sweden. It was Rovanperä's only WRC victory.

Other major endurance races to make it to fifty include the Spa 24 Hours, the 12 Hours of Sebring, the Bathurst 1000 and the 24 Hours of Daytona. In 1997, the Spa 24 Hours hit fifty with the BMW of Eric Hélary, Marc Duez and Didier de Radigues picking up the victory. The Audi R8 of Johnny Herbert, Christian Piscatory and Dindo Capello won the 50th running of Sebring in 2002. Bathurst reached fifth in 2006 with Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup taking the victory. It was Whincup's first Bathurst victory and Lowndes' second. Michael Shank Racing won the 50th 24 Hours of Daytona with A.J. Allmendinger, Oswaldo Negri, Jr., John Pew and Justin Wilson in 2012.

Each leg of NASCAR's triple crown has made it to fifty. The Southern 500 was the first to reach the milestone, however, the 50th Southern 500 ended prematurely due to rain. Jeff Burton took the victory and won a million dollars thanks to the No Bull 5 award. The 50th Daytona 500 was in 2008 and Ryan Newman took the victory with a last lap pass on the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas of Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart. It was Roger Penske's first Daytona 500 victory. The following year, the Coca-Cola 600 would hit the milestone but like the Southern 500, the race in Charlotte would be rained on. First it would be postponed a day and then it would end after only 340 miles due to rain. David Reutimann took his first career victory.

The 50th time IndyCar raced at the Milwaukee Mile the week after the Indianapolis 500 was in 1997. Greg Moore won his first career victory that day. Of course, because of the split, Moore didn't run the week before at Indianapolis and Moore would never get a chance to run the Indianapolis 500.

With all the major races that have hit fifty, a few races that have made their history as a junior formula event have also made it to the milestone. The 50th Pau Grand Prix was in 1991 and won by Jean-Marc Gounon. It was his first International Formula 3000 victory. Other notable drivers in that race were Christian Fittipaldi, Alex Zanardi, Damon Hill, Allan McNish, David Brabham and Michael Bartels. The 50th Macau Grand Prix was in 2003 and won by Nicolas Lapierre. Ryan Briscoe, Marco Bonanomi, Nelson Piquet, Jr., Robert Doornbos, James Courtney, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica and Richard Antinucci were other drivers who raced in the 50th Macau Grand Prix. Finally, the 50th New Zealand Grand Prix was a Formula Ford race in 2005 and won by Simon Gamble at Teretonga Park.

A few other races are nearing fifty. The Norisring Trophy hits fifty later this year. The Brazilian Grand Prix has been run 44 times and the Japanese Grand Prix is at 41 runnings. The Suzuka 1000km has also been run 44 times.

I think the history of some of these events hasn't been properly celebrated. As races have become more commodities that could be thrown by the wayside at any moment due to sanction fees, races have been sterilized. Gone are the historic backbones for events that have no history whatsoever in places that have no thirst for motorsports. These races should be celebrated. Each has its own unique history and they should not be ignored. Ignoring history makes race valueless and there are plenty of races that should be on racing schedules and are not.