Category Archives: Motorsport

Pit Stop – Moto GP halfway report- By Lewis Brearley

We’re now at the half-way point of what has been a gripping MotoGP season. It’s been the full package: thrilling races, unpredictable events and captivating rivalries and there’s another nine races still to go.

Pre-season most commentators were predicting a Jorge Lorenzo versus Dani Pedrosa duel with super-rookie Marc Marquez quick enough to race the pair sporadically, but too crash-prone to challenge through the season.

However, at the half-way mark, Marquez leads Lorenzo and Pedrosa and remains the only one of the three without major injuries.

This fact is despite Marquez’s trademark lunges into each and every corner he rides into. Time after time he hurtles into corners at speeds and angles which even Lorenzo and Pedrosa can’t, and only once has he ended up in the gravel during a race.

It was a style he used on his journey up the lower ranks of the sport and through into Moto2. But on 1000cc beasts such as his Honda RC213V, this style is spectacularly difficult to master.

Yet his mistake at the very end of the Italian Grand Prix is also the only reason why Marquez doesn’t have a 100% podium record, an astonishing achievement.

Lorenzo and Pedrosa are desperately unlucky to have succumbed to bad shoulder injuries as their form prior to their incidents was very impressive.

Lorenzo has three wins and Pedrosa has two yet staying on the bike is an important facet of the two wheeled form of racing.

The Spanish duo’s injuries have opened up the podium battles for the past two races though, and Cal Crutchlow, Valentino Rossi and Stefan Bradl have stepped into the limelight.

Rossi keeps promising that his old form is just masked by inadequacies of his Yamaha’s set up and his Assen win was a glorious reminder of what can happen when he gets it right. However, the other eight races have clearly shown that Rossi is just a little step back from the youngsters he’s racing.

As uncomfortable as it may be to talk about the inimitable Italian like that, he is the only top rider in his thirties and age eventually shows its mark even on the very best.

Fifth in the championship is Britain’s promising Cal Crutchlow. In his third season and on a satellite Yamaha, therefore a less developed bike than Rossi’s, Crutchlow often has strong races. He needs to just put a few more parts of the jigsaw together, the biggest piece being better early race pace, and he could become a regular winner.

The only rider outside of this top five to get a podium is Stefan Bradl, who went from an impressive pole position to finish runner-up at Laguna Seca.

After a worrying start to the season, after which Honda began to lose faith in the German leading to the team not signing a contract extension, Bradl’s form has improved drastically in the past two races. This performance jump seems strongly correlated with a decision to change brake pads and it would be unwise now for Honda to abandon this exciting prospect.

However, Honda have another exciting prospect who they believe can lead them to a full era of glory: Marc Marquez.

The hype around Marquez can appear overblown to some; many correctly argue that he is indeed on what seems to be the best bike on the grid. But to those who deny Marquez some respect need to have a little glance at the history books. Valentino Rossi, seven times the champion, began his career in 2000 on one of the best bikes. He took two victories, something Marquez has already surpassed, and finished second in the championship.

Whether it’s a last corner barge at Jerez or a motocross style overtake at the Corkscrew, Laguna Seca, Marquez appears able to do whatever Rossi could.

One thing Rossi didn’t achieve however was a rookie-year championship, something Marquez is currently hurtling towards.

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Pit Stop – Webber Is Off – By Lewis Brearley

Despite firmly denying rumours that he could join Porsche’s new Le Mans effort for 2014, Mark Webber has announced that he will indeed do so.

He will leave Red Bull at the end of the season to return to the sportscar series where his top level racing career began.

Anyone who has ever frequented YouTube racing videos will surely have seen the astonishing incident where Peter Dumbreck’s Mercedes CLR takes off, flips and lands in the surrounding forest from the 1999 Le Mans race. At the practice session before the race Webber himself suffered the same incident as Mercedes encountered bizarre stability issues at high-speed, causing them to pull out of the event.

These dangerous events, in which fortunately no lives were lost, caused Webber to state that he would never return to the dangers of Le Mans. But fifteen years later Webber will return to the new, full factory funded, works Porsche team who themselves are returning to the endurance circuit after a long absence.

Porsche are the most successful team in Le Mans history, with 16 victories, most of them coming from the manufacturer’s dominance of the Group C period in the 1980s, when their 956 took four successive victories.

The battle between them, Audi and Toyota in the LMP1 class looks set to be enthralling. The sportscar racing scene is at one of the highest levels of quality ever seen, with six former F1 drivers currently driving for Audi and Toyota alongside great drivers such as Tom Kristensen, Benoit Treluyer and Stephane Sarrazin.

Webber has always loved pushing himself to his very limit and challenging himself against the very best drivers in the world. Sportscar racing has much less focus on the tyre management which has been the bane of Webber’s life recently. He believes racing should be flat out and that everybody should be pushing as fast as possible and in Le Mans this is certainly the case.

It is this aspect, rather than the unease within the Red Bull team between himself, management and his team-mate and built up by the media, that is likely to have led to this decision to switch disciplines.

Webber’s decision precedes one of his favourite events, the British grand prix. British fans, more than 100000 of whom will be travelling to the Silverstone circuit over the weekend, haven’t had much home success to cheer for in recent years. Lewis Hamilton’s supreme wet-weather victory in 2008 was the last British win.

With Jenson Button aiming for a points finish, the chances of home success this year depend mainly on whether Hamilton’s Mercedes team have sorted the tyre degradation issues which have plagued their season. At the last track resembling Silverstone, Barcelona, Mercedes struggled with horrific wear and this weekend will be a clear indicator of how far the team have progressed.

The team are confident, as are the fans; but whether or not Hamilton can challenge Vettel, Webber and Alonso will be a mystery until a hopefully sunny Sunday.

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Pit Stop – Le Mans Takes The Limelight – By Lewis Brearley

This weekend will be the first for over two months where neither a MotoGP nor a Formula One race will happen.

But for many of the most die-hard motorsport fans, this is the biggest and most important weekend of the whole season, for this weekend sees the 81st running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

While tens of thousands of motorsport fans make the annual pilgrimage to watch the endurance classic first hand, thousands more can enjoy full live coverage courtesy of the Eurosport channel.

The build up to this year’s race has centred on the slow realisation that this could be an Audi walkover, due to the pace difference between Audi and their biggest rivals, Toyota which unexpectedly revealed itself at the Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps endurance races.

After last year’s event, which saw Toyota run stunning but short-lived pace in what was their first race with the new generation TS030 Hybrid car, the Japanese company were expected to battle Audi closely this year. However, the situation now clearly visible from results of both races already run this season combined with the Le Mans practice session times, is one of Toyota lagging behind Audi.

Yet the Audi team are not outwardly showing confidence. They claim that contrary to popular belief they do actually have a race on their hands thanks to the Toyota being able to run an average on two laps more per fuel load than Audi’s respective challenger.

This means the Audi would need a speed benefit of 1.2 seconds per laps according to the Audi team themselves.

The first practice session from the Le Mans weekend therefore looks extremely positive for Audi, after the fastest R18 e-tron posted a time four seconds faster than the highest placed TS030.

The battle for overall victory may therefore be without tension, but Le Mans is about way more than just that.  The LMP2 class nearly always provides an absorbing race, with around 20 entries this year all with a chance of victory. The class which is arguably the soul of the race sees passionate and experienced privateer racing teams race through the night and into the dawn.

Furthermore, there is the annual battle for GT class honours between Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, Chevrolet and this year’s newbies SRT. In this race the form points towards an Aston-Ferrari battle for class victory but the hugely experienced Porsche outfit can never be discounted.

Le Mans always provides entertainment, and the more hours you commit to it, the greater its repayment. I understand if staying awake all weekend is too much for you though.

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Weekend Roundup

Last weekend saw some classic sport on your screens, but did you miss some of it.

Lightening struck twice in the football league this season as Watford scored 18 seconds after their keeper had saved a penalty to put them into the playoff final, a repeat of the Brentford V Doncaster Rovers game which saw Rovers claim the title.

Manager Gianfranco Zola celebrated on the pitch with his stars and they will now face either Brighton and Hove Albion or Crystal Palace in the richest game in football.

Outside of football, Fernando Alonso won his home Grand Prix in Spain as Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg (who started on pole) and Lewis Hamilton (second on the grid)  were unable to cope with their tyre wear.

Leroy Cudjoe produced a fantastic performance as Huddersfield Giants defeat Leeds Rhinos 24-8 in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup, with the England centre scoring two tries.

Elsewhere Wigan Warriors’ star Sam Tomkins scored four tries as they beat Hull Kr 46-14 and holders Warrington Wolves won 52-6 against Salford City Reds.

Rafael Nadal won the Madrid Open as his dominance on clay continues and Serena Williams claimed her 50th career singles title beating Maria Sharapova.

Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints beat Harlequins and Saracens respectively as they set up the Aviva Premiership final, with the Tigers looking to take another title.

In America, Tiger Woods claimed his second Players Championship title beating Sergio Garcia after the Spaniard found water on the par three 17th.

For more information about this weeks sport, look out for our preview later in this week.

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Pit Stop – MotoGP is Back – By Lewis Brearley

This year’s MotoGP season is one of the most highly anticipated ever. As testing continues at the Sepang racetrack in Malaysia, fans and commentators are already salivating over what promises to be a more exciting and varied championship battle than has been seen in recent years.

The past three seasons have all lacked that special tight championship fight which sparks a good season of racing into a truly memorable one.

Yet, if the testing form is a reliable sign of form, as it must be seen to be, this season is promising to deliver that special spark.

Valentino Rossi, the seven time premier class champion returns to Yamaha to partner reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo, while over at the other Japanese titan – Honda – promising rookie Marc Marquez debuts alongside three-time championship runner-up, Dani Pedrosa.

Testing form shows that while Lorenzo and Pedrosa have a slight edge over their team mates, all four are close enough in pace to create a four way title battle, something not seen for many a year.

Four contenders there may be, but it would be an unprecedented and extraordinary achievement if Marquez was still in with a shot come the Valencia finale. The 20 year old, Spaniard faces a team mate with seven seasons of experience in MotoGP, including 22 wins and 71 podium finishes.

These are the amazing career statistics of Pedrosa, yet he has never managed a championship victory, arguably due to a tendency to fall off his bike all too regularly.

However, the end of 2012 saw a new evolution of Pedrosa, a consistent one, a guy who had finally found the ability to race on his limit without straying beyond it. It was a limit that took him to six wins out of the last eight grands prix.

If Pedrosa continues this kind of form, then Lorenzo faces a monumental struggle if he is to become a triple champion. Testing shows he seems to have the match of Rossi, whose 34 year old frame looks to have had its finest edges worn since his 2009 championship winning year at Yamaha.

Yet this is Rossi, so who knows whether we will see any more of the magical moments which he managed to make a trademark of his own. Lorenzo himself was on the receiving end of some of these, the last corner overtake at Catalunya 2009 by Rossi surely lingers at the back of Lorenzo’s mind every time he looks at the “doctor” alongside him in the blue Yamaha garage.

Furthermore, a third strand to the championship battle could come from Ducati, who have worked all winter to reel in the Japanese teams and who are aiming for wins with their revitalised rider line-up of Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden.

According to the testing times from Sepang though, they have a bit more work to do if they are to catch the Japanese teams.

Britain hasn’t had a MotoGP champion since Barry Sheene in 1977, but for 2013 there are three Brits on the grid. Bradley Smith joins Cal Crutchlow at Yamaha’s second team, and Michael Laverty, moves up from British Superbikes to claim a CRT bike.

After a couple of years where MotoGP was looking tired, 2013, if it delivers, looks set to serve up the adrenaline that all motorbike racing fans have been waiting for.

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Pit Stop – Daytona 500 – By Lewis Brearley

This weekend the Daytona 500 kick starts the 2013 NASCAR season and on a wider scale, the American motorsport year.

Every year a pack of more than 40 stock cars roar around the two and a half mile superspeedway on the Florida coast nose to tail, scraping the track’s concrete walls at speeds of more than 200mph. It may on paper just be round one of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series yet the glory and purse gained by triumphing means it’s more than the average oval race.

This year however, the pre-race hype for “The Great American Race” is being dominated by one huge story; Danica Patrick.

The more dedicated motorsport fans will already know the name, Patrick having had a good seven year career in the IndyCar series which contained a win. A win which made Patrick the first woman to win an open wheel motorsport race in a major series.

But it was only last week that Patrick became a worldwide sensation when she put her #10 car on pole position for the biggest NASCAR race of them all.

To some this is a sign of an arrival of a new household name, a figure who is poised to bring huge new exposure to the sport in general, while to others it means nothing until the whole 40 car grid sets off on the first lap of the race itself.

I think we can safely predict which version the NASCAR executives would prefer to occur. A successful female driver who just so happens to be a fine looking one that opens the gates to millions of new female viewers to their sport and therefore massive new revenue streams.

I could try and predict the happenings of the race but that would most likely be a prime example of an exercise in futility as NASCAR for 2013 is all change.

There is indeed no formbook for the new NASCAR season ahead as there is a completely new car for the drivers to adjust to. The Generation 6 NASCAR has been designed with some key features in mind.

The first is purely visual, with the cars being designed to look more like the road-going cars that the participating manufacturers would like their racing success to sell. It’s the changes made for the second aim that are much more exciting for the motorsport fan however.

Lighter, with reduced aero dependency and grippier tyres have been combined to create cars with better handling in the hope of increasing wheel to wheel racing. Promisingly, the drivers have been giving rave reviews to the American media.

A new NASCAR, and maybe a new superstar. The 2013 edition of the Daytona 500 could the dawn of a new age of American stock car racing.

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Pit Stop – WRC Preview – By Lewis Brearley

The exciting new era of the WRC kicks off this week. For the first time since the 2008 season there are three teams gunning for the title; there’s a new group of impressive young drivers at the top teams and by November there will be a new WRC champion crowned; guaranteed.

The season kicks off this week with the traditional season-opening Monte-Carlo Rally. Champion team Citroen arrive with their totemic leader, Sebastien Loeb, present for one of his four outings this season.

Loeb will not chase a tenth straight championship which leaves his long time understudy Mikko Hirvonen as their new team leader.

The flying Finn is the most experienced driver in the leading pack this season and possesses greater consistency than his rivals showed last year. With the might of Citroen behind him, he is the smart tip for the title.

Across the French garage is another of Loeb’s former understudies, Dani Sordo, the tarmac expert. While he was beaten comprehensively by Loeb when they were team-mates, experience is everything in the WRC, and the Spaniard enters 2013 as much of an unknown quantity having been outside the title-chasers for the past two seasons.

Expect a couple of opportunities for wins, but a title tilt seems far out of the question.

Citroen’s nemesis Ford, boast an all new driver line-up and team name.

After Ford pulled the plug on works support for the squad, Qatar stepped in to allow the team to continue. Team boss, Malcolm Wilson then took the refreshing decision of a long-term view by hiring the three most exciting under-25s in the WRC: Mads Ostberg, Evgeny Novikov and Thierry Neuville.

Ostberg will lead the team’s championship ambitions and with luck will challenge for the title. However, the driver’s levels of inexperience probably mean a couple of rally wins are the optimal result for Ford in 2013 with 2014 being a more likely year for Ford title glory.

The new boys in town are Volkswagen. They arrive as favourites because they come equipped with a huge budget, the largest resources in the sport, a year’s experience as a Skoda outfit and an awesomely talented driver line-up.

If the team have done their sums correctly and their drivers deliver on their potential, even Citroen will struggle to stop the Germans.

Sebastien Ogier was Loeb’s toughest ever team-mate and is likely to emerge as VW’s number one over the full season. He has the speed of Loeb and the consistency of a veteran and to some pundits is already the French heir apparent to the WRC crown.

His team-mate, the scintillatingly fast but reckless Jari-Matti Latvala needs to learn to stay on the road if he is to win more than a couple of rallies this year. However, if he does so, he’s another very dangerous asset for the German team.

The season looks set to be the most competitive in years with three makes of car all driven by rally drivers with the potential to grab any success that comes near.

A wave of new talent has arrived and Hyundai are joining in 2014. The upcoming season promises to be just the beginning of a glorious new era for the WRC.

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