For motorsports, 2013 has been a year between a significant 2012 and a highly anticipated 2014 season. In 2012, the DeltaWing debuted, the Audi R18 e-tron quattro became the first hybrid to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the IndyCar Series campaigned all-new cars.
With 2014 on the horizon, we will witness a major North American sports car racing under one roof, the premiere of the Ford EcoBoost prototype and an all-new complexion to Formula 1 vehicles. A corridor between these two major periods in motorsports, 2013 has also created some impressive moments itself.
The following are some honourable mentions to the 2013 auto racing calendar:
Biggest Runaway: Sebastian Vettel Acquiring His Fourth Consecutive World Drivers’ Championship
Awarding Sebastian Vettel with another honour for 2013, his late season dominance in Formula 1 has been the record tying. Taking his Red Bull-Renault to victory in the final nine grand prix events of the season, Vettel’s performance on the track has cemented him as someone who will be called a Formula 1 legend. Winning 13 grand prix races in total, Sebastian Vettel sprinted easily to his fourth-straight title with a 155-point cushion over Fernando Alonso. Through the entire 19-race Formula 1 season in 2013, Vettel placed on the podium in all but three races and suffered a solitary retirement at the British Grand Prix. Winning his nine consecutive races, Germany’s Sebastian Vettel equalled the record set by fellow countryman Michael Schumacher.
The Race of 2013: NASCAR Track Race at Eldora Speedway
Dirt track racing has a highly devoted fan base in North America and with good reason. Racing on dirt demonstrates a driver’s concentration and control behind the wheel as they attempt to maximize traction as well as performance on a loose surface. The challenge presented on dirt surfaces has been integral in the development of top NASCAR drivers like Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne. Prior to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ 2013 debut at half-mile Eldora Speedway, it had been more than four decades since one of the top-tiered NASCAR tours visited a dirt track.
The July 24th Midsummer Classic at Eldora Speedway gave a fresh perspective of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Starting with the adoption of a heat-style qualifying format, the changes offered a treat to NASCAR fans who were growing tired of seeing the same kinds of races. As for the 150-lap main event, the 2013 Midsummer Classic provided a spirited battle by Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson. Making a rare appearance in the 2013 truck race, Dillon took victory. However, the entire race presented a spectacle that exceeded the simple novelty of a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event on dirt.
Biggest Fiasco in 2013 Auto Racing: The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase
For many race fans, the Chase format usage to determine the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship is a polarizing subject. 26 races to determine competitors for a 10-race battle for the championship have engineered some climatic magic at the end of recent seasons. This year, a highly newsworthy moment related to the championship resulted before the 10-race Chase started.
The final race at Richmond International Raceway used to settle position for the 2013 edition of the Chase for the Sprint Cup had Michael Waltrip Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. attempting to gain one of the final spots in the top-12. A lap 394 caution gave him the advantage he needed for gain entrance into the 2013 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup. Suspiciously, that last-race caution came as a result Truex Jr.’s teammate Clint Bowyer spinning out on track. On the ESPN coverage, commentator and retired driver Dale Jarrett immediately called-out deliberate appearance of Bowyer’s spin. By the time NASCAR issued their judgement that the incident was intentional, even Michael Waltrip Racing did not contest the ruling. Among the harsh penalties issued to the team was the loss of 50 point for all three of the organization’s vehicles and $300,000 fine. Most severe, the point deduction for Martin Truex Jr. deleted him from the 2013 Chase.
After the incident, NASCAR scrambled to fairly reconstruct the Chase. While Ryan Newman gained entrance following Truex Jr.’s loss of points, the Chase added Jeff Gordon as a thirteenth driver based on another incident at Richmond. NASCAR realized Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports have collaborated to let Joey Logano gain a valuable position on David Gilliland resulting in Gordon to initially miss the Chase.
None of the players in the controversial Richmond race would have a major impact in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup as Jimmie Johnson marched his way to another seemingly easy victory with the 10-race format.
Best Looking Race Car in 2013: Audi R18 e-tron quattro
I remembered when the Audi R8 prototype sports car first ran in 2000 that some declared the vehicle as one of the most beautiful race cars. I would support that claim back then as well as today. The Audi R10 and R15 lacked the charm of the German auto company’s more iconic race machines. In fact, the first iteration of the Audi R15 featured an unusual flat nose section. Competing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2009 with that R15, it was one of the few occasions the Audi Sport Team Joest organization did not win. Cleaning up the looks with the Audi R15 plus, major victories returned to the car manufacturer ahead of the release of the R18.
Bidding kudos to the first hybrid sports car to win at Le Mans last year, the Audi R18 e-tron quattro is once-again the result of function creating a fashionable vehicle. Conforming the same rules as other LMP cars in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the R18 e-tron quattro has an additional sense of flare. In addition to the diesel/electric power combination, LED headlights are another high-tech stunningly useful feature on the Audi R18 e-tron quattro.
Ugliest Race Car in 2013: Kyle Busch’s #18 Doublemint Gum Toyota Camry:
It is safe to assume the NASCAR racing industry could be the second-biggest consumers of automotive paint and decaling behind the OEMs. Gone are the days when we can easily identify a driver throughout the season by the color of their race car. Putting so many paint schemes and sponsors in the mix, it only makes sense that one of the least attractive visions in motorsports for 2013 arrives from the top stock car racing series.
Green can be a wonderful color in auto racing. The traditional color used by British race vehicles engaged in international competition, green has also appeared in a less attractive shade. This year, the Joe Gibbs Racing #18 Toyota Camry wore an all-green paint scheme for Kyle Busch incorporating a neon primary style (a color shade not popular since the early 1990s). Busch ran this unattractive Doublemint Gum sponsored car in four races during the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Biggest Insult to Motorsports in 2013: Speed changing to Fox Sports 1
Entering 2013 with a network devoted to automotive and motorsports coverage, we will be leaving the year without one. Speed (previously known as Speedvision and Speed TV) was converted to Fox Sports 1 existing as a boarder sports purveyor. Though I live in Canada where the Speed channel is remained, United States viewers who used to turn to the channel for car or auto racing related happenings might feel cheated. The major concern is the change in format will take smaller league series away from any spotlight. During the last Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction in Las Vegas, the effects of the new Fox Sports 1 coverage was noted as American viewers needed wore out the batteries in their remotes chasing the broadcast from station to station.
2013 Race Where Fans Would Most Want Their Money Back: Brickyard 400
The presence of NASCAR Cup Series machines racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994 was a watershed moment for stock car racing. Competing on the same 2.5-mile track holding the Indy 500 gave NASCAR a brand-new premier event that proved instantly prestigious to drivers and teams. A race track known for honouring the best in open-wheel racing, the 400-mile race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track received the dubious honour for lack of on-track competition. The 2013 race was another dull Brickyard 400 adhering to the stock car race’s tendency for providing few passing opportunities. The majority of the 20 lead changes were exchanged through green flag pit stops.
Tough Luck Driver of 2013: Dario Franchitti
After three seasons from 2009 to 2011 collectively resulting in 12 wins and 3 IndyCar Series championships, the last two seasons have been tough on the once-difficult-to-counter Scottish driver Dario Franchitti. While 2012 did involve an always-coveted Indianapolis 500 win for Franchitti, the only win of that season added up to a 7th place in the overall points. Demonstrating difficulty adjusting to the turbocharged Honda powered Dallara DW12, 2013 was an even worse experience for Dario Franchitti.
With news of his marital break-up with actress Ashley Judd making headlines before the 2013 IndyCar season began, Franchitti’s first outings in his #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing vehicle did not bring the personal relief the Scot could be looking for. Three finishes worse than 20th place included a 23rd place result following a last-race crash at the Indy 500. Dario Franchitti turned his slump around during summer races with five consecutive top-five finishes but this time was often spent chasing his Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon.
In a way no race car driver’s career should end, the second race in the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston weekend was marred by the crash that ultimately force Dario Franchitti’s retirement from the cockpit. Thankful for his survival in the serious accident, the severity of Franchitti’s injuries will keep the accomplished driver observing his passion at a different perspective.
Most Deserving Win by a Driver: A Tie between AJ Allmendinger and Tony Kanaan
Every victory in any form of auto racing is earned by finding an advantage over the competition. For this reason, every sports achievement is worthy of admiration. However, two drivers in 2013 won in such grand style it deserves special recognition.
It is worth celebrating an individual who has learned from a personal mistake that almost cost him everything. In 2012, Allmendinger was removed from his #22 Penske Racing owned Dodge at the July NASCAR Sprint Cup series race at Daytona. Testing positive for a prohibited substance, it was reported later in the year as a medication for ADHD called Adderall that Allmendinger took as “a workout supplement” according to an ESPN.com column. While it initially appeared that Roger Penske (likely under pressure from sponsors) striping Allmendinger of his Sprint Cup ride, 2013 allowed a chance for redemption. Returning to open wheel, AJ Allmendinger competed in a handful of IndyCar races including the 2013 Indianapolis 500. Redemption for the now 32-year-old driver cam at the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America. In a dominant performance, AJ Allmendinger collected an important win driving the #22 Ford Mustang for Penske Racing.
The second driver is being honoured for his deserving victory at this year’s Indianapolis 500. Since his major open wheel racing debut in 1998 with CART, Tony Kanaan has been likeable by fans as well as by other competitors. At 38-years-old (turning 39 on the 31st of December), the popular Kanaan has stood as the 2004 IndyCar champion but had been denied an Indy 500 win on 11 previous tries heading into 2013. Finishing in the top-five on five occasions including a runner-up run in 2004 and taking pole in 2005, the Brickyard victory eluded Kanaan. Driving a Chevrolet-powered Dallara for KV Racing Technology, Tony Kanaan won the fastest Indianapolis 500 in history. Even though devout fans for other drivers would have preferred to see their pick win, Tony Kanaan’s victory earned universal approval.
Information and photo source: Audi AG, Chris Nagy, General Motors, IndyCar, Matt Sullivan/Getty Images, NASCAR, Pirelli, Tom Pennington/Getty Images