There’s plenty of racing to talk about from the past few days, so here’s our weekend motorsport round-up, with highlights included.
From rallying to endurance racing, some of the biggest motorsport events of the year took place this weekend. So, let’s take a look at what went down:
Neuville defeats the Monte Master
Heading into this year’s Rallye Monte-Carlo, all eyes were on Sébastien Ogier. The French veteran had the chance to make it a record ten victories at this event, which would ensure that he became the first driver to get into double figures. However, although Ogier did pick up his 700th career stage win this time out, the overall honors slipped away due to an unfavorable road order dirtying his path.
At the start of the event, it looked as though Ogier’s Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans might be the man to beat. In fact, he was exactly that throughout Thursday and Friday, but on Saturday afternoon, the pace fell away. Instead, Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville shot to the top of the timesheets with Ogier also overhauling Evans. This teed up a close battle on the final day, but Neuville had more pace at his disposal, eventually taking the rally win by 16.1 seconds over Ogier. Still, the launch of a new GR Yaris built in his honor will make this weekend worth remembering.
Elsewhere, a few drivers had some sketchy moments; the worst of which being Gregoire Munster’s cliff edge crash, where a small wooden barrier was the only thing keeping his Puma Rally1 from the mountainside beneath. There was also a titanic battle in the Rally2 class, with Yohan Rossel nabbing victory away from Pepe López in the very final stage. For me though, the highlight of Rallye Monte-Carlo this year was Thursday’s night stage. Just take a look at the scenes in the video above!
Two-way duel at the Daytona 24 Hours
The Rolex 24 at Daytona is the jewel in the IMSA series crown. In fact, it’s probably the second most prestigious endurance race in the world, behind only the 24 Hours of Le Mans. For added spectacle, crowds would also get to watch the highly-competitive new breed of GTP cars duke it out, this being the ruleset’s second season in practice. Happily, we weren’t disappointed, as the race that took place was packed full of action across the prototype and GT classes.
If you were going to criticize this race for anything, it could be the lack of different serious overall leaders. However, in a way, that makes it all the more memorable. It’s rare for races this long to retain the same two main protagonists throughout, however there was no separating the #7 Penske Porsche and the #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac all day! Pipo Derani had put the Caddy on pole, but it was Porsche who ended up leading most of the race. The duel culminated in a showdown across the final few laps with Tom Blomqvist bearing down on Felipe Nasr, only to be baulked by GT traffic. That said, there was always a feeling that the Cadillac team had left it a little too late to strike back, following a tremendous stint by Nasr in the Porsche.
So, it was the Brazilian ex-F1 racer Nasr, reigning Indy 500 champion Josef Newgarden, and Porsche factory aces Matt Campbell and Dane Cameron who would take the chequered flag – and the prize Rolexes – albeit amid some confusion, with the flag appearing to come out a lap early. The leading Porsche circulated the course at full speed one more time, almost as if to make sure, but there was no need – the victory was theirs, ending Penske Motorsport’s 54-year Daytona drought!
Jaguar strikes back in Saudi
After Pascal Wehrlein’s victory in the opening Formula E round of the year in Mexico, it was quite a surprise to see the Stuttgart brand fail to repeat its form in Diriyah. Admittedly, Jake Dennis did pilot his (Porsche-powered) Andretti to the win in the first race on Friday, but after that, they were nowhere. Wehrlein in particular will have been annoyed to have let his championship points lead slip so early.
The driver who would go on to steel the top step in the standings was Jaguar’s Nick Cassidy. The Kiwi is new to the team this year after a starring breakthrough role with Envision last term, and while his rivals have looked patchy so far, Cassidy has been Mr. Consistent. In Mexico, he debuted for Jaguar with a third place finish, a result which he matched in Friday’s race around Diriyah. Then, after a brilliant defensive drive, Cassidy took his first win for the British marque in Saturday’s race. Overall, that means he now leads the way by 19 points over Wehrlein. With just three races concluded, that’s a pretty healthy gap.
Of the two of the double-header races this weekend, the Saturday race was arguably the most entertaining. A jumbled-up qualifying session saw Oliver Rowland in the somewhat-unfancied Nissan roll his sleeves up with Cassidy and Robin Frijns at the front of the pack, while the tailing midfield was nose-to-tail all race. That said, the new season of Formula E has yet to reach the heights of excitement that the championship has offered in the past. Hopefully this year’s FE campaign wakes up a bit next time out in Sao Paulo. Until then, catch highlights of race two above.