Friday, January 8, 2010

A Motorsport Renaissance

Something that I have thought about before, but got to thinking again after Kimi Raikkonen's defection to the World Rally Championship is that we are in a driving renaissance period. We are back to the days when drivers showed off their skills frequently in other disciplines of racing similar to the days of Jim Clark Graham Hill, AJ Foyt, Dan Gurney and Mario Andretti. In addition, with this being an era of specialization, schedule conflicts, sponsorship commitments, and protection of drivers as brands, it is a wonderful thing to see the crossover.

Although it is something we have seen with a bit more frequency in NASCAR the last several years in association with the Rolex Sports Car Series, that is helped by the fact that Grand American Road Racing Association and NASCAR are very much in a co-operative partnership. As it relates to F1, where no similar partnership exists it makes it all the more satisfying and more of a spectacle that the current and recent refugees in the F1 fraternity were participating in events as active drivers.

Recent examples of this in addition to Raikkonen when they were in F1 are multiple 24 Hours of LeMans appearances from Christian Klein (1), Franck Montagny (9), and Sebastien Bourdais (7); who also has participated in the Petit LeMans, Spa 24 hours and Sebring in addition to his great Champcar resume. Current drivers that have sampled, planning to sample outings or want to sample other machinery are Hekki Kovalainen, Sebastien Vettel and Robert Kubica. Kovalainen and Vettel have participated in the Race of Champions, the only competition in the world where stars from F1, WRC, NASCAR, and sportscars compete against each other.

Drivers that I have had a personality affinity to with their 'crossover ability' are Robby Gordon, Sebastien Loeb, Valentino Rossi and Mario Andretti. Robby Gordon has always been a versatile driver and personally at the top of the list in this modern era (perhaps heresy on a F1 related site). He has driven everything from NASCAR, Champcar and Dakar. Also, he just did not participate...he has won. Most recently, this week he took a Dakar Rally stage win.

Then there is 6 time WRC champion, Sebastien Loeb. On top of dominating the WRC for nearly a decade, he has participated at the 24 Hours of LeMans twice with a best finish of 2nd in 2006. One of his co-drivers was, Franck Montagny. He has also tested F1 cars and has impressed but will probably never get to race in an actual GP.

Valentino Rossi, the 7 time MotoGP champ, has tested F1 and WRC machinery and impressed in both. Moreover, he has participated in several WRC rallies accounting very well for himself. Although, he recently turned down an offer to drive sportscars with former F1 driver Jean Alesi at the 24 hours of LeMans.

Mario Andretti, F1 World Champion, Indy 500 winner, Daytona 500 winner, 24 hours of LeMans, won races on road courses, dirt and paved ovals, drove until he was 60. What else can you say about the longevity and diversity of car that this guy has driven? He was a true master.

In looking to the future, there is some interest from USF1 for NASCAR driver Kurt Busch to make a switch, and he has not ruled that out. In any case, the future looks bright for fans that like to see drivers work their craft in different machinery. Maybe the question of who is the best driver will once again have a great meaning.

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