ROC: Whincup progresses but Coulthard wins
SLEEPY Barbados is hardly the epicentre of world motor sport, not for much of the year, anyway.
Usually more about palm trees, heady cocktails and sun and beaches, the Caribbean island was at the weekend home to the annual Race of Champions, where some of the world's greatest drivers compete in identical cars in a series of individual and two-man team formats.
Jamie Whincup and Mick Doohan were Australia’s representatives in a stellar line-up that also included Tom Kristensen, Romain Grosjean, Petter Solberg, Robby Gordon, David Coulthard, Kurt Busch, Susie Wolff, Ryan Hunter-Reay, new world touring car champ Jose-Maria Lopez, DTM driver (and Mercedes F1 reserve) Pascal Wehrlein and others.
This was the 26th running of the Race of Champions; last year’s RoC was cancelled due to civil unrest in Bangkok.
Thrashed unmercifully around RoC’s unique parallel track at Batty Park was a range of different machines: 600-horsepower Volkswagen Polo RXs that ran in the 2014 FIA World Rallycross Championship, Ariel Atom Cup, Audi R8 LMS, KTM X-Bow, Euro NASCAR, RoC Car and Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks – all intended to test the drivers’ versatility.
Kristensen and Solberg stormed to the RoC Nations Cup title for Team Nordic on Saturday, defeating Team Scotland’s Coulthard and Wolff by two heats to one in the final.
Team Australia’s five-time MotoGP world champion Doohan and six-time V8 Supercar champion Whincup didn’t make the final, despite Whincup’s late consolation victory.
Whincup appreciated the international aspect of the RoC, saying “some ways we’re stuck in our own little world down there, so it’s good to get out and do some other driving”.
“The whole left-hand drive thing really throws me out as I’ve only ever driven a right-hand-drive car. That turn one is pretty nuts – and pretty fast.”
On another hot afternoon in Barbados, the best-of-three individual Grand Final boiled down to a battle of F1 drivers young and old. But in the end Coulthard saw off Wehrlein to become Champion of Champions for the first time.
Coulthard had been in the RoC Grand Final once before, when he lost out by the narrowest margin to rally legend Sebastien Loeb at Wembley in 2008. This time he prevailed.
Whincup was eliminated by eventual winner Coulthard at the semi-final stage by a mere 0.2sec
The other race was a battle of the young guns as Wehrlein eliminated 2014 European F3 Champion Esteban Ocon to set up a meeting with Coulthard in the final.
“We’ve had a fantastic week, never mind a fantastic race weekend. I’m retired, so it’s lovely to get another trophy,” said a happy Coulthard.
“Of course I don’t race any more, but at this event I had the advantage because being 23 years older than Pascal I’m used to changing gear whereas he was looking for the semi-automatic shift!
“It’s been a good weekend, so thank you to the Race of Champions, thank you to Barbados and I think a small rum punch is in order…”
To start Sunday’s action the drivers were split into four groups of four, battling for the right to line up in the knockout stages.
Coulthard began in dominant fashion, taking three wins out of three in his group. But there was a surprise in store for Lotus F1 driver and reigning ROC Champion of Champions Grosjean, who was beaten into third place and eliminated by Whincup after a duel in the Stadium Super Trucks. Doohan also failed to progress.
Doohan wasn’t a huge fan of the Barbados layout: “I actually prefer the shorter-style RoC circuit, which is a little easier for someone like me. On the short track there’s not so much technique, it’s more about getting the car to go around the turn. Here there’s a lot more technique in the faster stuff, it requires a lot more of a feel for the car – in which I haven’t had a lot of experience.”
F1: Button demanded and got multi-year deal
JENSON Button may well be one of the good guys of modern Formula One, but his tough side was revealed when negotiations began for his new deal with McLaren for 2015 and beyond.
He has revealed that a multi-year agreement was “a must” for both him and McLaren.
The Monaco-based Briton was last Thursday confirmed alongside Fernando Alonso at McLaren for 2015 after some delays within the team due to indecision about the choice of the Spaniard’s partner.
Initially, rookie Kevin Magnussen was favoured to continue, but then some wise heads at McLaren pushed hard for Button, arguing that his experience would be a huge asset in the season the team would be developing a new Honda hybrid engine package.
With in-season testing no longer open slather, McLaren reasoned that two world champions are better than one.
Details of Button’s contract were not revealed at the announcement, but it is understood his annual salary has taken a cut in line with the tougher economic climate affecting F1 – from roughly €16 million ($A24.2m) per year to around €10m ($A15.1m) – and that he has settled on a two-year deal.
“I think we [McLaren and I] both agree that more than one year is a must,” Button said.
“This is a new project, an exciting project. To be part of the legendary partnership between McLaren and Honda is not a one-year thing. I am very much looking forward to more than one year - I know we can't really talk about contract details, but it is not something I am doing just to be around for one year.
“I am here to compete, to fight for the world championship, and whether that is in 2015 or future years, I am hopefully here for a long time.”
Button also commented on rumours that he had tentatively planned for a life beyond F1, confirming he did consider leaving grand prix racing after being frustrated by the long wait to lock in a new deal.
“I did reflect on life outside F1, but it is nowhere near as fun as life inside from what I have seen. My heart has always been here, to race for McLaren and with Honda.”
Maintaining enthusiasm mightn’t be so easy for Button next year, as McLaren and Honda have lots of work ahead to turn the new V6 powerplant into a reliable and quick unit.
Honda has certainly enjoyed standout success as an engine supplier in the past, amassing 72 victories with different configurations (and several teams). But beating Mercedes-Benz looms as a very difficult task.
I’m not expecting to see Honda notch win #73 next season.
V8 SUPERCARS: Dumbrell to partner Whincup
PAUL Dumbrell will again partner Jamie Whincup in the end-of-year endurance races, sharing the #1 Holden Commodore in 2015.
After three successful years with Triple Eight’s Red Bull Racing Australia outfit, it came as no surprise that the Dumbrell/Whincup partnership for next season.
The combination has already landed one Bathurst 1000 win, two successive Sandown victories and the 2014 Pirtek Enduro Cup. But for a couple of litres of fuel, the pair probably would have won Bathurst again this year.
Red Bull Racing Australia race team manager Mark Dutton believes the 32-year-old is the best man for the job when it comes to championship pressure: “It‘s clear that he and Jamie [Whincup] are one of, if not the strongest pairing in the category, so it’s great to be able to keep them together for another year.
“You know you’ve got a good co-driver when you don’t need to keep their stints to the bare minimum; we have the confidence to leave him in the car for longer because not only does he keep the car clean, he is also very quick, quicker than a lot of the regular drivers.”
Dumbrell, whose real job is CEO of Automotive Brands, a franchised auto retail business, says he will keep race fit by doing some regular competition driving next year.
“We‘ll definitely race something outside of the enduros next year,” he said, “but whether or not that’s in the Dunlop Series or the Australian GT Series, we’re not sure yet.”
Dumbrell will pair with defending champ Whincup in three distance events, the Sandown 500, Bathurst 1000 and Gold Coast 600.
FORMULA E: Matt Brabham impressive
MATT Brabham charged from the back of the grid to sixth in the weekend’s third event of the all-electric FIA Formula E Championship on the streets of Punta del Este in Uruguay, but was unable to finish the eventful race.
His pace was impressive, but his racecraft is still a work in progress.
The 20-year-old Australian, the youngest driver in the field, was forced to start from rear after an incident during the second qualifying group.
He methodically worked his way into the top 10 mid-race, relishing being part of a three-way dice with former F1 pilots Jarno Trulli and Stephane Sarrazin.
Running sixth, a strong result was possible for Brabham; some of those ahead were on the edge of battery power and a raft of penalties were being handed out by stewards.
With four laps remaining and shadowing Trulli’s every move, the Brabham machine got uncomfortably taily. One of the notorious curbs intervened, damaging the front left suspension and ending his race.
"It was extremely disappointing not to get a result today through all the hard work by the Andretti team,” said Brabham.
“I'm heartbroken, but happy with the speed, the team and the promise we showed.
"Having to start from the rear was tough, but it was an exciting race and from where I was, it was so enjoyable for me to be racing against guys like Trulli and Sarrazin. Their experience shows through in where they can place the car and how they defend their position – I managed to learn a lot.”
The race was won by another ex-F1 driver, Sebastien Buemi.
The next Formula E series race will be in Buenos Aires on January 10.