Monday Motor Sport Report

RALLY:  Ogier and VW blitz Monte Carlo

AFTER a stunning early charge by returning nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, the Monte Carlo Rally quickly evolved into a scenario seen many times in 2014, with reigning champs Sebastien Ogier and Volkswagen cruising to victory in the 2015 WRC season opener.

Loeb led early until his comeback cameo was interrupted by his Citroen making contact with a wall.

Then Ogier took control ahead of team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen to give VW total ownership of the podium.  It was a perfect result for the new Polo WRC.

“What a fantastic start to the new season,” Ogier said.  “I'm over the moon.

“Getting a win at the Rally Monte Carlo is special for any driver, but words can't describe what a win here means to me – this is my home. Friends, family and fans give me so much support and self-confidence here. The atmosphere was magical. I'm grateful that I can give something back with my joy.

“Selecting the tyres was particularly difficult at the start. Then there was the exciting battle with Loeb, who was producing spectacular times on Thursday. Big thanks go to our team and my ice spies.”

Loeb bounced back from his Friday afternoon error to finish eighth, four places behind Citroen team-mate Mads Ostberg.

Robert Kubica's Monte was typical.  He was spectacular and fast – swift enough to take a stage win on Saturday morning – before losing his brakes after the finish of the penultimate stage and slamming his Ford Fiesta into a solid barrier.

F1:  Stefan Johansson disses young drivers and modern motor sport

FORMER F1, IndyCar and sports car racer Stefan Johansson has joined one of his contemporaries,  world champion Jacques Villeneuve, in speaking out against the trendy fashion of bringing increasingly younger drivers into grand prix racing.

And in so doing he has suggested that modern F1 drivers have it almost ridiculously easy.

Villeneuve previously criticised the signing of 17-year-old Max Verstappen to Toro Rosso for 2015, calling the move an “insult” to F1. Villeneuve said “it is not F1's role to teach” and called for the F1 minimum age to be lifted to 21. 

“You should arrive in Formula One as a winner and with a wealth of experience,” insisted Villeneuve. “F1 is not the place to come and develop as a driver."

Now, Johansson, who contested more than 100 Grands Prix and won Le Mans, has sided with the French-Canadian.

“I don’t think anyone can disagree with him,” he said on his official website.

“Things are so different today, though. Guys aren’t really even racing any more, truthfully. It’s now about planning your strategy so that you hit the button for DRS or KERS at the right moment and you make the pass. There’s nothing the other driver can do at that point, or is even allowed to do.

“So it’s really a matter of driving the car fast and trying not to make any mistakes. The only mistake you can make in normal circumstances today which punishes you is locking up the brakes. If you screw up and go into a corner too fast and miss the apex you end up in the blue part of the runoff area and it costs you time, but off you go again.

“The race won’t end for you. You may lose three seconds if you really get it wrong, but that’s about the extent of it. So, from that point of view, a 17-year-old could certainly be out there.

“Any of the guys I’ve spoken with who’ve tested the current F1 cars say that they are so easy to drive it’s almost ridiculous. So it really comes down to racecraft at the end of the day.”

But Johansson asks how anyone can tell if a 17-year-old has racecraft, suggesting there’s no doubt about his speed.

Johansson raised the hot topic of Jan Magnussen, who shone initially with McLaren last year but then  was found wanting when the championship hotted up. 

“He made some very opportunistic moves in the beginning of the season before he realised that he was racing a different calibre of drivers in F1 than what he had been used to. Many of the moves he tried to pull off early on just didn’t stick.”

Johansson says he’s sure Verstappen will be extremely fast, but wonders how he will fare when he’s in a dogfight with somebody who’s been around for a while or in the first few laps with a lot of cars ducking and diving.

The Swede, who these days has moved on from motor racing to create Växjö, a line of luxury limited edition and custom Swiss-made timepieces, agrees with Villeneuve that drivers should come to F1 with a lot of experience and success.

“If you give him three more years in other lower formulas and you see a level of competitive consistency, that makes it clear he’ll be able to handle whatever situations occur.”

SUPERCUP: Power evident in Porsches

ADELAIDE’S Sam Power has cracked a sizzling deal that will see him graduate from Porsche Carrera Cup Australia to racing for leading team Momo Megatron in the 2015 international Porsche Supercup.

On the bill of all the European F1 meetings, Supercup is a proven pathway to international GT racing, including the Le Mans 24 Hour.

A late starter to racing, 26 year-old Power’s ego is well under control judging from his comments in his press release.

“For the 99.56 per cent of readers who don’t know me, I am Sam Power, a curly haired racing driver whose ambition last year was to not only rival Warren Luff for the craziest driver hair award, but to see if I could hang onto the likes of himself, Baird or Richards on the track.

“Did I do well? I had my moments, sure, but as the championship ladder will tell you, five other people did better. However, contrary to the saying that winning is everything, it really isn’t – especially as a junior.

“We won a race, had a few podiums, battled with some of the best in the business, got sent to Europe by Porsche and to top it off we raised heaps of money for The Childhood Cancer Association.

“Shortly after the Australian season ended in December, I risked everything, abandoned all plans to race an Australian championship in 2015 and moved to the UK immediately to pursue a career against the Europeans. It is, and will continue for some time to be, the biggest challenge of my career.”

SPRINTCARS: American Hirst claims Grand Classic

IT WAS a long wait for competitors and fans alike before the 43rd Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic at Warrnambool’s Premier Speedway got underway in the early hours of Australia Day.

But when the action finally began, Californian Kyle Hirst wasted no time in claiming the biggest win of his career, breaking the 40-lap record.

Hirst, who hails from Sacramento, started from position two, grabbed the lead into the first corner and was never headed as the race unfolded without a stoppage.

The seven-year race record was shattered by more than a minute as Hirst took his first win in the Classic, leaving three-time winner Brooke Tatnell and Albury's Grant Anderson to take the minor places.

In local sprintcar racing, Warrnambool’s three-night Australia Day weekend Lucas Oil Classic is as big as it gets. It’s the Bathurst 1000 for the winged monsters, attracting the cream of the fiercest American and Australian talent, one hundred of ’em chasing a prize pool of $200,000.

This year the Classic program stretched into a fourth day, with the final not starting until 1.54am due to a delay when South Australian Brad Keller had to be cut from his wrecked car following a crunching roll, then rain.

When the final got going, 27-year-old Hirst was untouchable.

"I don't know how we did it, we've done it," he said.

Tatnell, second in the Classic for the fourth time, tried his heart out, but Hirst had him covered.

"There wasn't a lot you could do," Tatnell explained; he tried a high line early, but the rain-affected track did not reward the adventurous.

Anderson was delighted to finish third, bettering his best result of fourth.

Pole-sitter Dave Murcott retired early with car problems.

SPORTS CARS:  Ganassi team wins Daytona 24 Hours thriller

THE master of endurance racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, has done it again, winning its sixth Daytona 24 Hours in 12 attempts, but only just.

The #02 Ganassi Riley-Ford EcoBoost DP shared by a quartet of speedsters from IndyCars and NASCAR – Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson – edged out defending champion team Action Express Racing (Coyote-Chevrolet Corvette DP) by a mere 1.3 seconds after a dramatic five-lap sprint to the finish after the final safety-car period.

McMurray joins AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti as the only drivers to win the Daytona 500 (NASCAR race) and the Daytona 24 Hours.

The Action Express Corvette trio of Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais fought back from a three-lap deficit after fuel pressure problems left the car stranded one-third of the way through. But in the duel to the flag, it didn’t have the punch to tackle Brisbane-born Kiwi Dixon in the lead car.

Winner of the GT Le Mans class was the Chevrolet Corvette C7.R of Aussie Ryan Briscoe, Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen.

Driving an Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT America, V8 Supercar and Bathurst 12 Hour star Shane van Gisbergen (with Leh Keen, Andrew Davis and Cooper MacNeil)  missed GT Daytona class victory by seven seconds, losing out to the Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R of Ben Keating, Kuno Wittmer, Dominik Farnbacher, Al Carter and Cameron Lawrence.

Clutch issues near the end prevented evergreen sports car legend Scott Pruett from challenging for a record-breaking sixth overall Daytona victory aboard the #01 Ganassi entry.

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