Racing Year in Review 2016
My colleague Pete McCole will be handling the NASCAR side of things for 2016. So, what follows is the AutoRacing1 2016 Year in Review for open wheel/formula car racing with some sports cars and rallycross sprinkled in.
And when it comes to the racing year that was 2016, one theme stands out beyond all others: it was a year of lessons.
The Verizon IndyCar Series would learn some hard lessons from its ill-fated and costly experiment with aero kits. Yes, the intentions behind implementing the aero kits were good. However, the squandering of precious resources in an economically challenged climate with little to no discernible increase in interest and viewership, ultimately proved a mistake.
The Lesson: Engineering people shouldn't be making decisions marketing people should make. Rather than marketing an engineering endeavor, engineering should support a marketing strategy.
The Lesson: If you go to desirable venues on favorable dates for the promoter, your chances of a successful event improve exponentially.
In Formula One, the powers-to-be felt the strong brush back of their ill-fated attempt to implement a hokey qualifying system.
The Lesson: The solution to Formula One's problems is not construing short-sighted made-for-entertainment solutions. The sport needs to rethink its technical regulations and fix its dull-as-watching-paint-dry on-track product.
It is the hope that these lessons and others are learned by the powers-to-be in racing. Because in addition to the numerous lessons imparted, 2016 continued the theme of the last decade of continued declines in attendance, viewership, sponsorship and other important metrics for the sport of racing. Granted, some of these declines can be attributed to a changing world and the declines that most forms of sports entertainment are experiencing. Still, the question of whether the sport's leadership is capable of addressing said issues going forward remains.
Of course, there was plenty to celebrate on the track as well in 2016, and today AutoRacing1 will look back at some of the highlights (and lowlights) from the past year.
Driver of the Year:
I spent much of the year waxing poetic about Pagenaud, but will briefly repeat. The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion seemingly had an answer for every situation he found himself in.
For example, when the opportunity was there to dominate (GP of Indy, Sonoma), Pagenaud dominated. When he had to maintain his calm after a late race incident (getting knocked off course by Graham Rahal at Barber), Pagenaud maintained his calm and hunted Rahal down to score the win.
When the situation dictated that caution might be better than valor (Texas), Pagenaud was cautious and protected points. Conversely, when it was imperative that Pagenaud use aggression to reverse the momentum of a hard-charging contender, who could derail his title hopes (Will Power at Mid-Ohio), Pagenaud executed a gutsy, wheel-banging outside pass of Power to secure the win.
And let's not forget the No. 22 Penske team led by Kyle Moyer. When flawless pit work and strategy was necessary get Pagenaud to the front (Phoenix, Long Beach), the No. 22 team provided flawless pit work and strategy.
Suffice to say, it was an impressive, close to flawless, showing by the friendly Frenchman in 2016; one I don't think people fully appreciate.
Honorable Mention: We can't ignore Nico Rosberg and will get to him a little later. The smooth driving of Scott Speed netted the former F1 driver another Red Bull Global Rallycross title. And the bravado of Max Verstappen has become must watch television in a sport crying out for drama and storylines.
Last, Will Power had a stupendous season behind the wheel. It will however go overlooked for the simple reason: he wasn't as good as Pagenaud.
Newcomer of the Year
Who can forget 23-year-old Brazilian Pipo Derani not putting a wheel wrong in anchoring the winning efforts at both the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring?
Race of the Year
IndyCar at Texas was a wheel-to-wheel nail biter. The usually dull Spanish Grand Prix also turned into a thriller with the Mercedes teammates taking one another out.
Still, I'm going with Alexander Rossi's calculated drive to win the Indianapolis 500. For a stroll down memory lane check out this video of Rossi's stunning win in the 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Granted, they should have never left. Still, the packed hillsides and camping grounds in IndyCar's return to Elkhart Lake were impressive and encouraging by any standard.
This is easily the Mercedes F1W07 Hybrid. Give an honorable mention to the e.Dams Renaults in Formula E and Andretti VW Beetles that dominated the 2016 Red Bull Global Rallycross season.
Worst Career Trajectory:
After an encouraging 2015 for Daniil Kvyat (remember he outscored Red Bull Racing teammate Daniel Ricciardo on points), 2016 proved to be an unmitigated disaster for the 22-year-old Russian. Following a disappointing start, Kvyat was demoted from the senior Red Bull outfit to Toro Rosso in favor of Wunderkid Max Verstappen. And from there things would only get worse as Kvyat garnered a mere two points finishes and was regularly bested by teammate Carlos Sainz.
Yes, Kvyat has not yet lost his place in Formula One as he will be back with Toro Rosso in 2017. However, a career that seemed very promising entering 2016, is now at the tender age of 22, very tenuous.
Also, of note: After breaking onto the scene with an impressive season driving for Bryan Herta in 2014, the talented, likable Jack Hawksworth finds himself out of the series after two years driving for A.J. Foyt Enterprises. While there was promise for the Brit in an expanded Foyt effort ahead of the 2015 season, for whatever reason, the marriage of Hawksworth and Foyt never blossomed. And following zero top-10 finishes in 2016 Hawksworth's single-seater career is, for now at least, over.
Most Bizarre Race:
To recap, in the FIA Formula E Championship in London, title contenders Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi had contact on the opening lap. Eliminated from contention for the race win, the championship came down to Buemi and di Grassi battling not for a good finish but for which of them could earn the two points for fastest lap. Ultimately, Buemi emerged with the championship.
Most Disappointing Title Defense
After an impressive 2015, in which he contended for the Global Rallycross championship and won the Formula E title, Nelson Piquet Jr. scored a mere 8 points in his Formula E title defense. And he looked absolutely miserable the entire year.
PR Move of the Year
Keep in mind: this is an era in which tracks and series often deliberately leave the status of weather delays unclear as to keep the television audience tuned in. While I wasn't at Texas this year, indications are that during the rain delay, the audience in attendance was not informed of the race's status. As a small gesture acknowledging THE PAYING CUSTOMER IndyCar drivers went into the stands to sign autographs during the rain delay. Kudos to whoever had the idea!!!!
A Few Quickies
Craziest Finish…Who can forget the Toyota hybrid failing with three minutes remaining in the 24 Hours of Le Mans?
Biggest S***show!!!...The IndyCar Grand Prix of Boston
Feel Good Comeback Story of the Year…The beloved James Hinchcliffe winning pole at Indy a year after nearly bleeding to death was the feel good moment of 2016.
Sprint car sensation and three-time Indianapolis 500 starter Bryan Clauson succumbed to injuries this past August following a midget crash at Belleville-High Banks Speedway in Kansas. The popular Noblesville, IN native had led three laps in this year's Indianapolis 500 and was entering the prime of a career that had already seen him accumulate numerous midget and sprint car championships.
Juan Pablo Montoya won the season-opener at St. Pete but ultimately had a rather inglorious year before being dropped by Team Penske for 2017 in favor of Josef Newgarden. While he hasn't declared himself retired, all indications are Montoya's full-time, top-level career in open wheel racer is over. While he was never the most engaging or friendly individual, JPM's career accomplishments across various disciplines is unprecedented in this era of specialization.
And in one of the more memorable goodbyes of all: three days after securing his first World Drivers' Championship following a cutthroat battle with teammate Lewis Hamilton, the 31-year-old German decided to call it quits on his F1 career. It was a shocking announcement to say the least.
Last, Bernie Ecclestone appears to be headed for a slow goodbye as F1 Supremo. While his sales and transfers are always complex, the shrewd Ecclestone remains in charge of the day-to-day business of F1, but retains very little ownership of the sport. Say what you will about Ecclestone, but he is the most influential figure perhaps in the history of motorsport. And his inevitable departure from the scene, gradual as it seemingly will be, leaves plenty of questions going forward.
Other notable goodbyes
We here at AutoRacing1 know that none of what we do would be possible without the support of our loyal and dedicated readers. Thank you for another year of supporting AutoRacing1 and we look forward to continuing to bring you the best motorsports content possible in 2017.
Brian Carroccio is a senior columnist for AutoRacing1. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.
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