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THE ECSTACY AND THE AGONY

  Last weekend had every aspect of motor sport imaginable. The good, the bad, the great and the tragic. When the stars are aligned in for favour you can have your day of days but when they are not, then you, and the sport can suffer the worst of days. And oddly enough, all of these events, the wonderful and the terrible, all involved Australian competitors. From Stoner's glory at the Island to Webber's terrific dice with a feisty Hoon in Korea and Power's lucky escape in the horror that unfolded in Las Vegas which resulted in the sad loss of Dan Wheldon.  

 

 

  The weekend began in fine style for Aussie fans with Casey Stoner dominating the Moto GP event at PhillipIsland. Fastest in all practice sessions, pole position, led every lap to take out his fifth straight win at the Island, wrap up the World Championship, and all on his 26th birthday. If you believe in such things Casey's stars were very much in alignment. To take a win on your birthday is rare enough but to win your home Grand Prix and the World Championship, I doubt a better birthday present has ever been known and the celebrations were long and loud.

   There were some dark clouds though. No fewer than three riders suffered injuries bad enough during practice to prevent them from starting the Grand Prix. Aussie rider Damian Kudlin, contesting only his second Moto GP event on the Aspar Ducati had a nasty high-side which left him severely bruised while the entire Yamaha factory team was taken out in separate accidents. Ben Spies had a long and painful slide after a front end lose and was ruled out after complaining of dizziness, having given his head a fair whack before he came to a halt in the gravel trap. Nastiest of all though, was the loss of part of a finger to the left hand of Jorge Lorenzo when he went down in the Sunday morning warm-up session.

   To be honest, there was very little chance that Lorenzo was ever going to stop Stoner clinching the title this year but Casey really didn't want to win it in this manner. Not with his fellow title contender in hospital. Still, Jorge will be back, and Casey won the title that he was always going to anyway, perhaps just one race earlier than would have been the case. And who knows, the title may have been clinched at the Island anyway, Lorenzo might have come unglued during the race and he had to finish on the podium to keep the championship alive. And the way things were going, it seems that it was always going to be Casey's day no matter what happened.

   A couple of hours later Herr Vettel won yet again in Korea for Red Bull. This though, will not be what the race will be remembered for. When it is recalled it will be for the tremendous dice between Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber who spent the best part of the race brawling for second place and the best part of one spell-binding lap running side by side, just inches apart. One commentator got a little carried away comparing the lap to the famous Arnoux-Villeneuve Dijon dice of '79 but is was as dramatic a bit of motor racing as has been seen for many a year. There has been a fair amount of bitching from some quarters this year about the DRS (Drag Reduction System) being used this year but let's at least accept the fact that it, combined with Pirelli's tyres, have provided for some spectacular racing this season.

   The DRS may not have played a direct role in many of the best moments of the year but what it has done is allow the cars to be in a position where these dramatic events could take place. And haven't there been some beauties. Webber vs Alonso at Eau Rouge and Vettel vs Rosberg at Blanchimont at Spa and Vettel vs Alonso through the Curva Grande at Monza just to name a few. It may be some amazing coincidence but I love that cars racing at the front can actually overtake - on the track - once again. There are those that whine that it is all "artificial". Bollocks. Technology is just that, technology and if some technologies are used to prevent the cars behind from passing, then God bless those that are used to make it easier. And it's not as if there haven't been similar "artificial" technologies before. The F-duct for example. Or back in the Turbo era when they pushed the boost button. There were no complaints about passing being too easy then. And why should passing be so damned difficult?  It doesn't necessarily make racing more exciting. Just try telling me that those old Monza slipstreaming duels when there were several thousand passing moves per race (OK - possible exaggeration) and you had no idea who would win the race until the finish line (Peter Gethin anyone?) were dull.

   Unfortunately, following on from seeing just how good motor sport could be, came the Indycar race at Las Vegas. Here was the dark side of the sport. Considering the speeds reached at Las Vegas and the violence of the accident it is probably fortunate that a greater tragedy didn't unfold. Dan Wheldon's car wasn't the only one to get airborne before hitting the wall but although several other drivers suffered minor injuries, including a very lucky Will Power, it was Wheldon that fate chose to take from us. Those who knew Dan fully believed that he had the talent to have been a F1 champion if that is where his career had taken him. Instead he ended up in the States and although Indycar racing is not quite what it was in the late '80's and early '90's, the fact that he was the 2005 IRL champion and a two time Indy 500 winner proves that the required quality was there.

   As tragic as his passing is, and as devastating as it must be for his young family, there seems to be a similar hysterical over-reaction taking place to that of 1994. There has even been one suggestion that open wheel racing cars should not race on ovals. Give me a break. Ovals are the heritage and history of American open wheel racing and the idea of not running on them would be the same as saying that F1 shouldn't run at Monaco, Spa or Monza. Are they seriously suggesting that the US should give up on the Indy 500? Just like circuits anywhere, there are some that are suitable for various types of racing and some that aren't. The speedway at Las Vegas probably falls into the latter category for Indycars considering the degree of the banking, the speeds achieved and the narrow width of the track. These were all factors that had the drivers concerned before the event and horribly, those concerns were realized. The IRL should probably not return to that track but to use this as a reason to stop racing on all ovals would be a massive over-reaction, and one that Dan Wheldon himself, would never have argued for.

   Sam Snape

 19-10-2011