Motorsport: A good year for going quickly

By Eric Thompson


The good, the bad and the unlucky we review the year for Kiwis on the world's circuits ... and look forward to more top displays next year


This has been one of the best years in motorsport - not just in New Zealand but also around the world - for a long time.

Sure, a few drivers dominated again, but in many cases they were pushed hard most of the season. A standout was Formula One, where fans saw more different race winners than the sport has had for years.

A sorry sight was the spat in New Zealand between the warring V8 factions, which appears still not to have been resolved.

But there have been outstanding performances in 2012 - drivers who excelled through hard work, talent and the need to win.

THE GOOD

Mitch Evans

The young Aucklander took to his second season in GP3 with a vengeance - winning the championship with Mark Webber's MW Arden team. Evans took on the best young drivers in the world in one of the most competitive stepping-stones to Formula One.

His season started with wins in Catalunya, Valencia and Hockenheim before he got the speed wobbles later in the season. Hanging tough like a true veteran, belying his 19 years, Evans won the series by two points.

His march to his ultimate goal continues next year when he steps up a class into GP2.

"It's starting to sink in a bit now that I did win the title," he said. "It gives me a bit of confidence that I can race at that level and there are certainly no negatives about winning the championship. Also, the title win didn't come easy, and that's helped me to learn to take the good with bad and you never know what's going to happen in a race. It's helped with my mental strength a lot."

Hayden Paddon

New Zealand's first world rally champion's move into the S2000 class made a perfect start when He and co-driver John Kennard won in Portugal and New Zealand. Then then it all turned to custard.

The pair led the title race after the first four rounds and looked good for consecutive world titles. But after the New Zealand round the wheels came off.

In Finland and afterwards, the mechanical gods turned their backs on Paddon, Kennard and the rest of the team. This, coupled with a few uncharacteristic driver errors, meant the game was up.

"In all honesty it is a season that I am happy to see the back of, after a series of setbacks throughout the year," Paddon said. "However, I have learnt a lot and we have been able to set some of the fastest stage times on all rallies that we have competed in."

Craig Baird

Often the unsung hero of Kiwi motorsport - probably better regarded in Europe and the Porsche factory than at home - Baird (above) cleaned up his 10th Porsche title in 2012 by winning the Australian Carrera Cup with a round to go.

He may not be getting faster as he gets older, but Baird is certainly a crafty competitor. While the rest of the field was getting the hang of their cars, Baird scorched out to a four-race winning burst, followed by a five-win streak later in the season.

He had some serious competition in Jonny Reid and Alex Davison, but still came out on top. He has had more wins in a Porsche than just about any man alive.

Levi Sherwood

Kiwi motocross riders tasted success with Darryll King winning the Veteran Motocross World Cup and Josh Coppins winning the Aussie MX1 title, but young Levi Sherwood stood atop the world.

After suffering some serious t injuries over the past 18 months, Sherwood took on the best X-Fighters in the world and was crowned world champion. Not too shabby for a young bloke from a Manawatu farm who's made it on his own as one of the most respected freestyle motocross riders and the youngest title-holder at 21.

"It's been a long series and there's been ups and downs," he said. "I'm not as much of a free spirit as I used to be. Before the crashes I would just think of doing a backflip, or whatever, and once it was in my head I just had to go and do it straight away. Now it's a lot easier to decide not to do something. So there's more to come yet."

Scott McLaughlin

The new kid on the V8 Supercars block with all the goods to be a bright star is a Kiwi. With Shane van Gisbergen leaving the sport, Scott McLaughlin could be the driver to take it to the Aussies.

After winning the 2012 Development Series, McLaughlin signed with Gary Rogers Motorsport to replace Michael Caruso. In his first Bathurst 1000, McLaughlin finished sixth with Jonathon Webb. At the Sydney 500 Rogers gave him the keys to the team's main car, which the young Kiwi bought home 17th.

"All signed up now and I'm pretty happy," he said. "There were a few options on the table for me but I'm really happy with this one. And I think it's the right one for me. This is what I've been working towards from way back when I was in karts."

THE BAD

Shane van Gisbergen

His decision to leave the sport in which he's spent his career can't have been easy. But when the fun's gone out of it or you need a rest, it's always best to walk away.

Van Gisbergen was one of the shining lights in V8 Supercars and was part of a championship-winning team in SBR. But the young fellow wanted his life back so he negotiated his way out of his contract and headed home.

"It's a bit weird and I'm sad to be leaving but I'm also really excited about the future," he said. "It's sort of like leaving a family [SBR] as I've been here 5 years. I'm looking forward to being 18, 19, 21 etcetera and going and having some fun. Don't get me wrong, it's been good in V8s, but it's time I just went and had some fun and do different stuff." Maybe rallying? Watch this space.

Richie Stanaway

His march towards his third consecutive overseas championship came to a sudden halt on June 5 when he was in a big accident at Spa Francorchamps, breaking two vertebrae and has been in rehab since.

After dominating the German ADAC and F3 series, Stanaway was relishing the idea of stepping up to the Formula Renault championship.

"It's not been very easy at all, but I guess it's things like this that make you stronger," he said. "I'm definitely looking ahead now and I'm keen to get back in the car as soon as I can."

He managed a few laps at Hampton Downs this week as promotion for the Toyota Racing Series.

Greg Murphy

The four-time Bathurst winner has had a few lean years and is a free agent in 2013. By his own admission, 2012 was his worst season, indicated by two DNFs in Sydney, and Murphy isn't overly confident of the phone ringing in the next few weeks.

"I'm pretty annoyed by how it's all panned out and the crap performances this year. I feel bad for everyone involved, including all my sponsors. Nothing seems very positive at the moment and everything is out of my control."

- Hamilton News

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