Monday, April 2, 2012

Life After F1: Oval Racing + Touring Cars (March 2012)

One of the greatest things about motorsports (at least, in this blogger's humble opinion) is how a driver is very likely to have had participated in several different racing series (often even different classes of racing). Driver migration is not only a fascinating thing to observe, it inspires fans to explore racing series that they may have previously been reluctant to. For me, a major factor in following series like DTM and Indy has been the participation of ex-F1 pilots like Hakkinen and Sato. It’s been interesting to see how these world class driver adapt to new cars, rules and racing styles. It also helps to highlight just how talented these guys are at driving to see them flourish in series that can be vastly different than the one I previously knew them for.

I figured I’m not the only one who might find following these pilot’s careers post F1 interesting, so with this posting, I am starting up a new feature of the blog - "Life After Formula One" – the focus of which will be updates on F1 drivers you might have lost track of during the post F1 stage of their careers. More importantly, I’m having fun doing it, in the end, that's what this whole thing is about.

We start our roundup of the month with IndyCar, which has been a fairly common place for people out of F1 to continue their careers. In March, IndyCar held a pre-season test in Sebring before kicking off the season with a St. Petersburg race on March 25th and a Birmingham race on April 1st. The tests in Sebring yielded some surprising results, particularly the third time on the leaderboards shown on the final day by a certain Rubens Barrichello, IndyCar's most well-known recent newcomer after his illustrous F1 career that lasted 19 seasons in a row.
The first race, however, did not go so well for Rubens, who, while qualifying in 13th place, could not keep up the pace on Sunday. To add to the not-so-good race, Rubens ran out of fuel on the very last lap, ending up 19th, penultimate among those who finished, 2 laps behind the race winner, Helio Castroneves. While one of two teammates, Brazilian racer Tony Kanaan, a close friend of Rubens and IndyCar veteran, did not manage to finish the race due to mechanical problems, the other KV Racing driver, Venezuelan E.J. Viso has done pretty well for himself to finish 8th. Other ex-F1 Indy regulars who also partook in the race did not have their best weekends either. Takuma Sato has shown great pace in the race, even leading for a small part of it, before retiring with mechanical problems. Same lap has seen former Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Bourdais end his race as well, also due to car failure. On the other hand, the race has seen British driver Justin Wilson (who's done a full F1 season with Minardi and Jaguar in 2003) make his way from 15th place on the grid onto a fairly respectable 10th in the final classification.
The weekend in Birmingham went marginally better for Rubens. Having been fairly quick in practice, he qualified only 14th, behind both Kanaan and Viso. The race, however, was very eventful, with plenty retirements and two safety car periods, the second of which allowed Rubens to claim 8th after a series of overtakes. Sebastien Bourdais also had an uphill race, going from 17th on the grid to 9th. It was another weekend to forget for Sato, who has yet again retired with mechanical issues, while Justin Wilson had to contend with 19th after spinning.
After the two weekends, Barrichello is placed 10th in the championship with 37 points, ahead of his teammates Kanaan (22 points) and Viso (36 points). Bourdais has lifted himself to 14th with his great Birmingham performance, while Wilson is currently 16th. Sato, having retired twice, is only 24th with 24 points.

Another American racing series, NASCAR, hasn't really seen many F1 refugees over the years, with the two notable exceptions being Scott Speed and Nelson Piquet Jr., who this year have been racing in Nationwide and Camping World Truck series respectively (second and third series of the NASCAR hierarchy). Scott has continued his lacklustre recent run in NASCAR, having failed to qualify for the first Nationwide race and finishing at the back of the pack for the other three. Meanwhile, Piquet actually had a pretty decent start to his season, winning a Bristol Motor Speedway race of one of the regional NASCAR leagues from pole, while managing 22nd and 6th to start his season off in the Camping Truck Series.

March has also been a fairly busy month for touring cars and it's no surprise that we've seen ex-F1 drivers leave an impression in some of the events. WTCC had races in Monza and Valencia. Ex-F1 driver Tiago Monteiro (best known for his podium at the infamous 2005 US GP for Jordan, in which only six cars took part due to safety concerns) did not have a great start to his season in Italy, where he had to retire following a first corner pile-up in race one and only managed to finish race two in 18th. Valencia was a lot better for him, where he managed a points finish in 9th in race one, and a respectable 13th in race two, having kept Lukoil's Alexey Dudukalo at bay for most of the race, despite Tiago clearly having the slower car.
Dudukalo's teammate, Gabriele Tarquini, is also an ex-F1 driver, although in his 79 F1 weekends from 1987 to 1995 he only managed to qualify for the race 38 times and has only ever gotten 1 point. Tarquini's WTCC achievements have been a lot more impressive (including a title in 2009) and these two weekends were no exception. He managed to qualify on pole for the first race at Monza and finished it in third, unfortunately having to retire from race two because of a collision. In Valencia, he managed a 2nd place finish in race one, but only came 9th in second race, which, overall, has left him fifth in the standings with 44 points (to compare, fourth-placed Robert Huff has 57, while sixth-placed Stefano D'Aste has 25 points).

The Italian-based Superstars Series has also gathered some attention from F1 fans due to signing Vitantonio Liuzzi, who's been left without a seat in 2012 after spending 2011 with HRT. The Italian driver was notoriously quick in practice but has received a tire puncture on his fast lap and had to start last from the grid. However, that did not prevent him from ending up 3rd in race one, only a second off the race winner. From sixth on the grid in race two, Liuzzi managed to take the lead at the end of lap one and has maintained that lead for the rest of the race.
Another F1 veteran Mika Salo has also been present at both races, managing sixth in the first one. In race two, he seemed to be the only one capable of matching Liuzzi's pace, but a rear tyre problem has sent his car off track with 8 laps to go. Gianni Morbidelli, another Italian ex-F1 driver, came 7th and 5th in the two races respectively.

Next week - the month for ex-F1 drivers in endurance, GT and national series I haven't gotten around to. Sorry.

If you happen to know of any ex-F1 guys that I missed, by all means, inform me. It's very likely that I just forgot about them or didn't even know they were in F1.

- no title specified

Rubens BarrichelloBRA
Justin WilsonGBR2003160000114th34
Takuma SatoJAP2002-20089000104416th32
Sebastien BourdaisFRA2008-2009270000624th24
Scott SpeedUSA2006-20072800000NASCAR Ntwd--
Nelson Piquet Jr.BRA2008-200928001019NASCAR CT8th61
Tiago MonteiroPOR2005-20063700107WTCC13th2
Gabriele TarquiniITA1987-199538000015th44
Vitantonio LiuzziITA2005-201180000026Superstars Series2nd39
Mika SaloFIN1994-20021090020339th8
Gianni MorbidelliITA1990-19976700108,56th14

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