This week Talk motorsport focuses on who are our top drivers for 2018…..
If Scott Dixon was an All Black he would be the skipper and he’d have a knighthood tucked in his draw by now. Dixon is a five-time IndyCar Series Champion, an Indianapolis 500 winner and has the most race wins of any current IndyCar Series driver (44), third of all time.
Scott Dixon is my Kiwi racing driver of 2018 and I think he is much like the All Black team. He’s a multiple champion in his field and he knows how to win. He knows how to galvanise the team around him to make sure they are extracting the best in every round across the season.
Like the All Blacks, we expect him to win but with one difference. All Blacks fans can see any loss as a disaster while Dixon plays the long game very well.
With 17 seasons driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, he knows how to win the overall championship. He knows that a driver is unlikely to keep winning every race so he plays to his strengths with two goals in mind. Winning the championship and winning the Indianapolis 500.
My top five drivers:
Following on from Dixon my other top five drivers are:
Brendon Hartley – In my mind he is a champion without winning in Formula One. Colleagues of mine argue that he hasn’t won in F1 and that you cannot compare him with Kiwi drivers who have won F1 Grand Prix. That’s true, but we celebrate the fact that a Kiwi drove a full season in the most difficult category in motorsport just to get in to. There’s a back-story on why it was so difficult for Hartley to show his talent but we will have to wait a number of years to read about this in his autobiography.
Hayden Paddon – Again we have another driver at the top of his game, the World Rally Championship. Hayden did everything that was required of him in 2018 by Hyundai Motorsport. He stood on the podium in Turkey and Australia and finished in the top five in five out of seven WRC rounds that he drove. We know he is world class. He knows he is world class. Having him compete in our own domestic rally championship as well as the Ashley Forest Rally Sprint was fantastic for Kiwi rally fans. There were few mistakes and he won the NZ Rally Championship title because he is world class.
Nick Cassidy – Nick Cassidy finished runner-up in both the Super Formula and Super GT Series in Japan after having led both right up until the last races of the season. No one will be harder on Cassidy than himself for letting the opportunity slip away. 2019 will be interesting for us as Cassidy keeps getting better. Like Dixon, he is good at the long game, has a strategic mind and puts himself in the position to win.
Scott McLaughlin – The great thing about the 2018 Australia Supercars Championship was that a Kiwi was going to win it. It was a fantastic season, one of the best. The rivalry between McLaughlin and Shane van Gisbergen came right down to the last race of the year. This is a world class series right on our doorstep with such close racing. McLaughlin makes the top five because ultimately he was cool under the immense pressure that van Gisbergen had him under and he kept winning. Unlike last season when he let the championship slip away, McLaughlin has learnt and matured to a worthy champion. The first of many titles!
What to look for in 2019
Dixon will just keep adding to his winning total of IndyCar races. While one would like to say he will win the Indy 500 for the second time, it is a race where he has as much chance as most of the field. The Indy 500 seems to require as much luck as experience and the right car. Where the difference lies is he has the ability and experience that if he is ‘there’ in the last few laps, he knows how to beat those around him and win.
While we don’t expect any openings or opportunities to happen in both F1 and the WRC, if such occurs then expect to see both Hartley and Paddon filling the void.
Queensland based Kiwi Hunter McElrea continues to impress. Having won the Australian Formula Ford Championship, he has gone on to win the Road to Indy $200k Scholarship Shootout. He has the potential to win the 2019 USF2000 series as he has the talent but more importantly he has the right people around him.
So has Jaxon Evans. Having won the most competitive Australia Porsche Carrera Cup Championship, he will now compete in the 2019 Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup, having won the 2018 Porsche Motorsport Junior Programme Shootout. Expect race wins and for Evans to be at the ‘pointy’ end of the field.
We are in for another great year of Supercars. If McLaughlin’s team are able to sort the new Ford Mustang quickly enough, we will again see another great rivalry with van Gisbergen. The Mustang is the unknown quantity in 2019 so I pick van Gisbergen to win his second Supercars championship.
This season we will see two Kiwis competing in Formula 3 competitions in Europe. Marcus Armstrong will want to seal the FIA F3 championship title while Liam Lawson will make his mark in the category, albeit in a regional series.
It looks like Nick Cassidy will move Super Formula teams for the 2019 season. Nothing is confirmed for next season but expect that he will compete again in both Super Formula and Super GT for Toyota.
The 2019 Toyota Racing Series is almost upon us. Liam Lawson will be very quick and will win races, but it will be Dan Ticktum that wins the title. Such is his talent, his determination, his adaptability and his need for the F1 Super Licence points on offer. We will see his entry when there is confirmation of enough drivers on the grid required for the maximum seven points on offer.