All of the various dramas and challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic have been well documented this year, both by myself and others, so as we take a look back at some of the standout performances and moments I’ll steer clear of the pandemic and focus primarily on the motorsport.
Somehow, our sport managed to deliver an essentially full season with the usual tranche of compelling stories, sensational racing and drama that we get in a normal year – only this year, the intensity felt like it was turned up even higher than usual.
Here’s some of my standouts – I’d love to know yours. Hit us up on the social media channels and let us know.
Thanks for reading in 2020 and here’s hoping that the New Year brings less off-track drama and more on it..
BIGGEST DRIVER ACCOMPLISHMENT
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN smashed the Supercars field this year – which is pretty remarkable given all the circumstances that shouldn’t have let that occur, even in the slightest.
Think about it: not only was the parity better than it’s probably ever been, the championship was shortened to a series of quick hit-and-run events with tyre rules and formats designed to spice up the action and add unpredictability.
And yet despite all of that, Scotty won 13 of the 27 races contested and had the title wrapped up well before the field sailed into Bathurst for the season finale’ in mid-October. If there was ever a year that enforced just how good the combination of McLaughlin, DJR Team Penske and the Ford Mustang was, it was this year. A remarkable championship drive that entrenches the still-youthful Kiwi into the top echelon of Supercars’ drivers in the all-time record and respect books.
IT feels like an age ago now, but Bentley Team M-Sport’s triumph in the 2020 Bathurst 12 Hour was stupendous, and came after five years of hardship, bad luck and misfortune that seemed to plague the iconic British brand each time they came to Mount Panorama. That they triumphed, finally, this year and have since subsequently pulled the pin on their factory GT3 involvement makes it even more special. The reaction from iconic Rally team boss Malcolm Wilson showed how much the win meant to not only the Crewe Crew, but the M-Sport team as well. Magic scenes back in February, when the world felt a little saner.
FOR SOMEONE who has been racing IndyCar for two decades you could be expected to think Scott Dixon would take his foot off at some point – but that wasn’t the case this year. The affable Kiwi, now in his 40s, won four of 14 IndyCar races held this year and then withheld a late charge from Josef Newgarden to take his sixth title. It is truly remarkable that he continues to be as fast and as consistent as he is in such a competitive, cutthroat environment. When Dixon inevitably retires – though that seems far, far away at this point, he will be entrenched in the top one percent of all the US open wheel greats. I don’t think we appreciate what he’s achieving now: but in 20 years time I suspect the surname ‘Dixon’ will be up there with ‘Andretti’, ‘Unser’ and ‘Foyt’ in the annuals of US-based open wheel racing.
THE LAST 30 laps of the 2020 Bathurst 1000 were intense and it was all thanks to the incredibly high level at which Shane van Gisbergen and Cameron Waters were operating. It wasn’t a door-bashing all-in duel, rather a more intense and skillful fight that saw the Commodore and Mustang trading quickest laps at the very end of 1000-km enduro on the toughest track around. For everything that went wrong this year, having two of the best young stars of the sport, in two of the best teams – one of them Holden and one of them Ford – going at it for the win in the biggest Australian race of the year just felt very appropriate and extremely satisfying to consume. Bathurst never disappoints.
BEST UNDERDOG STORY
IN Supercars the new rules package offered up plenty of surprise winners and podium finishers this year, so picking just one is difficult: for instance, those that know how hard Jack Le Brocq has worked understand just how magic his win at Sydney Motorsport Park was. And the ability Scott Pye and his DeWalt Racing team had to scythe their way through the grid time and time again made for some impressive viewing – and made you wonder just how good that combination would be if they ever manage to work out how to qualify in the top-10. But this gong has to go the way of Nick Percat and Brad Jones Racing. Two victories were well earned and Nick’s relentless consistency saw them a top five or six contender at pretty much every race of the year. BJR’s shocking Bathurst luck cost Percat a top six finish in the championship, losing out by a handful of points to DJR Team Penske’s Fabian Coulthard at Bathurst – but broadly speaking this was an impressive year from team and driver.
PERSON OF THE YEAR
EVERYONE sacrificed something this year, but for the group of Supercars crews that got out of Melbourne just prior to the second Lockdown and then stayed away for more than 100 days the commitment to the game was extreme – but it probably saved the sport from almost total collapse. Much has been written, said and told about the undertaking that 2020 provided and so it should be; there are many of us still in a job because a large group of people packed their bags, said good bye to loved ones and left home for an unknown period of time to keep the show, quite literally, on the road. Impossible to look beyond that when reflecting on the year that was.
THERE’S a lot to look forward to next year. Scott McLaughlin’s IndyCar debut will be taking a lot of eyeballs in this part of the world, and deservedly so. Formula One has significant appeal again thanks to the forthcoming rules change in 2022, but also the shift of Daniel Ricciardo to McLaren. The Daniel-Lando partnership there has the potential to not just continue the team’s rise back up to the pointy-end of the grid, but also provide plenty of comedy outside of it, too.
How Supercars manages 2021 will be a fascinating story, especially given the most popular and highest-profile driver on the grid is no longer racing. It offers the potential for another driver to step up and make a mark (hello, Anton?) or a more experienced hand to sure up their credentials with a title run.
The other key to the new year will be re-starting national level racing. Outside of a few Super2 rounds, very few non-Supercars categories raced in 2020 and they’ll all be hanging out to get on track. Classes like TCR Australia, S5000, Carrera Cup and others have enormous potential to deliver great racing, but just need a solid year without border closures and other dramas stopping them in their strides.
Hopefully, for their sake and ours, they can all get things back on track – as can we as well.