Happy New Year! 明けましておめでとうございます！
I’ve been away in Fukuoka down in Kyushu for quite some time, hence the lack of posting. Now back in Tokyo and have a few days to enjoy before heading back to Scotland – weather permitting of course. There was a slight sprinkling of snow in Fukuoka on New Year’s Eve, but nothing in Tokyo and certainly nothing to rival the levels of cold precipitation that seem to be gripping the UK at the moment.
Spent most of my time on Kyushu doing things not related to cars, hence there is very little for me to write about. Oddly enough, the New Year period was the first time in over a year I spent a whole week without touching my laptop. A much-needed and very refreshing break.
Now that 2010 is underway, I suppose I should make one of these obligatory lists of things I think will happen in the upcoming year. I will stick to what I know best to avoid getting out of my depth, so I’ll touch on Scottish rallying, world rallying and the F1 world championship. My sincere apologies for the lack of originality in format.
Scottish rallying – five to watch
Alick Kerr – the youngster from Bothwell acquired the ex-Bob Grant Subaru Impreza early on in the season, and after only a few events had established himself as one of the Scottish Rally Championship’s top-five regulars. With some experience in the car already, Alick has an excellent chance of hitting the ground running in 2010 and is one of my tips for the Scottish title outright;
Graeme Schoneville – the Brick and Steel 205 Ecosse Challenge was all about John MacCrone and Colin Smith in 2009. But behind all the attention John and Colin rightly received, Graeme Schoneville was also setting a fair old pace. Reliability issues prevented the Saab service manager from getting the results he so richly deserved, but when the car was on song Graeme was just as quick as his 205 sparring partners. A top twenty in a newer Civic on the Colin McRae Forest Stages showed us what he’s capable of with the right machinery. With a Honda Civic built by Andrew Wood Motorsport under him for 2010, Schoneville could prove to be devastatingly quick;
Shaun Sinclair – my other tip for the 2010 title. Like Alick Kerr, it didn’t take long for Shaun Sinclair’s name to start popping up regularly at the top of the timesheets. The Argyll man acquired a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 from Jimmy Christie in the mid part of last year, so again he will be well up to speed by the time of the Snowman Rally in February;
Bruce McCombie – over the last few years, Bruce McCombie has proven to be a real pain for the 205 Ecosse Challenge crews – because he’s so blooming hard to beat! One of the few folk in Scotland to come near extracting the full potential of a Super 1600 car, McCombie steps up to a Subaru Impreza for this season. He took a huge chunk out of it on the Rally of Scotland as he got used to four-wheel drive, but look out for him in the top-five by the time of the Speyside;
Graeme Sherry – the Brick and Steel Peugeot 205 series isn’t just for youngsters – it’s for any clubman driver who fancies a bit of close competition in a controlled environment. In this regard Graeme Sherry could turn out to be the 205 Challenge’s surprise package of 2010. Sherry’s pace on tarmac is well-known, but he is very serious about upping his speed on gravel and will pull out all the stops to ensure he gets there. The 205s have been lacking an elder statesman since Jamie Stewart moved on to pastures new – Graeme Sherry could be the man to fill that gap.
World rallying – things to look out for
Mikko Hirvonen – I reckon 2010 will be Mikko Hirvonen’s year. Is it any conicidence that Citroen start to offer greater support to Petter Solberg and take on Kimi Raikkonen not long after Hirvonen (and, to a lesser extent, Jari-Mari Latvala) start to give Loeb a fright? By having a go in the Fiesta S2000, Hirvonen is also clearly thinking ahead to a post-WRCar future;
Group N versus Super 2000 – the technical regulations have been changed to bring Group N cars closer to Super 2000s in terms of speed and performance. Bigger turbo restrictors and lighter windows will be allowed, and although the S2000s will definitely be the faster formula, the Group N cars will benefit in wet and slippery conditions. Over the course of a season, this could make for an interesting comparison;
More individuality on events – with any luck, we should see more heterogenous events. The Safari Rally for one is making a resurgence, and it would be great to see a return to the time when events started on different days and lasted for differing amounts of time. It’s a nightmare for the media to cover, but has the one-size-fits-all formula of recent years done any more?
Colin Smith – perhaps I’m a little biased having helped Colin and his co-driver Craig Chapman on the IRC Rally of Scotland, but what Colin and Craig are doing this year is really exciting. They are going to be one of Scotland’s leading international rally crews, taking on four rounds of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in a EuroRallye/Andrew Wood Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R. They will only be doing a handful of rallies, but they’ll learn much, much more than they would by staying in Scotland. As much as I hate management speak, this is thinking outside the box at its finest;
Meeke versus Wilks – it is expected to be confirmed shortly that Guy Wilks will be tacking the 2010 IRC at the wheel of a Skoda Fabia S2000, putting him directly up against defending champion Kris Meeke. Some called Wilks’ comments about Meeke before Rally of Scotland childish, but personally I think this kind of rivalry is brilliant. As long as it stays off the stages – as it has done so far – then a bit of rivalry and showmanship like this does the profile of rallying no harm.
Formula One – five things that may or may not happen
Michael Schumacher being a massive disappointment – I am more than happy to be wrong on this one, but I reckon Schumi’s going to flop. The guy has been out of F1 for quite some time, during which the cars have moved on no end. In that time, one of the strongest driver groupings in living memory has emerged and the sport is undergoing significant change. It’s not going to be the kind of racing he remembers, and I very much doubt we’ll see the kind of performances we remember either.
This is all relative, of course – he’ll still be quicker than most of the guys out there. It’s just that when one thinks back to the period of domination Schumacher inflicted on F1 at his peak, anything less than race wins will be a massive let down for the majority of punters;
A big fall-out at Ferrari – Felipe Massa started the warning shots before he’d even formally been introduced to Fernando Alonso as his teammate for this year. Alonso is an excellent driver, but when you remember how well Massa was doing in the 2009 Ferrari compared to Luca Badoer and Giancarlo Fisichella it’s clear the Brazillian is also one of the best in the business. Both of these guys want to be number one, but it’s not going to happen unless…
Felipe Massa not being fully fit – this is only my conjecture and is in no way based in any fact or anything I’ve heard, but I still wonder if we’ll really see Massa racing in 2010. Driving the car at Fiorano or on a demonstration lap is very different to going out there on race weekend and having to perform, so we just won’t know if he’s up to it until the season starts. In no way would I want this to happen, but don’t rule out Kimi Raikkonen being halued out of his Citroen rally car or Nick Heidfeld being pulled off his couch after Bahrain;
Nico Rosberg being awesome – Mercedes engines, Mercedes money, Ross Brawn and a championship-winning support staff. Mercedes is going to be the place to be for this season, no doubt about it. It’s time for Nico Rosberg to show the world what he can really do – let’s hope he can come up with the goods even if his teammate can’t;
Paul di Resta making his race debut – this is the one I want to be true most out of all my conjectures. There is a fairly good chance Force India will get fed up with the antics of either Sutil or Liuzzi before the season is out, in which case the young Scotsman could slot right in. Please, please, please let this be true…