What I got right in 2010…

It’s almost the end of the year, a time when we’re supposed to look back, reflect and so on. Rather than battering out a review of the year, I thought it might be interesting to go back and look at the motor sport predictions I made at the start of the year and see how they panned out. I’d forgotten I even made these predictions until a couple of moments ago, and hadn’t even had a chance to re-read my conjectures when I started writing. As usual, my motor sport coverage tends to go from the very highest level (F1, World Rally) to the absolute grass roots with precious little in-between. Sadly, there are just not enough hours in the day for all the stuff in the middle. Without further ado, then, to the predictions.

Scottish rallying

I named five drivers to watch in 2010 on the Scottish rally circuit. I tipped Alick Kerr to win the Scottish Rally Championship outright, after some stellar performances the previous year in a Ford Fiesta and latterly a Subaru. He came very close, beaten only by fellow youngster David Bogie and a hard-charging Jock Armstrong. Although an outright event win eluded Alick, he established himself as a regular top-five runner on Scottish events. With time on his side, let’s hope 2011 brings even better things for the mild-mannered junior from Hamilton.

Schoneville - showed incredible pace in 2010

Fellow Clydesdale driver Graeme Schoneville was another I backed for success. Graeme stepped up to the new Civic Ecosse Challenge for 2010, and my exact words were that he “could prove to be devastatingly quick.” This proved to be absolutely right, Graeme setting the pace in the Civic series from the off and ending the year as winner of two rounds. Unfortunately, though, Graeme also turned out to be on occasion quite good at hitting things and having things break on him, the result being a string of non-finishes mid-season that frustrated his championship aspirations. A rollicking drive to eleventh outright on the Galloway Hills meant Graeme finished his year on a high.

Shaun Sinclair was another I thought was going to set the heather alight in the Scottish championship – and it turned out be a season of ups and downs for the man from Argyll. Storming stage times were punctuated by mechanical hiccups and the occasional encounter with the scenery, however a barnstorming win on the Rally of Argyll will live long in the memory. Things were similarly patchy for Bruce McCombie, but when the builder from Banchory did get out to play in his Subaru Impreza he was right on the pace. Let’s hope we see more of Bruce next year.

The last guy on my 2010 hit list was Graeme Sherry. Graeme came into this season aiming to translate his fearsome pace on tarmac to pace in the forests. And by the end of the year, Sherry had made his mark on the forests – albeit perhaps not in the manner he’d hoped! A trail of broken glass, bent panels and even charred ashes can be found slowly decomposing in the woods of Scotland, standing as evidence of one of the unluckiest men in the world of rallying. I can’t think of anyone else this year who managed to lose a complete car in a freak fire, or who wrecked two cars in one day. The best thing of all, though, was that Graeme never stopped smiling, never gave up, and his enthusiasm whenever I met him remained undimished. Oh, and when things were going right his times were right up there with the best of them.

Graeme Sherry’s co-driver Ewan Leeming showed amazing presence of mind after jumping from a burning car only moments earlier, whipping out his camera and capturing the demise of one of the Sherry fleet on film (copyright Ewan Leeming 2010):

World rallying

Again, I listed five things to look out for, and again I generally tended to be wrong. First off, I thought Mikko Hirvonen was going to win the World Rally Championship and that Sébastien Loeb had perhaps peaked. I was feeling pretty smug about this some time around mid-February, when Hirvonen had won Rallye Monte Carlo in an S2000 Fiesta and taken the spoils in the opening WRC round of the year in Sweden. From then on, however, it was all downhill. Loeb bounced back and blew virtually everyone out the water, whereas Hirvonen started to come under increasing pressure from younger teammate Jari-Matti Latvala. Hirvonen then had a huge accident on his home event in Finland, and went strangely off the boil whilst his teammate duked it out with Petter Solberg and Sébastien Ogier for second place in the WRC standings.

The Group N versus Super 2000 battle I predicted failed to materialize, the Super 2000 cars having a massive advantage over their production class rivals wherever they went. The introduction of an R4 class next year seeks to close the gap between the showroom cars and the Super 2000 kit specials, but costs are likely to soar as a result;

The concept of individuality on events does seem to be creeping in, so hopefully more of it will follow in the years to come. Rally Finland was condensed into two days, which sounded horrific to the purists but worked well in practice and turned out to be a hit with many drivers and spectators, giving plenty of time for a big party on the Saturday night. The Monte, on the other hand, expanded in terms of time, allowing a big variety of stages to be used and harking back to the rallies of old;

Colin Smith and Craig Chapman did indeed turn heads with their international adventures in the Honda Civic. A sterling drive in challenging conditions in Sardinia brought home trophies and points. Gearbox failure forced the Grampian duo to retire from Ypres, but Colin and Craig were so buoyed by their Belgian experience that one would never think they’d failed to finish. Likewise, gearbox gremlins sent Smith and Chapman crashing out of Rally of Scotland, but full-on support from the Scottish Sun ensured the boys fulfilled their objective of raising their profile in 2010;

Sadly, there turned out to be no season-long duel between Kris Meeke and Guy Wilks. Both drivers showed blistering pace, but a big accident in Sardinia sidelined Wilks for a while, then Meeke started making noises about a move to Mini in the WRC which materialized towards the end of the year. Meeke’s last event for Peugeot in the IRC was the Rally of Scotland, where he signed off in style with a  podium, whereas Wilks will step into Meeke’s old seat at Peugeot UK for next season.

Formula One

As soon as it was announced, I was sure that Michael Schumacher was going to be a massive disappointment. And it seems I wasn’t far wrong. In fairness, given Brawn’s budget constraints in 2009 there were precious little resources to develop the 2010 car, and Schumi had been out of F1 for a period during which major change had occurred. Nonetheless, to see the seven-time world champion flapping wildly at passing Saubers in Singapore and desperately forcing Rubens Barrichello in the direction of a wall in Hungary was just sad. With a season to get his sharpness back and plenty of expertise, time and money being devoted to the 2011 Merc, next year will probably be a better and fairer test of whether Schumacher can still do it on the dark side of forty.

I foresaw a massive fight at Ferrari, my reasoning being that Massa wouldn’t be as slow in comparison to Alonso as many expected and that the Spaniard would spit the dummy out as a result. And what happened? Well, I was at least half-right. Alonso was easily quicker than Massa all season long, but for much of the first half of the year he found himself gazing up his teammate’s gearbox and wailing down the radio because at some point over the weekend, because at some point over the race weekend Massa had done something right to get ahead of his teammate. This culminated in the deployment of team orders at Hockenheim, which seemed to knock the wind right out of Massa’s sails. Let us not forget that at an early stage of the season, the man who was for 14 seconds World Champion in 2008 was leading the title race…

In light of the above, I seem to have been completely wrong in saying that Felipe Massa wasn’t going to be fully fit. In the earlier races I could have sworn that he was backing off when he came up behind cars, but that’s probably my over-cynical mind playing tricks on me. What was funny with Massa, though, was the number of times he wouldn’t appear on camera at all for the whole race and yet would end the race in third or fourth place. This prompted a number of ‘how the hell did that happen?’ moments from me and my grand-prix watching cronies.

I had a feeling that Nico Rosberg was going to be awesome in 2010. Sadly, the nature of the car meant he wasn’t able to challenge for wins, but the young German/Finn quietly went about putting in some sterling drives in machinery that wasn’t always up to the job. As with Michael Schumacher, 2011 will probably provided a fairer assessment of Rosberg’s capabilities – which I still reckon are pretty good.

And last of all, I’d kind of been hoping that Paul di Resta would make his race debut. This did not happen, but the Scot did a rock-solid job of testing the Force India. With the driver line-up at Force India not yet confirmed for 2011 yet, we can but hope…

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