Roller Coasters and Thanksgiving

Sometimes, I wish someone had warned me that to be a racing fan, I had to be able to accept change, to go with the flow, to take the bad news with the good news, and to keep a level head in the face of my favorite teams or drivers retiring or leaving a series. Maybe if they had, I would be able to cope with the lead up to the off season better. Maybe I’d take the bad news and shrug it off. But I am not a person who is comfortable with any kind of change, and so when I see the bad news pop up on my Twitter feed, my initial reaction is like something out of Monty Python: RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!

Since I became a racing fan, the team who got me into the sport has folded, the driver who inspired me to check out the sport retired (or took a break, depending on who you talk to), and the series I fell in love with merged with another. We’ve lost drivers in tragic accidents, we’ve seen some of the greats retire (I will forever miss Dario Franchitti), and drivers we’ve all gotten used to cheering for have walked away or lost rides. Racing, in all of its pure joy and adrenaline, is an exercise in dealing with change. Like a roller coaster, it can take us on the highest of highs to the very lowest of lows.

This year has felt like a lot of lowest of lows. It seems like the hits keep coming and my Monty Python mode is on almost one hundred percent of the time. In 2016, we got the news that Mark Webber is retiring from professional racing, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa are retiring from F1, Audi is leaving the FIA World Endurance Championship, the Daytona Prototypes are no more (this can be good or bad news depending on how much you loved them), and Magnus Racing may be leaving the sport. To cap it all off, the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans featured one of the most heartbreaking losses I’ve ever witnessed in the form of Toyota losing power after twenty-three hours of incredible racing that seemed to spell a sure win.

It’s just been one of those years. I keep seeing people on social media tweeting that 2016 can end now, and I don’t think I can disagree. To put what we’re losing into words seems so impossibly hard, but I can try. I can try to tell you how hard this year has been, in terms of the hits that keep coming. I hate change, I don’t deal with it well, and because it seems to keep coming, I’ve been spending a lot of this year with my head in the sand, but I think now is as good as a time as ever to poke my head out and talk about this.

© Gabi Tomescu - AdrenalMedia.com

© Gabi Tomescu – AdrenalMedia.com

When Mark Webber announced he was leaving F1 and going to sports cars, I remember feeling a very weird sense of sadness and excitement. I liked Mark Webber in F1, I liked his drive and his snark towards the end. It was easy to cheer for him and against Sebastian Vettel. But to know that he was coming to sports cars, to know that he was going to Porsche, I couldn’t find much of a reason to be sad. Nevertheless, Mark Webber was a kind of untouchable force to me. I was in awe of him in the WEC paddock (it took two days of freezing and stammering to be able to ask for a picture), and that never actually eased. I think my respect for him grew when I read his autobiography, and now that I know I won’t see him racing next year, my heart is broken. Mark Webber is an incredible driver, and he is a superb ambassador for the sport. He brought attention to sports cars and that can’t be discounted in a world that loves F1. Webber’s retirement was a punch to the gut, but I wish him all the best in the future.

Photo: Twitter, Jensen Button

Photo: Twitter, Jensen Button

On the same vein, it’s impossible for me to imagine F1 without Jenson Button. I’ve cheered for him since I started watching the series (being a McLaren fan is hard), and the idea of a Button-less grid next year leaves me even less excited for the series than I have been. He’s had a hard few years, but he’s always handled it with grace and a sense of humor. I hope he’ll consider following Webber’s footprints into WEC and sports cars, if only because I need someone to fangirl in the sports car paddocks, but also because I think the sport needs him.

For me though, the biggest hit of 2016 was the news that Audi was leaving WEC for Formula E next year. No one can under or overstate the impact Audi has had in sports car racing worldwide over the last 18 years. With 13 Le Mans wins, how can anyone shrug off Audi’s achievements? My enduring memories of my early years of watching Le Mans all involve Audi and their expertise at La Sarthe. I will always remember the epic Audi vs. Peugeot battles that, over the last couple of years, have turned into Audi vs. Porsche. They provided us with the brilliance of Leena Gade and Dr. Ullrich (who is also retiring this year), and their determination and love of the sport was always obvious. Audi didn’t have the best final year in WEC, but they went out with a bang, and I don’t think I’ll soon forget the way the entire paddock lined up along pit road to applaud the team after they won in Bahrain. Next year, we’re going to feel an incredibly large hole in sports car racing, and I don’t think it will go away any time soon.

Stateside, we’ve had our own goodbyes and dramas. Petit Le Mans saw the final farewell to the Daytona Prototypes, which were either loved or hated and never anything in between. I was in the loved them camp, but that goes back to my absolute hatred of change. The DP was my first introduction to any kind of prototype when I first started watching racing, and they almost always provided some incredible battles in both the Rolex Sports Car Seris and IMSA WeatherTech Championship. As excited as I am by the new DPi (which appears to be less Daytona Prototype and more P2-inspired), it’s going to be hard to be in Turn 1 at the start of the Rolex 24 Hours and not see those “funny-looking cars” come roaring towards me.

Of course, there is heartbreak that comes from a team that had an incredibly mixed 2016. When I went to my first race in 2010, I fell in love with Magnus Racing, the team I affectionally called the “little team that could.” The car was destroyed in practice at Homestead, and I watched them rebuild the car in time for the race. To this day, I don’t remember where it finished, but I know it finished. And that, in a nutshell, sums up Magnus Racing. Their switch from Porsche to Audi was hard to deal with, but they always fight to succeed, all while having fun. Their successes in the Tequila Patron NAEC were amazing, but their penalties in the latter part of the season left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths. We have no idea if the team is coming back in 2017, but even the idea of not seeing the “little team that could” on the grid has me running for the hills and trying to hide from more bad news.

It’s been a hard year. If you’re like me and you absolutely do not handle change with any kind of maturity or level headedness, you may be freaking out as much as I am. But I don’t want to go into this holiday season with a bad taste in my mouth. So, in honor of Thanksgiving, here are some things that I am thankful/excited for when it comes to racing, 2016, and looking forward to 2017:

The 2017 Porsche 911RSR is an incredible sports car, which we can all expect from the manufacturer. I joked when it was revealed that I had never known true love until I saw this car, and maybe it was in seriousness. A mid-engine 911? Sign me up. Let’s do this. I cannot wait for this car to make its racing premiere at the Rolex 24 in January.

The Acura NSX GT3. It is more beautiful than I think I could ever expected or even dreamt of, and the driver line-up in the WeatherTech Championship (while a bit suspect when it comes to driver ratings), will be absolutely magical. Andy Lally, Jeff Segal, Katherine Legge, and Ozz Negri, Jr. will do wonders with that program, and it goes without saying that the Pirelli World Challenge line-up of Ryan Eversley and Peter Kox will be pretty stellar. Am I disappointed we won’t be seeing Eversley behind the wheel of this gorgeous car at Daytona? Of course I am, but I cannot wait to see how Michael Shank translates prototype success into GT magic.

Photo: Acura

Photo: Acura

Porsche is World Champion but boy, am I thankful 2016 is over for the GT cars. This year was a mixed bag for Porsche fans, I think, and nothing proves that more than the mixed emotions I had watching WEC this year. On one hand, Porsche won manufacturer’s championship and the No. 2 temail were crowned world champions, but on the other, being a Porsche GT fan absolutely sucked this year. Balance of Performance was horrendous in GTE-Pro, and whatever crossroads demon deal Porsche had to make in IMSA last year, payment came due in 2016. So here’s hoping for another fantastic year for my favorite manufacturer.

James Hinchcliffe had an amazing 2016. I don’t often talk about the Verizon IndyCar Series on here, mainly because I’m a sports car girl through and through, but I do love me some open wheel racing. More specifically, Hinch is my favorite driver and his accident last year was one of those instances that led to me seriously reconsidering my love of this sport. But in true hero fashion, Hinch came back swinging in 2016. His pole position at the Indianapolis 500, his battle with Graham Rahal in Texas, his podium at his hometown race, and his quiet but powerful comeback all seemed to be the next part in his post-accident journey. And then the news came out that Hinch would be competing in season 23 of Dancing with the Stars, and suddenly, the world fell in love with IndyCar’s Mayor. All of the things we love about him, from his goofiness to his dedication to always doing his best, became the things people who had never heard of him loved. Hinch finished second, but the attention he brought to IndyCar will be priceless, and I don’t think there was a better choice to represent IndyCar in 2016.

Lastly, I have to say how thankful I am for my racing family and for all of the opportunities I have been afforded this year. In 2016, I got in the passenger seat of a Porsche GT3RS and was driven around COTA at breakneck speeds, which will forever go down in my personal history as one of the greatest moments of my life. Beyond that, I was able to meet amazing new people, cultivate friendships, and be reminded of why I love this sport. If I’ve been quiet this year, it’s only because real life came and bit me a few times, but my love and passion for this sport has never waned.

I don’t know what will come next. I’m still trying to balance all of the change that happened in 2016, but I choose to believe that 2017 will be another great year in racing despite all of the crazy changes. Right now, we’re all waiting in line for another turn at this roller coaster, and I have no doubt there will be a lot of twists, turns, and loops. But in the end, I think we’ll decide it’s all worth it.

So, with that, I hope you all had a fantastic Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and general fantastic holiday weekend.

-K

Featured Image: © John Rourke – AdrenalMedia.com

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