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Motorsport’s deciding moments

26.03.2018

It stands to reason that few sporting genres can pack the same level of tension, drama and excitement as motorsport.

Since the invention of the automobile, competition between manufacturers and competitors has captured the imagination of spectators and interested parties alike, with some often going down right to the final event and leaving an impression sure to be remembered for years.

While these moments are bound to happen in Formula One, other forms of motorsport have created memorable moments of their own, which in this writer’s opinion deserve a mention.

1992 British Touring Car Championship

The BTCC has always delivered great racing but the 1992 season finale at Silverstone continues to be a talking point, even today. With only a single point separating championship leader John Cleland’s Vauxhall and Tim Harvey’s BMW, the red mist descended early on when the latter’s teammate, Steve Soper, was tapped into a spin while trying to pass the privateer Cavalier of David Leslie, before being solidly collected by the Peugeot of Robb Gravett.

This didn’t slow him down though and after a storming drive from the back of the field, he had reeled the battling championship contenders in with only a few laps to go. Diving passed Cleland at Club corner, Soper had the Scotsman pinned between him and Harvey with the Vauxhall driver responding with a rude hand gesture, captured on the in-car camera.

Heading down to Bridge corner, Harvey got past Cleland before being immediately being let past by Soper. Cleland was having none of it though and contact with Soper at Brooklands sent the Vauxhall onto two wheels. Forced out wide, Soper kept his line but at the next corner, Luffield smashed into the Cavalier sending both into the barriers and out of the race. Harvey finished fourth and took the title while an angry Cleland famously quipped afterwards, “That man is an animal!”

1998 WRC Rally of Great Britain

In another title decider, only two points separated Mitsubishi’s Tommi Mäkinen and the Toyota of Carlos Sainz as the WRC circus headed for the final round in Wales.

With Sainz only having to finish fourth or better and Mäkinen needing to place second or first, the Toyota pilot appeared to have the title wrapped-up early on as the Finn smashed the right rear corner of his Lancer Evo V to pieces on a concrete block after hitting a patch of oil during the fifth stage.

His rival out, Sainz only had to bring his Corolla home and was lying third until 500m from the finish when the car’s engine went up in smoke and flames. The devastation proved too much for co-driver Luis Moya, who ended up chucking his helmet through the car’s rear window. The title, therefore, went to Mäkinen by a scant two points.

2001 Paris-Dakar

Seemingly always surrounded by controversy, the final stage of the 2001 event sent tempers beyond boiling point. Reigning champion Jean Louis Schlesser, along with teammate Jose Maria Servia, were both given one-hour penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Scheduled to start two minutes behind the Mitsubishi of Hiroshi Matsuoka, the two Renault-powered buggies arrived at the stage early before setting off ahead of the Pajero. Angered by this move, Matsuoka raced after the two, catching up and passing Servia but then breaking his suspension after hitting a tree stump as he chased after Schlesser.

Forced to stop, Matsuoka’s enraged co-driver, Pascal Maimon, ran into the road to block Servia, almost getting knocked over in the process. The Frenchman didn’t seem to care though as his helmet made contact with the ground and the now stranded Pajero numerous times afterwards.

In the end, the penalties were upheld despite the Schlesser team’s protest, with victory going to Mitsubishi’s Jutta Kleinschmidt.

1999 Le Mans 24 hours

Never predictable, the French endurance classic really lived up to its reputation during the 1999 rendition in more ways than one. After DNFs the previous year had befallen its CLK GTR, Mercedes-Benz was ready to try for victory again with the even more striking CLR.

Facing tough competition from Toyota, BMW, Nissan and newcomers Audi, extensive testing of the CLR had however failed to diagnose a fatal aerodynamic flaw which resulted in too much air getting underneath the car and causing lift at high-speed.

This oversight resulted in rookie Mark Webber going airborne at Indianapolis during Thursday’s qualifying session. Despite having his car re-built and modified, Webber was once again a passenger when the CLR flipped as it crested the hump on the Mulsanne straight during the Saturday morning warm-up. The car was withdrawn and more modifications carried out to the remaining CLRs.

With the aero problems seemingly fixed, both cars were running well until the fourth hour when television cameras caught Peter Dumbreck’s CLR taking off and backflipping on the straight between Mulsanne and Indianapolis corners. Mercedes-Benz immediately withdrew the remaining CLR and also ended its sports car program and participation at Le Mans.

Article written by Charl Bosch
26.03.2018
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