A reader who asked why I'd written about hopes rather than expectations got a short reply: I've given up (temporarily) making predictions. Like a weather forecast, I'm only right about 50 percent of the time because I always veer toward optimism. Example: a feature I wrote for the magazine this time last year regarding Lotus' IndyCar arrival bore the headline, “The Little Engine That Could.” Hindsight suggests I left off the second half of the sentence, the part that read, “Be An Embarrassment For All Concerned.” So, these are hopes, not necessarily expectations.
Two of the most naturally spectacular forms of motorsports have been going through torrid times in the past three or four years. As discussed in the previous chapter, the World Rally Championship's primary problems – a dearth of top class rides and domination by Sebastien Loeb – have been alleviated and solved, respectively, by VW's full-time arrival and the nine-time champ's departure. But another category that has genuine “world championship” status yet has suffered lately is MotoGP.
One of the primary issues is the absence of Suzuki, about which we can say little other than we all hope it's temporary. (There are encouraging signs that the brand made famous in MotoGP by Barry Sheene, Kevin Schwantz and Kenny Roberts Jr. wishes to return in '14, so let's hope they are not a false dawn.) Seeing Ducati go winless again in 2012 was a disappointment again, for it meant that the talents of seven-time champion Valentino Rossi and '06 champ Nicky Hayden went to waste. And Ben Spies' failure to capitalize on his opportunity with the factory Yamaha team was baffling to me and many others.
But there was good news too. To my mind, the switch to 1,000cc regs was a success – similar apex speeds to those achieved on the 800cc machines but longer braking distances and bikes that are harder to hold onto. And I don't think the racing suffered. The problem, if you regard it as such, was the three-man hegemony, with all the wins and all but one of the pole positions being divided between Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo and the Hondas of Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner.
But the racing was often terrific, and if a rider dominated…well, we have to accept that happens sometimes. In previous eras, we did. I don't recall there being an outcry regarding the quality of the racing when Mick Doohan had an iron grip on the 500cc class in the mid-'90s, nor when Rossi ruled the MotoGP world at the start of this millennium. Last year, we had three excellent riders (until Stoner injured himself) fighting hard for the crown.
The 2013 season, despite the retirement of Stoner, could be even better. We should finally get our answers regarding whether Rossi has lost his magic touch, as he returns to Yamaha alongside Lorenzo. I hope that if he is overshadowed by the reigning champ and can't add to his 79 wins, that Rossi will retire at the end of this season, despite his two-year contract. There must surely be a get-out clause, and no-one has enjoyed watching a dispirited “Doctor” over the past couple of seasons. But surely only the most rabid Pedrosa fan would deny that Lorenzo has earned the right to be regarded as the current king.
That said, Pedrosa's confidence should be sky-high. Three times now he's finished second in the championship, twice he's finished third, and that has to be frustrating, but a year in which you score more wins than any of your rivals – despite a teammate as brilliant as Stoner – has to be regarded as a major success. As Honda's favorite san, Pedrosa has now won on 990, 800 and 1,000cc MotoGP bikes, racked up 22 victories and 24 poles and so has proven there's not much he can't do. He's therefore the perfect teammate gauge for Moto2 champion Marc Marquez as he graduates. I hope Marquez will repay Honda's faith…and prove my suspicion right that he is the Next Big Thing.
I hope rough diamond Cal Crutchlow will continue to weave magic on the Tech 3 Yamaha, that Spies will do the same alongside Andrea Inannone, a swift and consistent Moto2 graduate. But more urgently, Hayden needs to prove he is more than just a one-year wonder. The American hasn't won a race since his title-winning campaign, six long seasons ago, and while we all know there have been equipment problems, people are asking questions about his longterm future. He simply has to beat his new teammate at Ducati, the redoubtable Andrea Dovizioso.
BMW's return to DTM was marked with victory in the drivers', manufacturers', and teams' championships, with Canada's Bruno Spengler prevailing after scoring four wins. However much you respect both BMW and the Schnitzer team that ran Spengler, for the brand to come in and beat long-established Audi and Mercedes-Benz after 20 years away from the series was a stunning achievement. Considering he'd finished in the top three in the championship four times over the previous six seasons, it was great to see Spengler's faith in his new employer rewarded.
I'd like to see something similar happen for Jamie Green, who this year switches from foster parents Mercedes to join Audi. Ever since he spanked a European Formula 3 field that included Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica in 2004, I've been eager to see Green's talent rewarded with success, and in DTM, he's scored at least one win every year over the past six seasons. But his excellent form in open-wheel racing has never quite translated into sustained tin-top glory and I hope a change of environment proves to be the answer.
Green's British compatriot Gary Paffett, though, arguably has an even greater cause for dissatisfaction, having finished championship runner-up three times in the past four years. That also makes him Mercedes-Benz's most reliable campaigner, and therefore the one most likely to take the three-pointed star to title glory. Who else may do so is far more open to question right now, but I'd love to see Robert Wickens graduate from the Mucke team into the front-running HWA squad to replace Green. Considering 2011 champion Martin Tomczyk is piloting a BMW (as are Augusto Farfus, Andy Priaulx, Dirk Werner and Joey Hand), and '07 champ Mattias Ekstrom remains at Audi, the Benz Boyz need another frontliner to partner Paffett.
Way down under, the V8 Supercars rumble on with Jamie Whincup still the class of the field. Sure, he has the best team/car combo in Triple Eight and a Holden Commodore, but it's hard to envisage anyone doing a better job with it. His 12 wins (from 31 races) last season keeps him near the magic 50 percent hit rate over his 127-race career, with 62 victories. Considering he's also won four of the last five titles, I guess it would be understandable to hope for someone to beat him. But I still get a lot of satisfaction recalling how this guy's career was on the scrapheap back in 2004, yet he's spent the majority of his years at Triple Eight kicking everyone's ass. Whatever he achieves from here on, he'll be forever remembered as having at least four V8 Supercar championships and four Bathurst 1000 victories. And he only turns 30 next month…
Teammate Craig Lowndes is nearer the end than the beginning of his career, but seven wins and second in the 2012 championship means there's no obvious reason for Triple Eight to replace him, and I hope he can push Whincup even harder, going forward. But I also hope there's an even bigger threat from Ford Performance Racing. Rod Nash and Rusty French now own the team, but Prodrive will still be involved, the key personnel remain in place, and Pepsi Max sponsorship can only help. Will Davison and Mark Winterbottom won 11 races between them last year and FPR is strong but…those Holdens just seemed to have the edge. It would be interesting to see how Whincup, Lowndes and Triple Eight might respond if those positions were reversed.
But how soon are both Ford and Holden going to be watching their backs? Encouraged by the Car of the Future rebirth, Nissan is returning, to supply the Kelly Racing Team with the striking looking Altima, and I hope it's not unreasonable to expect podiums before the season's end. Rick Kelly, the 2006 champ, certainly knows what a good car should feel like, and Nissan's commitment to the Australian car scene is legendary. No way is the brand going to be made fools of on such a public stage, so I'd expect to see great progress over the course of the season.
Yet Nissan is not the only new marque to arrive on the V8 Supercar scene. Shane van Gisbergen was the only other full-time driver to break into the series' winner circle last year, but his decision to quit Stone Brothers Racing organization may have been because SBR, one of Ford's top teams, has sold to Erebus Motorsport, which will run three Mercedes-Benz C-class cars next year. What you or I – and Erebus owner Betty Klimenko – see as an interesting opportunity to get Mercedes involved in the series may have seemed like a long development road for an ambitious youngster who'd rather go the tried and tested route. I guess one day we'll know for sure. But what it does mean is that one of the series' hottest young talents is taking a year's sabbatical in 2013.