Being as F1 is still on its holidays we’ve gone a bit off-topic with this week’s Badgerometer, looking at the top-five active drivers not competing in the so-called pinnacle of motorsport.
Dario Franchitti is a four-time Indycar champion, a double Indy 500 winner and the husband of Hollywood actress Ashley Judd. You’d think we’d be jealous of the Scot – but we aren’t.
Because Dario is also supremely fast, has a racing brain to match the Alonsos and Buttons of this world and has a deep reverence for the great Jim Clark. How could we dislike him?
Dario could have been an Formula One driver – in fact he has all the skills necessary to have been world champion given the right car. As it was he tried his luck in America, short of the budget to compete in Europe, and struck gold. He tied with points with Juan Pablo Montoya for the 1999 Champ Car title (JPM took it on races won) then switched to Indycar with his Andretti Green team.
There were a few barren years but in 2007 it all came good: he won the 500 and the title. A troubled year in NASCAR followed but he returned to Indycar with the crack Ganassi outfit for 2009. He won the title that year, repeated the feat in 2010 (adding another 500) and completed his hattrick in October. Given Franchittit’s ability behind the wheel of a single-seater it’s gauling to consider some of the half-baked drivers who’ve raced in F1 over the last decade and the total lack of respect he gets from his own nation’s press.
There probably isn’t a cooler competitor in the world than Valentino Rossi. Motorcycle racers generally are cooler than their four-wheeled counterparts, but Rossi is another cut above. A swaggering, ear-piereced Italian daredevil in luminous leather, Rossi has amassed 79 Moto GP/500cc wins in his career – and he’s still only 32.
Five top-level titles on the bounce between 2001 and ’05 – during which time he switched from Honda to Yamaha – were followed by another two in 2008 and ’09. Now he’s at Ducati, his national team, and though results have been poor thus far it’s difficult he won’t add to his win tally with the Italian manufacturer. More titles could well follow for the man they call the Doctor. If only those rumours of him racing for Ferrari had come to be Formula One would have been that much cooler.
NASCAR is a bit of a joke outside of the United States. Some people think it’s nothing but turning left for two hours, but when you look under the skin it’s a sport with a rich history contested by drivers blessed with a great deal of skill and concentration.
Take the calender for example: 26 events from February to September, then another 10 races after that to determine the champion, a system called the Chase. That’s a lot of miles to race and pretty much anything can happen – winning it once is tough enough. Times that by five, and do it in a row, and you’ve got NASCAR’s current living legend, Jimmie Johnson.
Yep, the only man to take the Sprint Cup Series title between 2006 and 2010 was JJ, who uses his head to get into the points as regularly as he can, keeping him in the top ten needed for the Chase all season long. It’s after that when he turns on the real style – in 2007, he won 4 of the last 5 races to dominate. This success has led to many accolades, such as meeting President Obama in the White House.
He did get beaten by Sebastian Bourdais in the Race of Champions though – well, you can’t win everything now, can you?
Tom Kristensen is a bit of an indictment on the notion that if you’re good enough you’ll find your way to Formula One. Kristensen is good enough – easily – but, despite his best efforts, he never landed an F1 seat. Instead he won the Le Mans 24 Hours a record eight times – and he’s still on the hunt for more.
He was German F3 champ in 1991 (succeeding a certain M. Schumacher) and took the Japanese crown in ’93, but whereas many would have climbed the ladder Kristensen lacked the cash to make a quick leap. It was 1996 before he made it to F1 feeder series Formula 3000, by which time he was nearly 30. In ’97 he scored a race win and two further podiums to end the year sixth in the standings whilst his team-mate – future F1 no-hoper Gaston Mazzacane – failed to register a single point.
In 1998 he acted as test driver for Tyrrell. Kristensen was unquestionably the superior of their race drivers, Tora Takagi and Ricardo Rosset, but money kept the Dane on the sidelines. In 2000 he helped develop Michelin’s new F1 tyres, but any chance of a grand prix berth had passed him by.
And it didn’t matter much: in 1997 he’d had his first crack at the Le Mans 24 Hours and won the famed event aboard a Joest Racing-run Porsche. A pair of retirements with BMW followed in 1998 and ’99 but as the new millennium dawned so did the Kristensen era.
Three straight victories followed in an Audi R8 before triumph at the 2003 running for Bentley. Back to Audi for ’04, he equaled Jacky Ickx’s record of six Le Mans wins. He broke it in 2005, claiming victory number seven.
A third place finish followed in 2006 before crew-mate Dindo Capello shed a wheel whilst leading the 2007 event. Never mind: he would win it yet again in 2008. The next two events brought third place finishes before Alan McNish spectacularly shunted the Audi at this year’s race. Kristensen will be back for more in 2012.
There can be no doubt of Kristensen’s ability as a development driver, a brilliant tactical thinker and – according to both the record books and most people with an opinion on the matter – the finest driver ever to grace the Circuit de la Sarthe. Good enough for F1? Easily. In fact Some sportscar diehards will even tell you he’s too good to have been wasted on the excesses of grand prix racing.
To understand just how good Sebastien Loeb is in the WRC, all you need to do is look at who’s finished where in the championship standings in the past eight years. And when you do, you’ll see the wily Frenchman’s name at the top in each and every season. That’s eight consecutive titles.
As soon as Loeb started his first rally his talent was clear, harassing the top names of the sport like Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz when they were all employed by Citroen. The French driver took the number one spot in the team and never looked back, taking his first crown in 2004 and consistently topping time sheets and podiums. He’s the all time record holder for most wins (67 and counting), holds the record for most wins in a season (10, in 2005), and the highest points winning margin (54, which beat the 25 year record of 52), and in 2006, while driving for an independent team after Citroen’s 12 month sabbatical, secured the title even though he’d broken his right femur earlier in the season and had to sit out the finale.
Not that he hasn’t flirted with F1 either. Loeb tested a Renault in 2007 and a Red Bull in 2008, finishing a respectable 8th of 17 drivers. He was also touted for a Toro Rosso seat when the Italian squad ditched Sebastien Bourdais (as if the team hasn’t had enough Sebastiens already) but the plan was scuppered when the FIA denied the Frenchman a Super License. USF1 and Stefan GP came calling but, just like the teams, nothing materilised.
When you talk about “the best” American rally Ken Block sensation must be mentioned in terms of car control. His career may have never really taken off in terms of success – he only has eight WRC points to his name and a clutch of X-Games bronzes – but if you’ve watched any of the videos he’s featured in you’ll see just why he’s held in such high regard. We’ve included the one that started it all: the original Gymkhana that not only got him noticed, but also spawned two sequels and brought him the Monster Energy sponsorship that got him into the WRC.