Here’s a flash. Motorsport doesn’t just revolve around Formula One.
So let’s embrace diversity in the form of other sometimes more dramatic, more entertaining forms of motorsport…
As usual, a new calendar year roars into life with the magical scenery and unholy challenge of the two-week-long off-road Dakar Rally, held for the past eight years in South America.
Heavy rain in the first week and then searing temperatures in the second half made ’16 Dakar a genuinely mad and inhumane 9200km torture test. Through it all rode (and navigated) Toby Price, the brilliant, resilient New South Welshman continuing the KTM dominance to become the first Australian winner of the Dakar. His was an even more remarkable victory given he was a Dakar rookie the previous year. Price is our new folk hero.
In the car division, rally aces Sébastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen made their debuts in rally-raid competition, driving for Peugeot and Mini respectively. Loeb in particular, enjoyed glory moments, but ultimately Dakar proved tricky for both.
After his Peugeot team-mates Loeb and Carlos Sainz had their dramas during the second week, superstar Stephane Peterhansel clinched his 12th Dakar Rally victory (six on a bike; six in the car division) and Peugeot's first since 1990 with a measured drive to the finish.
Yes, perhaps the Indianapolis 500 has lost some of its historical must-see magnetism, but it still pulls a massive race-day crowd and can uncork an abundance of drama and spectacular action.
The 100th running produced a rookie winner, Alexander Rossi, one of the few Americans in the field. The 25-year-old Californian drove in five Formula One races the previous year but with no grand prix drives in the offing signed on for the IndyCar series. Five months later he was an Indy 500 winner after rolling the dice on fuel conservation and coasting across the line with an empty tank.
Aussie Will Power again challenged for the IndyCar championship but a gearbox issue in the decider in Sonoma sealed his fate. Power potentially lost a swag of points when forced to withdraw from the season opener for medical reasons. He had earlier taken pole position.
The Queenslander fought his way back into title contention but fell short again. It was the fourth time he was runner-up in the series.
The steadiest driver across the season was Simon Pagenaud who collected his maiden IndyCar Series crown with a champion’s drive from pole to the top of the podium in the finale.
World Endurance Championship
Late in 2016, the World Endurance Championship was rocked with the late announcement that star team Audi was exiting at the end of the season to redirect its euros towards billions in legal fees and compensation arising from the VW Group’s emissions scandal.
Audi hasn’t the only high-profile retiree from the WEC. Ending his auspicious career too was Mark Webber, 40 and out.
Audi Sport Team Joest, a standout of world-level endurance racing for 18 years, pulled off a nail-biting one-two in its final WEC hitout, the Six Hours of Bahrain. Webber and his Porsche team-mates took third. Hugs, tears and champagne were mixed freely.
Webber has retired at the top, still competitive and with a WEC driver’s crown (2015) in his wardrobe. Various ambassadorial roles and a TV career beckon.
Locally, the Bathurst 12 Hour for (mainly) GT3 cars continues to attract quality entries and growing attention from sports car followers here and abroad. Free-to-air television coverage on Seven plays a big role.
Winners in 2016 were Shane van Gisbergen, Alvaro Parente, and Jonathan Webb sharing a McLaren 650S GT3.
Despite 13 safety car interruptions, the 2016 race was run at a breakneck pace. During the race, van Gisbergen set the new outright Bathurst lap record of 2m01.567s after going even faster in qualifying.
A sub-2m lap next year can’t be ruled out…
World Rally Championship
The World Rally Championship ended emotionally with dominant team Volkswagen earlier pre-empting its departure (for the same reasons as Audi leaving the WEC).
And like Audi, the VW squad went out on a tearful high, snaring the constructors’, drivers’ and co-drivers titles as well as going one-two in the final round, Rally Australia, Andreas Mikkelsen leading home Sebastien Ogier.
Favoured for the 13-event 2017 WRC after taking second to VW in 2016 is Hyundai, winner of two rounds in the recently-completed season.
Confidence restored, Thierry Neuville bounced back in 2016 to take victory in Sardinia as well as a competitive and impressive string of podium results. Finishing second in the drivers’ championship, the Belgian wants even more in 2017.
Kiwi Hayden Paddon claimed an impressive maiden WRC win in Rally Argentina in 2016, with further podiums in Sweden and Poland. Paddon, always a threat on his favoured gravel surface, is working hard on improving his consistency on snow and tarmac.
Hyundai’s third driver Dani Sordo fractured a vertebrae in a testing crash in July and missed the Finland round, bouncing back to score podiums but no wins.
Australian Rally Championship
Locally, history was rewritten when Subaru’s Molly Taylor (co-driven by Bill Hayes) became the first female to win the Australian Rally Championship, clinching the title with a last-gasp effort in the decider, Rally Australia.
Australian Formula 4 continued to struggle in 2016, with small grids turning out despite fervent CAMS support. Credit though to teenager Will Brown who took out the series and then also claimed the inaugural Toyota 86 one-make race series. A seven-round calendar has been confirmed for the 2017 CAMS J Australian Formula 4 Championship.
Overseas, Australian goer Joey Mawson starred in the hard-fought 2016 German F4 Championship, defeating Mick Schumacher to take the title. Mawson is planning to graduate to European F3 in 2017.
In his first full season in Europe, Victorian Thomas Randle's scored a remarkable mid-year BRDC British Formula 3 win at Spa-Francorchamps en route to a close fourth overall in the title standings.
MotoGP continues to provide the level of unpredictability and excitement rarely approached by four-wheeled motor sport.
The champion for 2016 was Marc Marquez, who during the campaign kept his usual win-it or bin-it approach under some limited control, to regain the title he lost to Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo in 2015.
A more mature Marquez rebounded stunningly in 2016. Controlled, poised and focussing on the long game, the Spaniard grabbed the title at the home of Honda at Motegi.
It was a tumultuous championship in which nine riders tasted victory, one being Aussie Jack Miller who won his first MotoGP race, in the rain at Assen.