I won’t miss 2016. It was a year that not even the Ford GT winning its class at Le Mans for America could save. But there were some unforgettable moments on and off track, including a surprise post-championship retirement, at least one very expensive mother-in-law kidnapping, and the world getting introduced to the shoey.
Here were all the racing stories that mattered most, including the good, the bad and the unfathomably disappointing.
Corvette Racing let their drivers have at each other for the last few moments of this year’s 24 Hours of Daytona, and it was so, so satisfying to watch.
Love him for bringing some laughs or hate him for being a wrecking ball, infamous pay driver Pastor Maldonado appeared to have crashed his last F1 car, losing his Renault seat to Kevin Magnussen.
That’s not to say anything redeeming about 2016, however, as Maldonado is now talking about a comeback. Formula One sure loves that cash!
Only .011 seconds separated Denny Hamlin from Martin Truex Jr. Impressive.
NASCAR itself never officially endorsed any political candidate, yet it’s been constantly bogged down by the public endorsements of some of its most famous faces, including its CEO. That’s a problem for a series trying to maintain relevance beyond its base.
There’s a sane side to NASCAR as an institution that knows the exclusionary rhetoric espoused by Donald Trump’s campaign isn’t good—a side that realizes NASCAR’s aging, shrinking fanbase won’t be viable in the long run, so it’s best not to make the sport feel inaccessible for everyone who’s not a white male Southerner.
However, the general public has a hard time parsing individual endorsements from institutional ones—especially when they show up in places like the pre-race prayer. The nuances between the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series pulling its banquet from a Trump property last year and NCWTS driver Austin Wayne Self’s endorsement of Trump’s “Godly values” in 2016 get lost in the noise.
Let’s hope 2017 is the year NASCAR decides it wants to be for everyone.
While there’s always room for improvement with safety, Fernando Alonso’s insane accident from the Australian Grand Prix proves that yep, the 2016 cars are pretty safe. The carbon fiber seat broke after sustaining forces of over 46G however, Alonso was able to walk away from the wreckage under his own power. Unfortunately, Alonso was injured enough from the impact that doctors ruled him out of the next race, but he rejoined the season shortly afterwards.
Two words that should never be uttered in the same sentence are “Nordschleife” and “speed limits,” yet that’s what the track’s organizers had to impose while they figured out how to avoid another big accident like the one that killed a spectator last year. Now that several key upgrades have been made, you are now free to resume your quest for YouTube hot lap glory.
Elimination qualifying was a solution no one asked for to a problem few could agree that Formula One actually had. Like track sprinklers and the idea of releasing angry wild boars onto the track, this was aimed at “spicing up” qualifying. In reality, it was confusing for fans to follow and given exactly two tries (which was two too many) before it got rightfully thrown out for the rest of the season.
Never do this again, F1.
Announced at the end of 2015, Roborace wants to improve self-driving technology through the crucible of racing giant dog bones on wheels. Now they have a test mule that people can actually ride in, which looks like the freakiest thing of them all.
It’s only a matter before the cars and the other machines become self-aware and doom humanity for good now. May C’thulhu have mercy and eat us first before Terminator has the chance.
Hey, teens! Your favorite smartphone app stirred a whole lot of trouble up for three-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton this year.
Lewis probably should have gotten in trouble for Snapchatting on a motorcycle early this year, but other than that, he’s been completely harmless, using the technology to (heaven forbid) keep in touch with fans. F1 asked him to stop Snapchatting in the paddock in April, and thank goodness he didn’t. A later uproar over Hamilton’s hilarious use of Snapchat filters in a press conference finally brought attention to how dull those conferences for those of us who don’t live for unconvincing, obvious soundbites.
Unsurprisingly, Formula One’s extreme reluctance to accept new media as a viable means to reach fans is one of the major things new owners Liberty Media want to work on once they take over.
18-year-old wonderkid Max Verstappen became F1's youngest ever race winner in his first race with Red Bull after being moved from the Scuderia Toro Rosso team. He was also the youngest driver ever to make it onto an F1 podium, the only Dutch driver to have ever won an F1 grand prix, and the first driver to win in a Red Bull since 2014. So many milestones!
Daniil Kvyat wasn’t working out, so Red Bull moved Verstappen up from Scuderia Toro Rosso to their main team, swapping him for Kvyat. This whole extremely young driver thing worked out so well for Red Bull that it appears as if Williams is trying the same thing with their hire of 18-year-old Canadian driver Lance Stroll. Let’s hope that works out, eh?
Alexander Rossi Shocks The Racing World By Winning The Indianapolis 500 (If You Saw It—You Did, Right?)
Former Formula One driver Alexander Rossi was bumped down to being the Manor F1 team‘s reserve driver at the end of last year after other drivers brought more lucrative deals to the backmarker team. So, he went off to IndyCar and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie instead. The clever strategy run by Rossi’s team left him coasting in on fumes across the finish line—ahead of all the teams who played it safe and stopped for fuel.
It looks like Rossi’s happy there, too, as he turned down an offer to pick his old Manor F1 drive back up after Rio Haryanto’s funding dried up. He’s staying put with the Andretti Autosport IndyCar team in 2017 as well.
More people should’ve watched not only this race, but the entire Indy season, though. Despite the fact that this was the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500—one of the prestigious legs of the Triple Crown of Motorsport—the Indy 500 had its third-lowest ratings in 30 years. Ouch.
That stat hurts even worse when you realize that the Indy 500 is the lone IndyCar race that people tend to pay attention to. Longtime sponsor Target even withdrew from the series after this year after 27 years of sponsoring the Chip Ganassi team—an even clearer sign that IndyCar desperately needs to find more eyeballs, somewhere.
A bacterial infection forced the removal of Frédéric Sausset’s forearms and lower legs, prompting him to tackle the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a specially modified LMP2 car. Sausset’s team logged 315 laps of the grueling race, and of course, his teammates let him drive the car home through the checkered flag at the end.
This has been fixed on the schedule for 2017.
Ford wanted to return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans 50 years after it had its maiden win with the GT40. Then the No. 68 Ford GT won its class in the race after starting from pole position, despite all four of the GTs having only competed in a couple races before then. Man, this Ford team does not play around.
Of course, there were all kinds of rumblings of the Ford GT teams using Silverstone as one big practice session, or intentionally running slower speeds than the car is capable of, just to set up favorable conditions to win at Le Mans.
The two brand-new cars, the Ferrari 488 GTE and the Ford GT, both came under intense scrutiny as many believed that their cars’ performance wasn’t adequately balanced with the rest of the field. Race organizers felt as if they missed the mark so much on the GTE Pro class cars after qualifying that they mandated an unusual extra round of mechanical tweaks to even out performance in the class before the race.
At the end of the day, though, we’re still chalking this up as a win for America, not to mention an incredible feat for a brand new race car.
Toyota Loses Le Mans On The Last Lap In Most Heartbreaking Race Ending Ever After A Single Connector Failed
Toyota is the lovable underdog of the World Endurance Championship’s LMP1 class compared to the bigger budget efforts of Porsche and Audi. Even die-hard fans of other teams were rooting for Toyota to finally get their moment in the spotlight when they were on pace to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year. Unfortunately, No. 5 Toyota TS050 driver Kazuki Nakajima came to a halt on the pit straight with only 3 minutes and 21 seconds in the race to go.
A defective connector on an air line between the car’s turbocharger and intercooler caused a loss of turbocharger control, forcing the team to limp through their final lap.
While the Toyota was able to complete as many laps as the winning No. 2 Porsche 919, it went unclassified, as the rules specify that a car must complete its final lap in less than six minutes to classified in the race standings. Ouch.
The fact that the car wasn’t even classified despite having completing more laps than some finishers was heartbreaking enough that the rule on last laps has been changed for 2017, reports Daily Sportscar. Final laps lasting between six and 15 minutes will now be classified as finishers at Le Mans, but receive a penalty consisting of number of laps, depending on how much longer than 6 minutes they take. Sadly, though, it’s too late for the No. 5. Better luck next year.
The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy is held on an insane course that few can believe still exists, as it’s an obscenely fast race held on island roads with all the usual curbs and walls that can obliterate someone travelling at race speeds. It routinely kills people, including two riders this year.
This year reset the record books. Michael Dunlop pulled off an unbelievable sub-17-minute lap on a motorcycle. Mark Higgins set a new record for completing the course in a car of 17 minutes and 35 seconds. Then there was Dougie Lampkin’s 1-hour, 35-minute lap—which was entirely done on one wheel.
NASCAR fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced in July that he was taking time off to heal from a concussion after a hard crash at Michigan. This was the latest of several concussions Earnhardt has sustained in his racing career. Earnhardt missed 18 races in total this year.
Concussions aren’t taken as seriously as they should by much of the racing community, so it’s been good to see Earnhardt making a big, public deal of his lengthy recovery. Nothing can really speed up its healing except time and rest, and repeated injuries can have catastrophic effects in the long run.
Aparecida Schunck, the mother of F1 head honcho Bernie Ecclestone’s third wife Fabiana Flosi, was kidnapped from her home in São Paulo, Brazil. The kidnappers allegedly wanted a $36.5 million ransom to return Schunck, which was believed to be the highest amount demanded for a kidnapping in Brazil’s history.
Dirt track and IndyCar racer (and friend of Jalopnik) Bryan Clauson touched a little bit of everyone in the racing community with his old-school drive to go racing as much as possible. He started 2016 with the goal of competing in 200 races by the year’s end, but only made it through 117, with 27 wins among those 117.
His 117th race was at the Belleville Midget Nationals, where Clauson was fatally injured after making contact with lapped traffic and getting T-boned by an oncoming car. Clauson was 27 years old.
Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo officially made the regional tradition of drinking from one’s shoe after a victory a thing by doing one whenever he landed on the podium this season. Ricciardo’s shoeys started with a second-place finish at the German Grand Prix and have given us a reason to root for him ever since.
After two years where there wasn’t enough usable dry space to unleash the kind of high-speed mayhem we know and love on Bonneville Salt Flats for Speed Week, the flats were finally usable again. Rejoice, go fast, and keep up those salt restoration efforts, guys.
If you somehow missed the egregious race-ending crash and subsequent revenge tackle from this year’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Mosport, drop everything and watch it now.
Can you believe there were no penalties for this hot mess? None. Zero. Zip. Nada. Bless your hearts, NASCAR.
That’s right: F1's new owners come from the land of apple pie ‘n’ Camaros. Liberty Media will be taking control of the world’s preeminent open-wheel series soon, and they’d like to shake up everything from the schedule to the series leadership. Good.
Like many major racing series, F1 needs to figure out how to make itself relevant to future generations and expand its fanbase. Maybe they’ll even figure out how to have fewer seasons where only one team is competitive! We’ve got some ideas on things Liberty Media needs to work on, so here’s hoping they don’t screw that up.
Women are nearly half the world’s population, yet somehow female racers—much less racing champions—are still rare. Fortunately, these championships are becoming more frequent, sending the message to girls out there that we can do this, too. This year, Christina Nielsen became the first female to win a present-day endurance championship in North America by clinching the GTD class championship at Daytona.
The last woman to win a North American endurance series championship was Melanie Snow in 2009, who won the now-merged-into-WTSC American Le Mans Series’ GTC title.
We’ve been worried about the United States Grand Prix for the past couple years as lower attendance numbers and last year’s freak storms threatened to pull a Germany on our place in the F1 calendar. Turns out, all we needed to do was enlist the help of a pop star as the headlining evening concert, as Swifties helped sell a record number of tickets this year.
After years of rumors that Audi would pull out of the World Endurance Championship, they finally did it. Their once-dominant Le Mans prototype program closed up shop at the end of the 2016 WEC season.
The ever-rising costs of Dieselgate, the questionable idea of using a diesel-powered car as Audi’s main showplace for technology, and the fact that Audi’s main competition was Volkswagen Group sister-brand Porsche finally put the last nail in the R18's coffin.
Audi claimed to be shifting their efforts to Formula E in the WEC program’s place, but that still means that the team responsible for bringing many WEC fans into the sport is no more.
The team won their final WEC race after setting a pole position record, which made every broadcast cut-away to Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich tearing up all that much harder to bear. Seeing their stillborn 2017 car was even worse. Please come back! (Or at least send Peugeot in your place.)
Things are tough all over Wolfsburg, as even the World Rally Championship team that brought Volkswagen four manufacturers’ championships and four drivers’ championships in a row got the axe, thanks to Dieselgate’s absurd costs.
Like the Audi LMP1 team, Volkswagen ended with one last win. Sadly, the driver who gave them that win—Andreas Mikkelsen—didn’t end up with a full-season WRC drive after Volkswagen announced that they were pulling their team at the end of October, notes Racer.
Ex-VW drivers Jari-Matti Latvala and Sébastien Ogier landed at Toyota and M-Sport, respectively, and even Volkswagen’s 2017 Polo WRC car will live on in the hands of Dakar-conquering badass Nasser Al-Attiyeh. It’s just Mikkelsen who’s left out due to the newfound shortage in seats. If that isn’t the definition of “travesty,” I don’t know what is.
The Porsche 911 has always had its flat-six party in the rear, unless you count the weirdo that was the 911 GT1. Now, the ones that look like a 911 will feature the engine in the middle now because it’s the only way Porsche can take advantage of racing regulations aimed at making its mid-engine competition fast. Good for them. Just don’t move the engine on the road 911, please.
Mexican racer Daniel Suárez became the first foreign-born racer to ever win a NASCAR national series championship in the Xfinity Series, demonstrating once and for all that oval talent isn’t limited to just the United States.
Did a Mexican winning the Xfinity championship cause NASCAR CEO Brian France to have a moment of reflection on his very public political endorsement of a Twitter troll who constantly rags on Mexico? Of course not! France dodged the issue with a nonsense excuse that no one should listen to him on politics.
Merely winning one top-level championship is living the dream. Some racers even consider that enough to retire on. Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson clinched his seventh NASCAR Cup title this year. Seventh. This ties Johnson with NASCAR legends Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for the highest number of Cup Series championships of all time.
The Old Folks’ Home Just Got Way More Interesting
The list of racers leaving their top-level rides (if not retiring entirely) at the end of 2016 is pretty impressive, including fan favorites Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Tony Stewart and Felipe Massa. See y’all when you get bored and take a crack at Le Mans or whatever.
Let’s not forget about Ron Dennis being forced out of McLaren, either. Ron Dennis is McLaren to many F1 fans, having led the F1 team to 10 drivers’ championships and seven constructors’ championships.
We’re still not sure Felipe Massa is really retired, though. Williams has been begging him to come back to Formula One to back-fill a possible vacancy left by Valterri Bottas, so maybe not! Brazilian publication Grande Premio is already reporting that Massa has signed a new contract to drive for Williams next year, however, we probably won’t get any official confirmation from the team until Mercedes announces their new [probably ex-Williams] driver in 2017.
2017 can’t come soon enough for the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. It’s going to be full of brand-new prototype cars, all of which look really cool and have been stupidly quick on Daytona’s banking so far.
Case in point: the new Cadillac DPi-V.R, which so far has been the fastest prototype in testing, with Ricky Taylor breaking 200 mph on Daytona’s banking already. Cadillac hasn’t competed with a purpose-built prototype race car since 2002, and finally, it looks like they’ve got a machine worthy of going “why yes, my mother had a Sedan de Ville, I am all that is hoon.”
Best of all, four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon is coming out of retirement (again) to drive the world’s baddest Caddy in 2017 with Taylor on the the always hilarious Wayne Taylor Racing crew. If that’s not a racing superfan’s fantasy squad come to life, I don’t know what is.
For the past couple years, the intra-team battle between Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton was the rivalry to watch. They were in the best car on the grid, and no love was lost between these two, resulting in plenty of on- and off-track drama.
The title deciding season finale at Abu Dhabi was a nail-biter for the ages, with Hamilton winning the race but Rosberg clinching the championship he desperately wanted. Later that week, Rosberg announced that he’d be retiring from Formula One, surprising everyone and leaving Mercedes with an unusual late-season opening on a top F1 team well after all of the other top drivers had signed contracts for 2017 rides already.
We still don’t know who (Valtteri Bottas) will be taking Rosberg’s (Bottas’s) spot, as Mercedes won’t make an official announcement (about Bottas) until 2017, but we (and Bottas) have a pretty good idea who that will be.
Bring on 2017, but please don’t cancel the Porsche LMP1.