Last night, for the first time in my living memory I was following the death of a champion who died doing what he loved.

Dan Wheldon just five months ago after winning the Indy 500 for the second time. Photo by Greg Hilde (Flickr)

It’s very hard to put into words how to feel when such an event happens, but I thought I’d try to convey how I, an average motorsport fan many thousands of miles away from Las Vegas, have been affected by the tragedy.

For motorsport fans in Britain the timing of Wheldon’s death and the release of Senna on DVD are a very unhappy coincidence, with both events occurring within a week of each other. Last week I watched Senna twice and feeling the emotion as the film reached that fateful weekend at Imola.

I am too young to remember Ayrton Senna racing in Formula 1. I was just three-years-old when he was killed so, although I get slightly emotional when I see those pictures from the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, there is still a detachment because I don’t remember it happening.

However I can’t say that this time.

I’m not a massive IndyCar fan but I have a look to see what goes on in the series and I’m aware of the big names. During my teens I remember hearing his name and seeing his achievements in the motorsport press.

So when the tweets came through about a huge shunt in the season finale I was curious, and within minutes they appeared on YouTube and it looked as horrific as it sounded; the onboard camera from Will Power’s car providing some terrifying images.

When a medical helicopter arrives at a race track it’s not often a good sign and sure enough after a couple of hours guessing it was confirmed that Dan Wheldon was dead.

As I said I’m not a big IndyCar fan but I knew he had won the Indy 500 this year for the second time and was very successful in America. Not many people knew of him in this country but he was a very talented driver.

Growing up in what has probably been the safest two decades in motorsport history it’s hard to know how the death of a driver, especially one of Dan’s calibre and in such a prestigious event, makes you feel.

The only connection I have with Dan is that we’re both British. That’s it. I never saw him race live, I never met him, nothing. But it doesn’t stop an overwhelming feeling of sadness come over and the urge to cry, especially during the five lap salute made by the remaining drivers in Las Vegas while Danny Boy was played over the tannoy system. If you haven’t watched the video yet, I urge you to.

What’s made it more horrible is seeing the crash, and photos from the crash, plastered all over the press. When I first saw the crash the severity of his injuries was unclear, but seeing the BBC show the smash, including the onboard shot from his number 77 car just seconds beforehand, was particularly difficult to stomach.

Some media organisations had enlarged images showing him, effectively, being thrown to his death and it’s very upsetting to see as it leaves you to wonder what went through his mind during those seconds.

I wish I had paid more attention to his career. All I can do now is watch the races from years gone by rather than look forward to his future adventures. And while I can enjoy his skill behind the wheel and his magnetic personality, it will forever be tinged with sadness knowing he can never repeat these feats.

If there are any young motorsport fans reading this, appreciate all forms of motorsport. It’s easy in this day and age to forget that death and danger exists and this is a shocking reminder. You don’t know what you’ve missed until it’s too late, and it’s a lesson I’ve learned this week.

At the end of his commentary of the IZOD IndyCar World Championship, Marty Reid said: “People often ask me why I sign off ‘til we meet again’. Because goodbye is always so final. Goodbye Dan Wheldon.”

I hope it’s not goodbye but we will meet again and that motorsport fans everywhere can tell him how good he was and how much we’ll have missed him.

Until we meet again, Dan Wheldon.

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It’s that time of the year every Formula 1 fan dreads (well in England anyway!) . The nights are drawing in, it’s cold, usually wet and there’s no more racing until March. All we have is the intrigue of testing, waiting for the new cars to launch and the memories of the season just gone.

This year has been brilliant and I’m not going to sit here and repeat everything that’s already been said about the championship and having five drivers competing for wins on a regular basis. It’s been done by everybody else. So here are my moments of the season aided with a few pictures and videos thrown in for good measure.

I’m too bitter to accept my own failings

Fernando Alonso. I know he’d just lost out on the world championship and he wanted to win it for Ferrari in his first season and it’s been four years now since that last triumph with Renault. But is there really any need to gesticulate towards Vitaly Petrov on the slow down lap because he didn’t let him through? Petrov had arguably his best race in F1 so far and Alonso’s Ferrari only came close to overtaking once in 30 laps. That’s not the Russian’s fault so there’s no need to through toys.

I’m going to overtake you no matter what

Kamui Kobayashi is a man who isn’t afraid of a good out braking manoeuvre and he was at his best in Japan. He performed many daring moves going into the hairpin at the back of the track, but his first on the Toro Rosso of Sebastien Buemi was without doubt the clumsiest. Coming from a long way back he slid sideways towards the Swiss and bumped his way past. However he learnt his lesson and later pulled off three excellent manoeuvres including one around the outside of Buemi’s team-mate, Jaime Alguersuari. But it’s this move where he slides and bumps his way through which winds this round.

Worst track alteration

Organisers of the Bahrain Grand Prix decided that the best bit of the Bahrain track needed removing. So gone were sweeping corners of five and six to be replaced by a slow, fiddly, bumpy series of corners. The drivers hated it, the fans hated it and it did nothing to the race except make what was already a very tedious grand prix that little bit longer. After the negative criticism of the new section a statement was put out saying the extended layout was only to celebrate F1’s “diamond jubilee of the oldest and most prestigious racing series”. For some reason, I’m not sure I believe that…

Biggest over-reaction

Everybody, after the Bahrain Grand Prix. “That is the action we are going to have with this kind of environment of race strategy,” was how Michael Schumacher described the new regulations following the opening race in Bahrain. Lewis Hamilton was equally negative. “You start with fuel, you do one stop and it’s pretty much a train all the way.” But Bahrain has never thrown up an interesting race so the chances of 2010 being any different were slim and the racing improved as the season went on a teams and drivers got used to the new rules. Bahrain wasn’t the place to showcase that. You may notice that I don’t like the Bahrain Grand Prix very much and there’s a good reason for that. I don’t.

Karun Chandhok did well to drive the Hispania for the first time in qualifying at Bahrain

Bravest moment of the year

Karun Chandhok going out to qualify in Bahrain was probably the bravest thing he’s ever done. A car that he’d never tested and, in fact, his car had never even turned a wheel before he took it out to qualify in Bahrain. In fact he’d never even driven an F1 car in anger before. The car was slow, hard to handle and completed just minutes before the session. An accident on lap one ended his race but nevertheless Chandhok had shown courage to get out there and drive an F1 car for the first time in the heat of qualifying showed some major courage.

Scariest moment of the year

There were three incidents in 2010 which stood out in my mind as potentially scary moments. First of all was Sebeastien Buemi in practice for the Chinese Grand Prix. If you can remember all the way back to April, coming down the long back straight into the hairpin Buemi’s front wheels shot off and he was left just sliding helplessly off the track. Now if my Ford Fiesta did that at 30mph I’d need a change of underwear so I dread to think how he felt after that! One thing though, why did he try and steer when both wheels had both flown off?

Second up was Mark Webber in Valencia in an incident which had a resemblance to Ricardo Patrese and Gerhard Berger at Estoril in 1992; which saw the Italian launched over the back of Berger’s McLaren and try to become an aeroplane. The same happened in June when Webber misjudged the closing speed between him and Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus and went hurtling into the air, thankfully without harming Mark.

The last one came just second into the final race of the year. When Michael Schumacher spun in front of the pack there was only likely to be one outcome. What he probably didn’t expect was the Force India of Vitantonio Liuzzi use him as a ramp to park his car, and nearly wallop the German in the head with his nosecone/front wheel/suspension. When the seven-time world champion came back to F1 many people questioned the reasoning as Formula 1 is still a dangerous sport and it was accidents like that which show just how strong these cars are keeping the drivers relatively safe.

Most stupid name of the season

BMW Sauber-Ferrari. I don’t get what the reasoning was for making Sauber keep the BMW part of their name for this year when the German manufacturer pulled out at the end of 2009. I suppose it was because they designed the car. But still they left and Peter Sauber retook control and got customer Ferrari engines. So we were left with this name which had two car manufacturers in it.

BMW Sauber: good season, silly name

Clumsiest overtake of the year

Jarno Trulli on Chandhok at Monaco. The streets of Monte Carlo have never been renowned for offering overtaking opportunities, especially going into La Rascasse. Despite this though Trulli optimistically went for it in closing stages of the Monaco race to get past the Hispania of Karun Chandhok. The result was not what he was hoping for as he careered over the top of the Indian and into the barrier; an incident which nearly took out race leader Mark Webber.

So there you have it. Some of the things from the 2010 F1 season which caught my eye. It’s all my personal choice. Whether you agree or not feel free to leave comments about what were your moments of this season and if there’s anything you feel I’ve missed off from this list.

Images courtesy of Alex Basnett and Nelson Wu

Last weekend saw me finally delve into the world of V8 Supercars; a series which up until now I’ve known has existed but never paid too much attention too.

However last weekend saw the series arrive in Surfers Paradise, Queensland, for the Armor All Gold Coast 600. Now for those of you who don’t know anything about the race, let me explain.

The Gold Coast 600 is split into two races over the weekend, both 300km (102 laps) long. Each team must hire a driver with an ‘international reputation’ for the weekend to complete at least one third of the distance in both races.

For this year’s event most of the drivers hired came from the IndyCar or World Touring Car Championship series with a few former F1 drivers popping up too.

Jacques Villeneuve, Mika Salo, Alain Menu, Alex Tagliani, Helio Castroneves, Fabrizio Giovanardi, Gianni Morbidelli, Sebastien Bourdais, Yvan Muller were all there along with Britain’s Andy Priaulx and Dario Franchitti.

Quite a line up.

Intrigued by this event I looked to find coverage of the race back in England but alas was unable to until I found the full race coverage on YouTube. And what a spectacle.

Although there are only two manufacturers, Ford and Holden, the racing was so close with every position being fought over for lap after lap.

The start of Saturday’s race really shows how dramatic a V8 Supercar opening lap can be as the international drivers vied for position on the tight, coastal circuit.

But what I was impressed with after this incident, and in the Sunday race, was the close but fair racing. In Britain we love the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) for its no holds barred racing where drivers rub door handles, tap and nudge their way through.

All very exciting, and I for one am a massive fan of that. But ‘down under’ contact seems to be at a premium, especially on a track like Surfers Paradise where one touch could send a competitor into the wall.

There are still the occasional incidents involving some drivers but that’s only natural, especially on a street circuit. Just ask David Brabham.

But for me the real stand out of the Gold Coast 600 were the last 30 laps or so of race two, which saw reigning champion Jamie Whincup fight off 21-year-old New Zealander Shane van Gisbergen to take the win.

Although Whincup ultimately held on, the performance of the Kiwi impressed me so much. He may not have won a race in the V8 Supercar series yet, but currently lies sixth in the drivers’ standings. His performance over the weekend, fighting from 13th to third in race one and hounding the reigning champion in race two shows a real talent and great promise.

Van Gisbergen, right, is turning into a real star

After competing in karts and motocross up to 2004, he came third in the 2004/5 Formula First Championship New Zealand, an open-wheel series similar to Formula Ford. The following year he won the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship before finishing runner up in the 2006/7 Toyota Racing Series.

Since then he’s been a regular in the V8 Supercars. Although he is still looking for his first win his rise has been rapid and he’s now knocking on the door to take to the top step of the podium for the first time.

If you want an idea of how good this kid is, the last few laps of the Gold Coast 600 sum him up better than anything I can write.

It’s only a matter of time and I for one will be following the V8 Supercars and him particularly, with a keen eye.

Image from Flickr: crgphotography

Twelve months ago Kamui Kobayashi made his Formula 1 debut in the race which saw Jenson Button claim his maiden drivers’ championship.

And while the man from Frome revelled in the victory celebrations, debate started to rumble about the Japanese driver making his debut for Toyota. Both the new world champion and Williams racer, Kazuki Nakajima, were subjected to his aggressive blocking tactics during the race.

Indeed his compatriot ended up out of the race as he clipped the Toyota’s tyre and lost his front wing, sending him flying off the track at turn four.

This incident was the one which made people think that he was too aggressive and broke the unwritten rule of one move to defend a position rather than weave across the track.

Now, having followed Formula 1 for 15 years I’ve seen plenty of Japanese drivers come and go. Ukyo Katayama, Taki Inoue, Takuma Sato and many others come and go, and more than their fair share of crashes too. So when Kobayashi took out his compatriot you can see why I thought that another fast, but overly aggressive Japanese driver was in F1.

Two weeks later though a calmer, more mature Kobayashi climbed into the Toyota in Abu Dhabi and once again raised eyebrows, but for all the right reasons.

Kobayashi is turning into a real star

He was just as racey, just as aggressive as in Brazil but stopped his dangerous defensive driving as Kimi Raikkonen found out on the opening lap and Jenson Button discovered later on when the two battled it out.

Not only that but his hard yet fair overtaking manoeuvre on Button had heads turning as the rookie powered onto a sixth placed finish in only his second Grand Prix, ahead of veteran team-mate Jarno Trulli.

But then came the news that Toyota were pulling out of F1 and Kobayashi, who everyone expected to be in their team for 2010 was left unemployed

Thankfully, Peter Sauber was back after he bought back the team he sold to BMW, and he knows good talent when he sees it.

As the season has gone on, a string of stunning overtakes and hard, aggressive driving has seen Kobayashi being talked again as one of the most exciting prospects in Formula 1. The cheek in Valencia to overtake Fernando Alonso on the very last lap was a bold move and was fantastic to see, as was his last corner move on the unsuspecting Sebastien Buemi; that it’s not over until the chequered flag approach that may have been missing from F1 in recent years.

Last weekend’s drive in his home race at Suzuka was however perhaps the best of the lot so far and included some stunning manoeuvres at the hairpin. Pick of the bunch was a brave move around the outside of Toro Rosso’s Jaimie Alguersuari despite the young Spaniard’s best efforts to ruin his car on the exit.

All of this though has meant for the first time in my F1 history, there is a Japanese driver who I actually enjoy watching. His race craft is very good, he doesn’t crash and he has a car which manages to last a complete race distance.

Over the years many a Japanese driver has come and gone, with various amounts of success.

First was Ukyo Katayama. The Australian broadcaster Clive James was said Katayama impressed so much in races that he was often allowed to leave them early. It was said in jest but out of 95 F1 races between 1992 and 1997, Katayama retired from 63 of them only scored five points, all in the 1994 season for Tyrrell.

As you can see from this video, you can see why he scored so few points.

However during his time in Formula 1 there was another Japanese driver who was far, far worse.

Taki Inoue, somehow, competed in 18 races and the whole of the 1995 season for Footwork retiring in 13 events. Of those 13 retirements, six were due to spins and collisions; meaning he crashed out of one third of Grand Prix he entered. A record surely.

Despite his atrocious driving and the inability to drive in a straight line, he somehow managed to conjure up a drive for the 1996 season, with Minardi. Thankfully though one of his sponsors pulled out and Giancarlo Fisichella took his place, much to the relief of Minardi’s mechanics no doubt.

And that was it for a few years apart from some unspectacular,  and slow, performances of Shinji Nakano for Prost and Minardi plus Toranosuke Takagi for Tyrrell until 2002 when Takuma Sato turned up, mainly backwards, in the yellow of Jordan.

Admittedly the biggest accident of Sato’s career was not his fault but he earned himself a reputation with unnecessary accidents in Monaco, Italy, Spain, America, Japan, Australia, Malaysia, France, Canada, Bahrain, Belgium…

It’s a shame that by the time he had calmed down as a driver and could pull of moves like the one he did on Alonso in Canada when driving for Super Aguri, he was in a team who were struggling for cash and alas when the team disappeared, so did Sato.

So it’s refreshing to finally see a Japanese driver who is fast, entertaining and above all, skilful. When watching F1 this season I find myself looking forward to the next shot of Kobayashi in anticipation of drama and excitement, something not all drivers can provide on a regular basis.

With Toyota and Honda having pulled out of the sport in the last two years, Kobayashi has found himself as Japan’s sole representative in Formula 1. It’s a role he appears to revel in though and as he goes from strength to strength I sincerely hope he stays for many years to come.

In a sport which is notoriously difficult to overtake in, he’s proved that it can be done and that he is a real talent who can go on to the Japan’s greatest F1 driver, and I think he will.

Image courtesy of bobthemelbournian

So the third and final part of my day at Donington.

After the second BTCC race we trundled up to McLeans where there had been plenty of action earlier on in the day. The first race at our new location was the Ginetta G50s, which provided some action but not as much as was hoped. The good thing about watching the Ginettas from McLeans though is that they are prone to running wide on the exit; but it’s hard to say whether that’s down to the car or the driver.

Nevertheless a fair bit of dirt was kicked up by cars running over the curbs on the exit which provided some action as they dashed up the short straight to Coppice.

I'm not sure how this happened...

After the Ginettas came race two of the Porsche Carrera Cup. As mentioned in my first Donington post, the Porsches do not lend themselves to close racing. Therefore there was little in the way of excitement during this race Michael Caine, Tim Harvey and the rest pounded round for lap after lap without ever being close enough to create a real overtaking opportunity.

After this little procession though came the Ginetta Junior Championship race which was sure to provide some more action. Well it did provide some although again not as much overtaking into McLeans as I hoped for. Perhaps I was just being naive and optimistic!

Most of the action in this race came from championship contender Louise Richardson as she charged through from 16th on the grid to finish 4th overall.

Tom Ingram leads the field through McLeans

Louise Richardson dives up the inside of David Moore

And then takes Tom Howard a few laps later

A late incident elsewhere saw the safety car lead the field round for half a dozen laps before a two lap dash to the finish but the field was too spread for there to be any real drama where I was.

But onto the BTCC. As the cars made their way round from the pits and onto the grid I followed them round, not paying too much attention as it’s only the warm up lap to get them onto the grid. Not much was going to happen. Well as the Honda Integra of James Kaye went past I heard tyre squeal and was lucky enough to capture the end of this.

Yes he some how managed to spin on his installation lap whilst heading to the grid. After four years away from the BTCC, the rustiness was definitely still on show!

Onto the race and whilst it wasn’t the most dramatic of touring car races there was still some close racing going through McLeans and on up to Coppice. However sadly due to the  overcast conditions and the cold state of my hands I wasn’t able to get as many photos of a decent quality. These were my best efforts though.

Plato leads a gaggle of cars on lap 1 of the third BTCC race

Tom Onslow-Cole and Alex MacDowell

Steven Kane and Tom Chilton

Jason Plato and Mat Jackson

So there you have it. My day at the BTCC and a few of the pictures I took there. It was a long day with lots of standing around and getting a bit nippy but for £27 and nine races it was definitely worth it.

After losing interest in the BTCC during my teenage years, my interest in the sport has definitely returned and I am looking forward to the season finale at Brands Hatch.

If you’re looking for a sport which provides real value for money, then you can’t go wrong with the BTCC.

There are many more photos available on my Flickr (www.flickr.com/photos/davestubbings/).

We moved only a couple of hundred yards during the lunch break, to the over bridge on the climb up towards McLeans.

The first race after lunch was the Formula Ford Championship which again provided plenty of overtaking and drama, however a lot of the drama was out of sight for us. This race saw a familiar racing name and helmet take to the Donington circuit as Josh Hill, son of Damon and grandson of Graham lined up on the grid.

Josh Hill heads round on the warm up lap for the second Formula Ford race

It’s always been ambition of mine to see that famous blue helmet with the white ores take part in a race, however truth be told I’d have preferred it to be Damon as he was the driver in Formula 1 I followed when growing up. But I can’t be picky!

The race was fairly spread out by Formula Ford standards with Daniel Cammish dominating from start to finish. A close battle for second between Scott Malvern, Scott Pye and Hill saw the latter lose out when he went off at McLeans.

When you're racing as close as Malvern (22), Pye (1) and Hill (0), it can often end in tears

After Hill’s demise the safety car came out which briefly bunched everyone up before Cammish cruised off to take the win, however there was still some fairly close racing behind him.

After the Formula Ford boys were done it was time for the second BTCC race of the day. With the grid order decided by the way they finished race one, Honda’s Gordon Sheddon took pole ahead of Tom Chilton in the Ford Focus and Mat Jackson in the BMW. However it was Chilton’s team-mate, Tom Onslow-Cole who took full advantage of carrying no success ballast to take victory from eighth on the grid.

Again there was little action going into the Old Hairpin however there was some overtaking mainly by Jason Plato who stormed up from last to come home third and I was able to capture his move on Tom Chilton coming down through the Craner Curves.

Gordon Sheddon leads the field down the hill in race two.

And leads them up towards McLeans

Plato starts his move on Chilton...

...he gets up alongside the Ford as they approach the Old Hairpin...

...and the deed is done.

Now he sets off after Mat Jackson

That was most of the action of the second race with the exception of drivers running wide on the exit of the Old Hairpin. Plato was the only one of the top drivers to make that mistake, dropping two wheels onto the dirt beyond the curb on the exit, however several drivers further found down the field found the mud and grass to good to miss.

Shaun Hollamby in his VW Golf being one such driver

Andy Neate found himself under increased pressure from John George after this mistake

Apologies for this being nearly a week after the event, due to university and newspaper commitments this post had to put on the back burner for a while. But here it is at last.

Last Sunday I finally attended my first ever British Touring Car Championship race at Donington Park. The BTCC is a sport I always watched during the 1990s when the drivers were international stars, there were numerous manufacturers involved and the grid was sometimes 30 cars strong. In fact Donington Park hosted what many people regard as the finest BTCC race ever in 1998 when Nigel Mansell joined in the fun with his Ford Mondeo.

Since then the sport’s declined slightly with the departure of many manufacturers and most of the top drivers heading to the World Touring Car Championship it’s popularity has dampened slightly. Being shunted onto ITV4 maybe doesn’t help either.

Throughout this time my interest also disappeared and for a few years I lost touch with the sport. However after receiving last year’s season review (all 7 hours of it!) for my birthday and realising the great racing was still there, my interest returned. After watching a couple of earlier rounds on telly, I decided to head down to Donington Park with a friend for round 9 of this year’s championship.

Upon arrival we were greeted with loads of Ginettas and Porsches in the paddock awaiting their turns to race. By the time we’d arrived at the Old Hairpin the Porsches were lining up on the grid and as they charged through the Craner Curves off spun one of them, which I thankfully managed to capture.

Glen McMenamin spins into the gravel
Liam Griffin spins wildly off

That was about as exciting as it got in the Porsche races; with the cars so evenly matched overtaking is limited and both races saw Michael Caine (yes he races Porsches, not a lot of people know that) lead former BTCC star Tim Harvey home.

Michael Caine took both race wins

After the Porsches came the Ginetta Junior Championship, with ages varying from 14 to 17 (I wasn’t half jealous!). The great think about the Ginetta juniors is that with their inexperience and enthusiasm there is plenty of great racing and they didn’t disappoint with plenty of overtaking and off track excursions taking place down at the Old Hairpin.

After the Ginettas had been out attention turned to the first BTCC race of the day, which saw the Ford Focus’ lock out the front row yet again. I’m not going to bother with a report of the race or indeed the other BTCC races but just share some of the pictures from where I was.

Matt Neal heads into the Old Hairpin on lap 1 ahead of Jason Plato

Rob Collard, Matt Neal and Jason Plato shortly before the collision at the chicane

From where I was not much happened in race one, with most of the overtaking on the back straight and on the main straight which meant a fair few laps behind the safety car.

The narrator at Donington didn’t seem to get too excited about this and just casually told us that the championship leader was out without giving us any real idea of what actually went on on the far side of the track so it was a bit of a surprise when Tom Onslow-Cole’s Ford Focus came down the Carner Curves in fifth with hay bale in the front of it when last time he was battling Honda’s Gordon Sheddon for the lead!

The damage on Onslow-Cole and Neal is evident

That was it mainly for the first set of races. After this it was lunch time and time to walk a bit further up the track to find the next spot…which will follow in my next blog.