Top 10 motorsport moments of 2019
Motor racing in 2019 had a number of firsts, including the inaugural season of the W Series which provides a platform for women to enter Formula One.
Our own Tasmin Pepper was one of the W Series drivers in what was a momentous year for SA motorsport, with the country hosting two international racing events and a local motorcyclist reaching the top echelon of the sport.
Here are our top 10 motorsport moments of 2019:
Brad Binder scores a MotoGP ride
After paying his dues in the Moto3 and Moto2 categories, SA’s Brad Binder made the big league by being signed for KTM’s factory team in next year’s premier MotoGP class, where he will race against superstars Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez.
The 2016 Moto3 champion and 2019 Moto2 runner-up will be the first SA rider to compete in the top-tier MotoGP category since Shane Norval raced in the 500cc class in 2000.
Inaugural women’s racing series
The 2019 W Series made history by being the first all-female single-seater racing championship, and had 18 women competing in identical single-seater race cars in a six-round series around Europe.
The championship aims to help female racers climb the male-dominated motorsport ladder towards F1, which last saw a woman start a race in 1976.
Britain’s Jamie Chadwick was the inaugural champion and SA’s Tasmin Pepper was 10th, guaranteeing her a seat on next year’s grid.
Marquez seals sixth MotoGP title
Marc Marquez continued racking up the records by clinching his sixth MotoGP championship. At 26 he is the youngest rider to win that many titles in the premier class and eight titles overall.
The Honda rider joins an exclusive list of three to have won six or more premier class championships, behind Giacomo Agostini (8) and Valentino Rossi (7).
Lewis Hamilton nips at Schumacher’s heels
Lewis Hamilton used his dominant Mercedes to devastating effect in 2019, winning F1 championship number six to be just one title shy of Michael Schumacher’s record seven-title haul.
One of the most successful drivers in the history of the sport, Hamilton has taken 84 race victories and 151 podium finishes. He holds the records for the most career points (3,431), the most pole positions (88), and the most points in a season (413).
International motor racing in SA
Two high-profile international motorsport events took place in SA in November.
The 2019 finale of the World Rallycross championship was at Cape Town’s Killarney circuit on November 9, with honours going to Sweden’s Timmy Hansen in a Peugeot 208.
The historic return of the Kyalami Nine-Hour after 37 years saw an international field of sports cars competing in the season-ending round of the Intercontinental GT championship on November 23. Porsche won the rain-affected race, along with the 2019 title.
Bloodhound races to 1,010km/h
Revived from impending bankruptcy a year ago, the British-based Bloodhound team brought its jet-powered car to SA for its first high-speed tests in November and the flame-spitting machine achieved 1,010km/h on the flat clay surface of Hakskeen Pan in the Northern Cape.
The team has now returned to its UK base to crunch some numbers, and will come back to the Northern Cape in 12 to 18 months looking to make history. The Bloodhound will be fitted with a powerful rocket in a bid to beat the 1,228km/h world and speed record, and hopefully go on to achieve 1,600km/h.
Alonso gets dirty
Fernando Alonso is on a mission to be remembered as one of the world’s most versatile drivers.
After winning two F1 championships, two Le Mans 24 Hour races and the World Endurance Championship, the Spaniard is setting his sights on mastering dirt.
He is contesting 2020’s Dakar Rally in a locally-built Gazoo Toyota Hilux as teammate to SA’s Giniel de Villiers. The Spaniard’s test programme saw him competing in a round of the SA off-road championship, the Lichtenburg 400, in September.
Basil Green inducted into SA Hall of Fame
Basil Green, the man behind the range of Perana-branded fast Fords that dominated local motorsport and performance road cars in the 1960s and 1970s, was inducted into the SA Hall of Fame.
He joined motor racing greats Sarel van der Merwe, brothers Jody and Ian Scheckter, sports car champion Wayne Taylor, and Ferrari F1 designer Rory Byrne to receive the honour.
Niki Lauda dies
Triple F1 world champion Niki Lauda died in May at the age of 70. The Austrian was famous for coming back from a near-fatal fiery crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix, which left him so badly injured that a priest gave him the last rites as he lay in a coma. Just six weeks later, his wounds bandaged, he was racing again in a bid to retain his F1 world title.
He went on to win the 1977 and 1984 championships.
After retiring from F1 he became an airline entrepreneur and at the time of his death he was nonexecutive chair for the Mercedes F1 team.
25th anniversary of Senna’s death
May 1 1994 was a dark day in motor racing when Ayrton Senna was killed at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.
The crash brought down the curtain on a 10-year career that netted the Brazilian three F1 championships and 65 pole positions, the latter a world record that stood until 2006. His record of six Monaco victories stands to this day.
He was an idol to millions and was revered for his wet-weather skills. In 2009 he was voted the greatest F1 driver in an Autosport survey of 217 F1 drivers.