Wednesday, May 03, 2006

GP Masters

I've never pretended to be much of a fan of open-wheel racing, so when I came across a download of the recent Grand Prix Masters race from Qatar I wasn't especially motivated to watch it. Until, that is, I saw that the commentary was from Murray Walker. My earliest memories of watching racing on TV involved Formula 1 in 1982, with Murray rocking the mic. I remember teams such as ATS and RAM along with more established outfits like Williams, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo.

"Okay", I said, "I'll take a look at this GP has-beens thing". And I'm damn glad I did. The racing was tight and each driver was trying their hardest, even if they were clearly off the pace (stand up Patrick Tambay). Unsurprisingly, Nigel "The 'tache" Mansell was on pole, but right next to him was Christian Danner, who always struggled to be competitive in the woeful Zakspeed.

Once the race was underway, Mansell proved to be dominant, but behind him all hell was breaking loose. First, the luckless Riccardo Patrese couldn't get his car started and ended up starting from the pitlane half a lap down. Then the speedy Derek Warwick spun and found himself nearly in last. Then Hans Stuck tangled with Stefan Johanssen. A mechanical failure on Eliseo Salazar's car brought out the safety car, giving Warwick and Patrese a lifeline. This was soon followed by a second safety car period when Andrea de Cesaris (or Andrea de Crasheris as Murray noted his nickname had been) spun out of 4th place. By now, Eric Van de Poele was looking very racey, and had passed Eddie Cheever, Pierluigi Martini and Emerson Fittipaldi to get into third. And that's how it finished - Mansell, Danner and Van de Poele. All three drivers were clearly loving the racing, and their good humour was infectious. I caught myself with a silly grin on my face as Murray signed off.

It has to be said that this race was far tighter and more exciting than the bulk of F1 races these guys ever raced in, and I highly recommend it to any racing fan. Much credit must go to the drivers themselves though, who approached the event with the right level of dignity, humour and competitiveness to make for a terrific spectacle.

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