Thursday, February 28, 2008

Weekend Menu - Week 9

WTCC is back in action...

  • Curitiba, Brazil: World Touring Cars and International GT Open
  • Las Vegas, NV: NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series
  • Leon, Mexico: Rally Mexico for the WRC and Production WRC
  • Daytona, FL: Moto-ST's Daytona 300
  • Phillip Island, Australia: World Superbike and World Supersport
  • Llandovery, Wales: MSA Tarmac Rally Championship's Tour of Epynt
  • Laughlin, NV: Best in the Desert with the Laughlin US Hare Scrambles
  • Timaru Raceway, New Zealand: NZV8s

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Driver donates organs

The support series for Australia's V8 Supercars has suffered another fatality. Back at Bathurst in October 2006 Mark Porter was killed in one of the Fujitsu Series races, and on Monday Ashley Cooper succumbed to injuries he received in a Fujitsu race on Saturday at Adelaide.

The silver lining to this tragic bit of news is that Cooper was registered organ donor, and thanks to Australia's more lax approach to patient confidentiality it has been revealed that his organs were involved in seven life saving operations.

Although the idea of organ donation makes me uncomfortable, I'm pragmatic enough to realise that it won't matter once I'm gone, so I'm an organ donor and strongly urge everyone else to register for organ donation too. If you're in the USA, go here for more info.

Friday, February 22, 2008

And World Supersport doesn't look too bad either

A brief epilogue to my World Superbike preview earlier this week...

It's worth noting that World Supersport might once again be worth a look. I followed it religiously back in 2002 and 2003 but kind of lost interest as some of the more competitive teams either left for World Superbike, lost their edge or dropped out. What followed was Ten Kate domination, with Karl Muggeridge, Sebastien Charpentier and Kenan Sofuoglu. This year brings promise of a tighter championship and more exciting races.

So who are we watching?

Ten Kate Honda: Acknowledged WSS masters, Ten Kate are giving British Superbike star Johnny Rea a year of apprenticeship before moving him up to WSBK. Rea is the real deal: very fast with amazing bike control honed from years of racing motocross as teenager. I'd like to predict he'll be a challenger all year despite his unfamiliarity with the tracks. Alongside him will be a man whose career highlight thus far was a WSS title, Andrew Pitt. He struggled in MotoGP, did pretty well in WSBK but he's great on a small bike, especially one as well prepped as a Ten Kate Honda.

Yamaha World Supersport: Consistently Ten Kate's closest challengers, Yamaha once again field two guys who have shown to be WSS experts and WSBK also-rans, Broc Parkes and Fabian Foret. Their issue will be the bike - the current generation R6 has never quite had the handling to match the Hondas, although its engine is very strong.

Gil Motorsport: The top Kawasaki team will this year have former 125cc champ Arnaud Vincent, WSS frontrunner Katsuaki Fujiwara, and WSBK race winner and crowd-favourite Chris Walker. It's a slight step backward for the Stalker who had a terrible 2007 in British Superbike, but let's hope he can regain his form as he returns to the green machines. Fujiwara is always near the sharp end on a 600.

Honda Althea: Formerly Italia Megabike, Althea is definitely the next best Honda team. Tommy Hill moves up from British Superbike where he had the speed but not the equipment, and often pushed too hard as a result. Joining him is WSS staple and former Ducati man Gianluca Nannelli. They'll be looking for podiums and the occasional win.

Others that might figure include Parkalgar Honda's Craig Jones, Intermoto Czech's Mathieu Lagrive, Stiggy Motors' Josh Brookes and Robin Harms, and the exciting return of Garry McCoy who will be on a Triumph 675.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Weekend Menu - Week 8

Yay, V8 Supercars and World Superbike are back!

  • Adelaide, Australia: V8 Supercars Clipsal 500 and Fujitsu Series
  • Losail, Qatar: World Superbike and World Supersport
  • California Speedway, CA: NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series and Craftsman Trucks
  • Bournemouth, England: Sunseeker Rally (MSA Gravel Rally Championship)
  • Durban, South Africa: A1GP
  • Salem, MO: Rally of the 100 Acre Wood (Rally America Championship)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

World Superbike Preview

What a weekend we have ahead of us, as both World Superbike and V8 Supercars return to action. Today I'm going to take a quick look at what the former has in store for 2008.

Championship changes
Corona have departed as title sponsor, replaced by the Taiwanese LCD manufacturer HANNspree. I've never been particularly comfortable with a championship sponsor also being the main sponsor of a competing team (in this case Ten Kate Honda), so I'm a bit disappointed that series organizers the Flammini brothers weren't able to find someone else. Alas, you have to take what you can get when it comes to racing sponsorship these days, so we'll just let it slide. Incidentally, HANNspree will also be sponsoring Ten Kate's World Supersport effort, Althea Honda's WSBK and WSS teams (previously known as Italia Megabike) and Stiggy Motors in WSS. Talk about focussing your marketing dollars....

The other big change for WSBK is the return to the USA, with a round at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah at the end of May. Sadly, the AMA guys will be competing on a different configuration of the track so there will be no comparison of lap times, but it's terrific news that the US is once again on the schedule. I've bought my plane tickets, and am prepared to put up with 3% beer for a weekend if it means watching WSBK again!

Other noteworthy calendar items: the unfinished Parkalgar circuit in Portugal will host the final round of the championship (if it's finished in time). It is said to be a spectacular facility, so fingers are crossed. Also joining the calendar is Sentul in Indonesia, a circuit whose safety I have to question, and the Nurburgring in Germany which replaces the Lausitzring.

All in all, a nice full, diverse calendar. Well done Mr. and Mr. Flammini!


Ducati Xerox Team:
Without a doubt, Troy Bayliss has to be favourite to take a final championship before he retires. The new bike has been quick, and is developed enough to be reliable too. A question mark will remain over his new team-mate Michael Fabrizio. The young Italian has shown flashes of great speed but has been hampered by poor machinery wherever he has gone in his career. It's now time for him to show his true potential, which I'm guessing will be tail-end of the top ten.

HANNspree Ten Kate Honda: Last year's championship-winners roll into 2008 with an all-new rider line-up, all of whom come from other championships. The team's success will therefore rest on how fast each rider comes to grips with the new bikes and new circuits. The main guy will probably be British Superbike ace Ryuichi Kiyonari, a man whose talent is never in question. However, I've seen him make some blunders in the past and he has a tendency to run a bit hot and cold sometimes. Behind Kiyo will be Carlos Checa. Will we see another Alex Barros-like rejuvenation, in which Carlos rediscovers his love of racing and returns to being a contender? It's distinctly possible. In his favour is the fact that only four of the tracks are those that WSBK has been to before which MotoGP hasn't. The rider on the team who knows the tracks best will be Kenan Sofuoglu, who took the World Supersport championship last year. The latest Ten Kate WSS grad to step up, will he be a Chris Vermuelen or a Karl Muggeridge? I think if he can hover around 7th or 8th and pick up the occasional podium, the team will be happy and will look for him to be a contender in 2009 or 2010.

Yamaha Motor Italia:
No changes to the main Yamaha team, except in the engine department, which sees the arrival of the variable length inlet tract that is standard on the road bike and has been run by the US factory team in AMA. Their bikes were underdeveloped so it was hard to tell if the fancy intake made a difference or not. Even if nothing else changes, Nori Haga will always be a threat, and although Troy Corser seems to be past his best, he should still figure in the top six most weekends.

Team Suzuki Alstare: In addition to pulling their championship sponsorship, Corona also quit the Alstare team, who revealed their new sponsors this week. You have to wonder if they've been making budget cuts with the loss of Corona, and if so what effect that will have on the team. Yukio Kagayama, like Troy Corser, is typical top six material and usually has a mid-season purple patch, so expect a win or two from him. Many people have predicted new recruit Max Neukirchner to be championship material and with his first season on a race-winning bike, we'll find out. I share the opinion that he's a dark horse. The other new rider is Fonsi Nieto, a man who has built a career on his last name, not his riding skill. I'm guessing that this will probably be his last season in anyone's favour and he should end up on satellite machinery in 2009.

Sterilgarda Go Eleven: Top Ducati privateers, Sterilgarda boasts the most mercurial and fan-favourite line-up with bin-it-or-win-it specialist Ruben "Spiderman" Xaus and the remarkable Max Biaggi. There's no doubt that Max should be on a faster bike this year, but he once again played the silly season game badly. In testing the satellite Ducati has been on pace with the factory bike (not surprising given that they are identical in spec) so if development of the bike either stays static or the team get new parts when the factory does, Max can challenge for the title. Xaus is too inconsistent, but is an asset to the championship for his exciting style and occasional wins.

Worth Watching

PSG-1 Kawasaki:
Let's face it: Kawasaki are not that good at building racebikes. Their lack of results in MotoGP and World Superbike demonstrates this, and it's only in the AMA's Supersport category that they've had any degree of success. Although the ZX-10 is new (again) can anyone reasonably expect a leap forward into contender territory. What is exciting here though is the arrival of MotoGP winner Makoto Tamada, who first made a name for himself winning WSBK races in Japan as a wild card. I think we'll see some promise from the Japanese this year, and perhaps he'll find himself on a competitive bike in 2009. As for his team-mate... yawn.

DFXtreme Racing: With an all-Aussie line-up this year, the plucky Italian team might be in the scraps near the front occasionally. Perennial Superbike under-achiever Karl Muggeridge steps up from the hopeless Alto Evolution team and hopes to save his career. Team-mate Russell Holland will sink or swim. He's got good results in Aussie Superbike behind him.

Paul Bird Motorsport: Coming from British Superbike, these guys have great pedigree, two wild-card wins in WSBK with Shakey Byrne in 2003 and a terrific rider in Gregorio Lavilla. Teams that have moved up from domestic championships have always struggled, except for Renegade who did well on factory equipment in the lame-duck 2004 season. As soon as they lost machinery advantage they were awful, with a 2005 to forget. Perhaps the shrewd leadership of Bird and the massive talent of Greg will be enough.

HANNspree Althea Honda: This is the team that was Italia Megabike in WSS and now steps up to the big time with former Ten Kate man Roberto Rolfo. Roby's jump to a front-running team last year was a disappointment as his team-mate won the title, so perhaps a reduction in expectation and pressure will allow him to ride with more vigor and less restraint. He is certainly a talented rider.

RG Team:
A former Italian Superstock team, this is a major step for them. It's also the new home for Dr. Evil-alike Lorenzo Lanzi, who had a terrifically average couple of years with Ducati's factory team. This year he's back on a satellite bike and has run well in testing, so perhaps he'll win both German races again? My comments about Rolfo apply equally to Lanzi.


GMT94 Yamaha: Coming out of the endurance racing world, Seb Gimbert and David Checa both return to WSBK. This is a good team with pretty good riders, but I see them struggling in their first year. Look for results from them at the end of the year or into 2009.

Team Pedercini: They're always there, but in 2008 they switch from costly Ducatis with 400km rebuilds to Kawasakis. Yes, the slowest of the Japanese bikes. Pedercini, take your usual place in the high-teens or low-twenties.

Alto Evolution Honda: Sergio Bertocchi, former owner of this team, is still in litigation, whilst the team struggles to improve upon their position. The one bright spot for them is the arrival of Japanese 250cc ace Shuhei Aoyama, although I have to question his wisdom in taking this particular ride.

So there you have it. Whichever way you look at things, WSBK continues to go from strength to strength. Last season it provided way more entertainment than MotoGP, and it's distinctly possible we'll see the same thing again in 2008. The changes are all interesting and have certainly done nothing to detract from the spectacle, so I hope you enjoy it as much as I plan to.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The road course / NASCAR crossover trend

Is this a good thing for racing? I'm still trying to decide whether it's okay that road course racing genres losing their drivers to NASCAR is something I support. During NASCAR's Daytona Speedweek Juan Montoya, Dario Franchitti, Robby Gordon, AJ Allmendinger, Jacques Villeneuve, Patrick Carpentier, Boris Said, Marcos Ambrose, Andy Lally and Colin Braun all have raced in one of the three categories.

On the one hand it could be argued that this crossing of lines signifies that NASCAR is not really so different to any other form of racing, and if that's true then it may only be a matter of time before the wealth (TV time, sponsorship and media coverage) is shared more evenly with other championships.

But you could also say that it's an admission that NASCAR is really the biggest, most important form of racing on the planet.

On the flipside, it's nice to see NASCAR's top stars in the Daytona 24 Hours. It's a shame that NASCAR's schedule is so full, otherwise we might have some hope of seeing more such appearances. I'd love to see Jimmie Johnson in a Corvette at Le Mans!

Anyway, with all these interesting road-course refugees, I'm certainly paying more attention than I otherwise would. Having said that, when faced with spending the afternoon drinking beer in the sunshine with friends at San Francisco's legendary Zeitgeist or watching the Daytona 500, I'm going to skip the couch/TV option. Had Boris Said or Patrick Carpentier made the big show, the decision would have been more difficult...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Weekend Menu - Week 7

It's the return of the Midweek Menu. This weekend:

  • Daytona Speedway, FL: NASCAR Sprint Cup (Daytona 500), Nationwide Series, Craftsman Trucks, and on Thursday the two Gatorade Duels to determine grid position for the 500
  • Sentul, Indonesia: GP2 Asia and Speedcar
  • Manfeild Autocourse, New Zealand: NZV8s
The Gatorade Duels are always worth a watch, and NASCAR is once again making all its online goodies (including that cool 3D virtual race view thingie) available for free.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The M3 returns!

Yesterday's announcement of BMW returning to the ALMS with the M3 is possibly the best racing news I've heard this year. I'm a huge fan of the iconic M-car, having always lusted after an original E30 since I was a teenager. I would still love one, but these days they're firmly in "classic" territory e.g. slow for the price, difficult to find parts for and starting to need significant TLC from their owners just to stay on the road.

The E36 is getting very affordable these days and I also hold it dear since it's the first M-car I ever drove. The smooth, turbine-like rush of power is a party trick I don't think you can tire of.

Moving onto the E46, the car got bigger, faster and much more expensive, going for more than $60,000 when it first came out in 2001. Thankfully depreciation has now put it within reach of my own non-profit derived income and next month I'm going to test-drive one or two, something I'm very much looking forward to.

And finally today's E92 M3, which brings the concept bang up to date. It's received the usual raft of rave reviews but a return to racing has to be its most significant characteristic.

Racing was the very raison d'etre of the M3: a desire to race in the European Touring Car Championship demanded a number of big changes to the standard 3-series platform, resulting in a car different enough that BMW needed to homologate a new model. This dispatched thousands of street-legal M3s onto the roads of Europe and a legend was born. Meanwhile on the track M3s won touring car championships in Italy, Germany, the UK and Australia as well as European and World titles, and even made an impression in tarmac rallying.

The E36 never had a significant presence in racing, so it wasn't until 2001 that a factory-backed M3 was raced again. By now, the car had grown in size and performance enough (and rules packages evolved away from the M3 platform) that it found a new home in sportscar racing. BMW developed a V8-engined version of the standard 6-cylinder car and named it the M3GTR. In 2001 it was the car to beat in its class in the ALMS, but it was only through taking advantage of a rules loophole. That was closed before the 2002 season and BMW, facing potentially crippling weight penalties, pulled out of the ALMS. Their presence there was predicated on some questionable rules interpretation and I always thought an 8-cylinder M3, a car not available for purchase, was a bit unfair. It was damn exciting to watch though!

Happily the magnificent GTRs lived on in the hands of Schnitzer Motorsport, winning the Nurburgring 24 Hours in 2004 and 2005. Meanwhile, PTG chose to run 6-cylinder M3s for one more year, and then again in 2006.

Given the somewhat abortive ALMS campaign in 2001, it could be argued that the M3's return to the ALMS later this year, in the hands of Bobby Rahal's team, is the first proper factory-backed effort for a production-derived M3 since the days of the E30.

And that's why this is such exciting news...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

IRL wins

Let's not beat around the bush: IRL wins, ChampCar loses.

The IRL has:

  • A car count of 18, the majority of which look like solid, dependable entries
  • A TV package on ESPN2 and ABC that it is not paying for out of pocket
  • American drivers, some of whom have legitimate star power, like a young Andretti and a hot chick who doesn't win but brings in the crowds
  • The Indy 500
  • A pretty diverse calendar that includes five road courses and a trip to Japan
  • Close racing
  • Great teams such as Penske, Andretti-Green and Ganassi
  • Most importantly of all, momentum
ChampCar has:
  • Two truly marquee events at Long Beach and Surfers Paradise, both of which are upstaged by supposed "support" races (ALMS and V8 Supercars respectively)
  • One powerhouse team, Newman-Haas-Lanigan
  • Series owners with deep pockets
  • Road-course credibility
There's no doubt that if ChampCar failed, some or most of its teams would move over to the IRL, as would the Long Beach Grand Prix (Surfers is looking at A1GP and may not be interested in IRL). Promoters of other ChampCar events would also be looking at the IRL and some would end up coming to a deal, probably increasing the proportion of road courses in the championship. Road America, Laguna Seca, Toronto and Cleveland would all be good candidates for an IRL event, whilst the European swing would fade away.

What would we be left with? An American open-wheel series featuring the Indy 500 and a 50/50 split of road courses and ovals, featuring some of the top US racing teams and a healthy mix of American and international drivers racing at well-attended events being broadcast via a decent TV package. Is it 1995 again?

So please, please, please, ChampCar, just fucking die already...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Aussie V8s' silly season a microcosm of racing economics

Like it or not, the bulk of silly season activity in any genre of sport is driven by the sponsors that drivers and riders bring. If you have good backing, you'll have a decent chance of a sideways move at worst and an upwards one at best.

Beyond all this though is the fact that those at the very top of their sport don't have to deal with that kind of unsavoury activity and make moves based on income, ambition and promise of success. British Superbike is a perfect example: the plum rides have gone to those riders who have either shown incredible promise (Tom Sykes, Cal Crutchlow, Leon Camier etc.) or those with a proven track record like Shakey Byrne. You don't start to get into riders who bring backing until about 10 spots down the grid.

All of which makes the V8 Supercar silly season seem somewhat weird. Of the 12 places on the top 6 teams, three were open for change. The factory Holden Racing Team let go of Todd Kelly, who had had a bit of a lacklustre year, and managed to woo '07 champ Garth Tander away from the HSV Dealer Team, an outfit that was supposed to be the second best Holden team but has somewhat led the way lately. Along with Tander came some of the top staff of HSVDT and their primary sponsor, Toll. This left HSVDT in a bit of a pickle. They needed a sponsor and a driver, so what could be better than a driver that brings a sponsor? Enter Paul Dumbrell, an average talent, along with Autobarn, the Australian equivalent of Kragen or Schucks.

Over in the Ford camp, Stone Brothers Racing were at the end of the road with 2005 champ Russell Ingall. In his place they brought in talented young Kiwi Shane Van Gisbergen. No connection between Van Gis' contract with SP Tools, and the fact SP Tools is title sponsor of that car now...

This left poor old Ingall out in the cold. You would think a recent series champ would get a drive based on his own merit, but it took an alliance between him and sponsor Supercheap Auto to sort out a ride. Supercheap were leaving the PWR team, who were breaking up into small pieces, and latched onto Ingall in order to put together a package with midfield outfit Paul Morris Motorsport. If Ingall hadn't thrown his hat in with SCA, he'd be looking for work as a racing instructor at Queensland Raceway in 2008...

At the tail end of the field, where all drivers must bring cash, the song remained the same. A man who's had a mediocre career in anything he's driven, Marcus Marshall, brings his family's No Limits money and sponsorship to the struggling Britek team. Four guys who do well in the Fujitsu V8 support class but who now bring their backing to main series teams are Tony D'Alberto, Kayne Scott, Andrew Thompson and Fabian Coulthard. Their financial means are clear, given the quality of equipment they've secured in the Fujitsu series, with D'Alberto in particular getting his hands on ex-championship winning chassis.

Perhaps the most bizarre pay-to-play example in V8s is Michael Caruso, who came second in the Fujitsu championship last year. He's been hired by Garry Rogers Motorsport, who are typically top-ten material. Ordinarily you'd expect a team like that to go for pure talent - in this case they've gone for someone with slight potential but decent money. Another shrewd move by the eternally shrewd Garry Rogers?

The economics of racing is a fascinating topic, and I hope that one day someone gets around to writing a proper book on the topic. Surely there are plenty of smart drivers who have run out of backing, looking to put their experiences down on paper? I remember running into Morgan Davies, a friend of a fellow rallyist, at a rally in Southern California. Morgan had been running very successfully in single-seaters but even so his stories of trying to secure backing made my eyes water. In desperation, he had turned to the ARCA series, since he claimed it easier to find sponsors for stock car racing. Of course the costs were higher too. A check of his website reveals no recent news so perhaps that strategy didn't pan out.

Monday, February 04, 2008

2008 Predictions

Now that we've looked back at my 2007 predictions, it's time for the 2008 version. In order to improve my terrible results, I'll be posting three predictions for each series. The first pick is the logical pick, whereby past performance, testing and other info indicate this is the best bet. The second pick is the person who has a chance and whose win would go against prevailing expectations. The third pick is simply the person who I favor.

Formula 1
Logic: Lewis Hamilton. Alternative: Fernando Alonso. I cheer for: Lewis Hamilton.
The young lad came so close last year, and there doesn't seem to be any indication that he'll be at a machinery disadvantage.

Logic: Casey Stoner. Alternative: Nicky Hayden. I cheer for: John Hopkins.
Stoner's incredible testing lap of Phillip Island today doesn't indicate any decrease in performance, but Hayden has made good progress with the Honda. Hopkins continues to be the fastest guy who hasn't yet won, mainly because he hasn't yet been on a top bike.

Logic: Seb Loeb. Alternative: Mikko Hirvonen. I cheer for: Mikko Hirvonen.
There's no doubt these two are the class of the field. There's a small chance Mikko could do it, but it would be truly against the odds, despite him being better than any other rally driver except for one...

World Superbike:
Logic: Troy Bayliss. Alternative: Nori Haga. I cheer for: Nori Haga.
The new Ducati has looked just as fast as the old one and will only get better. Bayliss already loves it. But Nori is clearly up to the task and on a bike that he's comfortable with but that has also picked up some extra speed in the off-season.

AMA Superbike:
Logic: Ben Spies. Alternative: Neil Hodgson. I cheer for: Eric Bostrom.
This will be Spies' last year before he heads for MotoGP and I don't see any other team catching up just yet, or Mat Mladin getting the title back. The dark horse is the new Honda though, and Hodgson is a fighter.

Logic: Jeff Gordon. Alternative: Tony Stewart. I cheer for: Dario Franchitti.
It's a toss-up between Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, but if Smoke can get that new Toyota working well it would be nice to see him challenge. I'll be cheering Scot-Italian Good 'Ole Boy Dario.

V8 Supercars:
Logic: Jamie Whincup. Alternative: James Courtney. I cheer for: Greg Murphy.
Whincup came so close in '07, and with Garth Tander at a new team I have to pick Whincup. An interesting contender is James Courtney who continues to improve and impress.

British Superbike:
Logic: Leon Haslam. Alternative: Leon Camier. I cheer for: Shakey Byrne.
This is the first year Haslam doesn't have to deal with Kiyonari or Lavilla, and he'll be on the best bike in the paddock to boot. Having said that, the Ducati could go well, and I'd pick Camier as the faster of the two GSE riders. Doesn't stop me cheering for Shakey!

Logic: Dan Wheldon. Alternative: Helio Castroneves. I cheer for: Dan Wheldon.
This could be quite a tight series and might be worth watching. I don't see any one driver as having a shoe-in spot as winner.

British Touring Cars:
Logic: Fabrizio Giovanardi. Alternative: Jason Plato. I cheer for: Darren Turner.
Like IRL, this one is wide-open, with any of about six drivers with the talent and machinery to win.

Le Mans:
We don't know the entry list yet, but who wants to bet against Audi? Peugeot would be the obvious alternative, whilst Pescarolo deserve the win. GT1 will again be Aston vs Corvette and I see Corvette getting revenge this time. GT2 is always an excuse to cheer for the Flying Lizards.

Despite a weight gain, Penske will once again push Audi all the way, but I'd expect more of a fight this time. I'll go out on a limb and say Acura will win one race overall.

I'll say only one thing: The Nissan GT-R is back. It doesn't matter what happens, it's just great to see a GT-R racing again.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Getting ready for predictions

This time last year I threw out some predictions, which I plan on doing again. Before that though, let's see how well I did:

Predicted: Dani Pedrosa. Actual winner: Casey Stoner. I wasn't far off, since Pedrosa took second, however he was very far behind Stoner and was never really a contender, given the slow pace of development of the Honda RC212V.

Predicted: Marcus Gronholm. Actual winner: Seb Loeb. This one was very close, and if it hadn't been for Marcus' error in Ireland, I would have been right. In reality I had expected Seb to do it, but went for the more nostalgic choice, given Marcus' imminent retirement.

Predicted: Kimi Raikkonen. Actual winner: Kimi Raikonnen. I was one of the few who got this right, but once again it was a close run thing. The prediction was based on a belief that Alonso would struggle in the McLaren, and I never even considered Lewis. Still, a win is a win!

World Superbike:
Predicted: Noriyuki Haga. Actual winner: James Toseland. I honestly expected Troy Bayliss to win, but the cantankerous old 999 proved too much. Picking Haga was another example of the heart ruling the head, since who doesn't want to see Nitro win just once?

AMA Superbike:
Predicted: Eric Bostrom. Actual winner: Ben Spies. I thought the Yamaha would be so much better than it was.

British Touring Cars:
Predicted: Jason Plato. Actual winner: Fabrizio Giovanardi. A fair pick on my part in a competitive championship.

Champ Car:
Predicted: Justin Wilson. Actual winner: Sebastien Bourdais. SeaBass and his team were just too good, but the series is so messed up it's almost pointless to think about it...

World Touring Cars:
Predicted: Jorg Muller. Actual winner: Andy Priaulx. Jorg was never in with a shout, but five drivers still had a chance going to the final round. Predicting the WTCC is perhaps harder than climbing a greased pole.

Predicted: Gary Paffett (if he gets an '07 car). Actual winner: Mattias Ekstrom. Paffett never got the current-spec car and so was never in with a shout. The fact that Bruno Spengler, in an '07 Merc, did have the right equipment and came 2nd says a lot about what Paffett might have achieved.

V8 Supercars:
Predicted: Mark Skaife. Actual winner: Garth Tander. Skaife's strong finish to '06 hinted at big things in '07, but his Holden Racing Team was once again upstaged by Tander's HSV team. The fact that HRT has basically stolen all the successful elements of HSV for '08 says a lot about their strength.

British Superbike:
Predicted: Chris Walker. Actual winner: Ryuichi Kiyonari. I SO wanted The Stalker to do well, but he had a terrible year. Once again, I went for the emotive choice. Is he past his prime?

Predicted: Helio Castroneves. Actual winner: Dario Franchitti. After a promising start, Helio never looked that good and nor did his team-mate. Not the best year for Penske in the IRL.

Predicted: Kevon Harvick. Actual winner: Jimmie Johnson. Although I think Harvick is perhaps one of the top three most talented stock car drivers out there, his team struggled to get to grips with the Car of Tomorrow (Today? Yesterday?). Had he been in a Hendrick car, Johnson might have had an extra rival.

Le Mans:
Predicted: Audi, RML, Aston Martin and Scuderia Ecosse. Actual: Audi, Binnie, Aston Martin and IMSA Performance. So I got two right, not bad I think.

Predicted: Audi, Dyson, Corvette and Flying Lizard. Actual: Audi, Penske, Corvette and Risi Competizione. Once again, two right, but I never would have predicted the strength of Penske.

So I got 6 out of 21 correct. That's pretty bad for a supposed "expert". Fact is, I tended towards choices that reflected who I wanted to win, not who I thought would win. So for 2008, we'll have two sets of predictions, those of the head, and those of the heart. Stay tuned.