That Was the Year that Was…..

As the year is just about to be indexed in to the great ann(u)als of our time, it threw up a great tapestry of memories for me as I sit here gazing in to a log-fire nursing a bottle of Cotes Du Beaune.

First the stats. I visited 24 circuits in 2014, 6 of them new to me, which in turn ratchets up my total number of race circuits visited to 68. I saw one 24 hours race, 6 x 6 Hour races and 5 x 4 hour races. I also saw my first ever all-electric race too.

Amid the new there was also the old, as I reported on three rounds of the often maligned but oddly engrossing Auto GP series. It was a season of real contrasts and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m not one of these people who always say I am lucky to be doing what I do. The reason being is that this is my profession and not a hobby. Yes I love it and in that sense I am fortunate but I prefer to quietly mouth the words ‘you lucky sod’ under my breath when the time is right rather than offer up the usual faux-modesty. Believe me there are many, many times when you feel like mouthing the exact opposite. Anyone who denies this is frankly lying.

As ever, what makes the job for me are the people. The cars are great; brilliant, complicated, extreme and often hard to understand. You can use the same four adjectives to describe some of the fascinating people in motorsport too and that is exactly why it is so captivating to me.

There are many highlights but seven that I especially enjoyed are noted here.

Lotterer at Le Mans

His mighty early morning quadruple stint had to be seen to be believed. A different level entirely. Most of what he achieved that early morning in has been well documented. What I remember vividly is seeing a 3m22.567s on the timing screens, turning to my colleague Gary Watkins and mouthing an expletive before rolling my eyes. At about the same time Gary did something similar. It was an astonishing canvas that Lotterer was painting. It ultimately won himself and his team mates, Benoît Tréluyerand Marcel Fässler, a third Le Mans 24 Hours. I will never forget it.

The Quick Man - Photo by Skippy
The Quick Man – Photo by Skippy

Tinckell at Silverstone, Le Mans, Red Bull Ring, Estoril……..etc,etc……!

Harry Tincknell? Harry Tincknell? Some bloke who was ok in F3 and won a few races but didn’t blow the world away! This was my unconscious opinion of H.Tincknell as we rocked up to the Paul Ricard ELMS test at the end of March.

I, like many, felt the need to almost apologise to one H.Tincknell at seasons end. The main reason was that he simply crushed his immediate competition in 2014 and was, by a long way, the most exciting British sportscar rookie to emerge in years.

His qualifying lap at Silverstone was an early marker. 1.152s faster than everyone, including Karun Chandhok, Christian Klien, Franck Mailleux, Tristan Gommendy and Nelson Panciatici. These were ex-champions, ex-F1 drivers and established LMP2 stars. They were being vanquished.

I was fortunate enough to witness first hand Tincknell’s first laps in an LMP1 car at a secret Misano test in August with Audi Sport Team Joest. He had very few laps but the ones he did complete were good. But what was more impressive was the way he conducted himself around some big names; Dr Ulrich, Marcel Fassler, Leena Gade.

Harry T with Leena Gade at Misano in August - Photo by Sniffer
Harry T with Leena Gade at Misano in August – Photo by Sniffer

I have a feeling that Tincknell will be a big shot in the FIA WEC in 2016 after another year with Jota Sport in the ELMS and aiming for a Le Mans LMP2 double. It will be fascinating to see which manufacturers ‘twist’ first on his services.

Emmo at Interlagos

This one is complicated and hard to go in to detail but I will let you join the dots!

As we all know, the great double World Champion and Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi returned to the cockpit at Interlagos at the end of November.

Thanks to Dailysportscar.com editor, Graham Goodwin, I was in the possession of the recent book on Emmo – ‘A Racers Soul’ ghost written by current McLaren F1 Comms Manager, Matt Bishop. A perfect Christmas present for my father, who witnessed many of the great man’s races in the 1970s.

Two of the greats. Emmo and Tommy K on the Interlagos grid - Photo by Sniffer
Two of the greats. Emmo and Tommy K on the Interlagos grid – Photo by Sniffer

However, some complicated circumstances necessitated me conducting an elaborate and covert operation to get the ‘be-sideburned ones’ signature on the inside cover.

I had to strike swiftly and chose my time perfectly on Sunday morning as he enjoyed a coffee at the back of the AF Corse pit. However, hawks were circling outside and if ever there were a time I did not want small talk with a hero, it was now.

“So how old is Papa Smeefff….”

“Well, he is just a bit younger than yourself Emerson and……and…….I appreciate the signature…..bye….bye….thanks!”

I exited stage left….then right and then down the middle, almost taking out a stack of tyres as did so before squirrelling the bounty back in to my suitcase in the palatial Interlagos press office.

Emerson must have thought I was a little odd, but little did he know my need to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. I do so hope that I meet him again, although many of my FIA WEC colleagues may not share this opinion!

Giacomelli at Monza

Staggering out of the Monza press room after filing an exhaustive 300 words for Autosport.com for the Auto GP race on the last day of May, my mind was focused on nothing more than the litre of Chianti Rufina that Enzo Coloni was protectively nesting for me at the paddock hospitality.

Then to my left I noticed a squat man who was stood talking, quite animatedly, to a few others. It was racing talk because the latin gesticulations were in freestyle, freeform and the volume was rising in synch.

Ahh Bruno! It was indeed Signor Giacomelli and he was talking to former F2 journeyman racer Alberto Colombo, who remarkably had exactly the same hairstyle as he had 35 year ago!

Ciao Bruno! Ciao Alberto! - Photo by Sniffer
Ciao Bruno! Ciao Alberto! – Photo by Sniffer

We chatted for an hour from paddock to car park and it was enthralling. Among the topics were his favourite racing car and you can read his rationale behind choosing the great Lotus 72 in this publication which I was delighted to contribute to in 2014 – http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/magazine/from-the-editor/great-racing-cars/

Buemi at Austin

Agog! We were agog at the Swiss as he destroyed everyone for the first 35mins at COTA. Utterly sublime, Buemi was by far the benchmark in the FIA WEC this season at in Texas he reached his zenith. I’m not sure there are many more superlatives to use here really. You had to see it to believe it! He even spun and still handed over a big chuck of a lead to Ant Davidson. A mesmerising display, bordering on the paranormal.

Mesmerising pace from Sebastien Buemi - Photo by Skippy
Mesmerising pace from Sebastien Buemi – Photo by Skippy

Da Costa at Punta Del Este

Ever wondered what a Daddy Long Legs on Speed would look like driving a single seater racing car? Well, Antonio Felix Da Costa was as close as I have ever seen to this feverish sight at December’s Punta Del Este E-Prix, my first taste of FIA Formula E.

Now, of course I am not pertaining that the talented young Portuguese was high on anything other than raw reflex skill in his free practice session but the way he was hustling his recalcitrant Amlin Aguri Spark-Renault around the sinuous street circuit had me, at ground level just a few feet from the wall, in complete wonder.

A great place to end the season, Punta Del Este - Photo by Sniffer
A great place to end the season, Punta Del Este – Photo by Sniffer

The Formula E season is three races down now. You can read my impression of it right here – http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/formula-e/formula-e-seeing-and-hearing-is-believing/

Berger on Imola 89

You can read the full account here http://www.sniffermedia.com/blog/2014/04/03/imola-1989-the-full-remarkable-story/ but in March I spent thirty minutes on the phone to one of my favourite drivers and characters from my youth – Gerhard Berger. He was a real gentleman and erudite in describing his horrendous incident at Tamburello in 1989.

Berger's charred helmet - Photo with thanks to Gerhard Berger
Berger’s charred helmet – Photo with thanks to Gerhard Berger

What I wasn’t prepared for was his memories from a test later on that spring in ‘89, at the same venue, when he and his soon to be team mate, Ayrton Senna, went to the corner to see what could be done about the run-off.

Gerhard’s words were haunting and lingered movingly. The man went through the most gut-wrenchingly awful weekends in racing history five years after his own brush with death at Tamburello. His words, many of which I chose not to publish, will stay with me forever.

Sobering and Not So Sobering….!

Then there was the moment where I and many others froze, as the shattered image of Loïc Duval’s Audi R18 e-tron quattro flashed on to the screens after just an hours practice running at Le Mans back in June. The scene was ghastly and thankfully swiftly cut by the director. That horrible eerie silence descended over the whole circuit. Thankfully it was soon punctuated by the news that Loïc, a day before his 32nd birthday, had escaped serious injury. The collective exhalation in the press room was palpable.

From sobering high drama to the opposite end of the spectrum now. As the FIA WEC post-season party in downtown Sao Paulo got in to full swing, I somehow decided it would be a good idea to challenge recently crowned LMP champion Sergey Zlobin to an arm-wrestle (after four or five Caiprinha’s anything goes with me apparently!). The result, as if it were ever in doubt, is captured lovingly by John Dagys of www.sportscar365.com

Sniffer v Zlobin – http://instagram.com/p/wFmTO2ziE0/

Of course being on the road you do get to see a fair few off the record moments. Perhaps my favourite from this year occurred in a Shanghai hotel when two FIA WEC drivers decided to ride bicycles in to a 16 story lift. There was a shunt and there were grazes. At breakfast the next morning there was also copious mirth at their tales of daring-do. Thankfully there is no grainy smart-phone footage of this one!

You can follow all our adventures in 2015 at www.twitter.com/sniffermedia

Happy New Year!

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