World champion Ott Tanak crashed out of the Monte Carlo Rally on Friday when he flew off the road on a mountainside in the Alps in the fourth stage.
The Estonian and his co-driver and compatriot Martin Jarveoja escaped unharmed but their Hyundai was badly damaged.
Tanak went off the road at high speed. The car’s nose dipped and hit the ground bouncing the vehicle into the air. It spun through a tree before landing on the mountain side. The two Estonians quickly climbed out of the car unscathed.
“They’re fine,” said Hyundai team manager Andrea Adamo.
“I don’t know what happened. You saw what I saw, I’m waiting for him to come back but I was mostly concerned about his physical health.”
Tanak, 32, has never won the Monte Carlo Rally. He was in fourth place overall when he crashed.
His teammate Thierry Neuville was leading going into the stage from Saint-Clement-sur-Durance to Freissinieres but finished third, ceding the overall lead to Welshman Elfyn Evans in a Toyota who also won Friday’s opening stage.
“I was slowed down so much in that section,” Neuville, a Belgian, said.
“I knew there was something when I saw Ott’s lines, so I lost quite a lot of time.”
Frenchman Sebastian Ogier, in a Toyota, was second on the stage and is third overall, 5.5 sec behind Evans and 2.1 sec behind Neuville.
“I hope Ott is okay,” Ogier said.
“It was a very fast section where he went off with a big compression.”
The temperature was below freezing overnight and while there is not a lot of snow on the roads, patches of ice have made the route difficult since the start on Thursday evening.
Several drivers have already been forced to retire after going off the road, including Britain’s Gus Greensmith (M-Sport Ford).
Taking victory in an IndyCar iRacing Challenge race only enhanced Scott McLaughlin’s standing among his peers, but the race itself required the Supercars champion to take an unconventional route to victory.
That meant setting an alarm barely a snooze after midnight in the wee hours of Sunday morning, before logging on at 4:00am ahead of the day’s action.
While his North American rivals cozied up in the mid afternoon Stateside, Brisbane-based McLaughlin was perhaps the only person awake in his suburb.
“A strong coffee, some toast, and juice followed. A few stretches to wake up and I was set to jet.
“Qualifying was OK but I was a touch disappointed with eighth fastest. It would make the early going tough from the fourth row.
“The gap before the race was a challenge. I was trying my best not to fall asleep… can you imagine if I missed the start of the race because I nodded off?”
McLaughlin’s IndyCar win
While an online race, where real-life consequences are far from what the real thing presents, IndyCar has taken the virtual championship – which McLaughlin now leads after two races – very seriously.
NBC put on a proper broadcast, commentators and all – and that has set a blueprint for Supercars to follow when its BP Supercars All Stars Eseries commences on Wednesday.
For McLaughlin, who had already impressed the IndyCar fraternity at a Circuit of the Americas test, backing up his performance in the virtual race
“We recorded a Balls and Bumpers podcast on Friday and I told my mates Jack Riewoldt and Tim Hodges how confident I was… in fact, I boldly told them I would win,” he explained.
“We had put the hard work in, we had a good strategy, and I have been working so hard on my simulator to be my best.
“As most of you who know me would know, I’m a perfectionist and want to be the best at everything I do. And with a heap of time on my hands of late (don’t we all?) I had spent so much time being as sharp as I could be when we went racing at Barber.”
Racing against the likes of seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, IndyCar champions Power, Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden was “surreal” for McLaughlin. Particularly exciting for the Kiwi was being followed by Johnson on Twitter.
Drivers are being engineered in the virtual product as they would be in the real thing, and McLaughlin was skippered by Penske’s lead engineer Jonathan Diuguid.
The win was one thing, but it perhaps should have come as little surprise considering McLaughlin managed to drag himself to fourth in the Watkins Glen opener despite competing without an engineer.
Still, beating IndyCar’s best – although initially crowned by a trip back to bed – has set McLaughlin up for a crack at the virtual Michigan oval next time out.
“Last week at Watkins Glen I tried to organise the whole race myself – it was too much to remember fuel numbers while I was out there racing. This allowed me just to focus on steering the thing as fast as I could.
“On the last corner I locked a brake which gave me a scare, but it was OK… and just before 6am Brisbane time, I took the chequered flag for the win.
“I was that pumped sitting in my simulator in Brisbane, winning a race in Alabama on the other side of the earth. I celebrated with another glass of juice, did a couple of media commitments, and then went back to bed, still buzzing.
“For those wondering, the rest of my day included a movie on the couch, a walk with Karly and the dog, and a gripping final episode of MAFS.”
Williams and Racing Point became the latest Formula 1 teams to furlough staff due to the coronavirus as their drivers also agreed to take pay cuts on Monday.
Formula 1’s 2020 season has been delayed because of the pandemic and Williams and Racing Point announced their cost-cutting moves a week after McLaren opted to take the same financial measures.
Canadian Nicholas Latifi and Briton George Russell, along with senior Williams executives, have taken a 20 percent pay cut from April 1, with the other staff put on an enforced leave until the end of May.
“Due to the ongoing situation involving COVID-19, ROKiT Williams Racing is temporarily furloughing a number of employees as part of a wider range of cost-cutting measures,” a Williams statement said.
“The furlough period will last until the end of May whilst senior management, and our drivers, have taken a pay cut of 20% effective from 1st April.
“These decisions have not been taken lightly, however our aim is to protect the jobs of our staff at Grove and ensuring they can return to full-time work when the situation allows.”
As well as furloughing some staff, Racing Point drivers Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll, the son of the team’s billionaire owner Lawrence Stroll, will accept a cut in their wages, although the percentage was not specified.
“I can now confirm that some of the team’s staff have been placed on temporary furlough,” a Racing Point spokesperson told AFP.
“Our drivers will also take a voluntary pay cut.”
Whincup wants simulation help
Last month, the UK government said it would pay 80 percent of salaries for staff who are put on furlough by their employer, covering wages up to 2,500 pounds ($3,077, 2,846 euros) per month in a bid to help companies retain their workforce and prevent redundancies during the health crisis.
But the furlough of non-playing staff by wealthy Premier League football clubs has caused huge controversy.
Liverpool and Tottenham are among the top-flight teams to have been criticised for using the government’s money to pay staff when they have owners worth millions and players on huge contracts.
F1 team bosses and the sport’s management were set to meet on Monday to discuss ways to protect the sport as it suffers a loss of income.
Teams are reportedly discussing a reduction of the budget cap, which was already due to come in force in 2021 at $175 million.
In any ordinary year, the MotoGP season would be four races old – but these aren’t ordinary times.
As the early days of April amble away, we are yet to see a wheel turn in anger and it’s anyone’s guess when we will.
To date, six races have been rescheduled or postponed.
The world championship is in a world of hurt.
70 per cent of MotoGP riders are either Italian or Spanish – that figure swells if you include crew – but these age old rivals are now joined in a battle not against each other but against an enemy they cannot see, let alone control.
Better days are ahead, apparently, and when the sun comes out again, so will the bikes.
But it will be different and the riders will need to be ready.
“Even just taking three or four months away in the off-season and coming back to testing, your first laps out of the pit box you go ‘Jesus these things are fast!’” expert Fox Sports commentator and race winner Chris Vermeulen explains.
“It pushes your heart and lungs to the back of your spine and your mind’s not really keeping up with how quick it accelerates and that’s when we were able to ride dirt bikes at home in the break, most of these guys aren’t allowed on anything at the moment, they’re stuck indoors.
“Sure they’re going to be training and cycling and not putting on weight but to get their mind and body physically ready… it could be interesting the first round back, put it that way.”
Then there’s pressure caused by factors other than the physical ones.
A shorter season means less room for mistakes. One crash, and there goes the championship.
And how many races does it take to crown a champion anyway?
Motorcycling governing body the FIM’s regulations stipulate 13 – unlucky for some.
Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta has conceded the number in 2020 may need to be less.
Vermeulen says just one race would suffice if you were the winner but adds more seriously: “Four or five rounds wouldn’t feel like enough to quantify a world champion, maybe seven, eight or nine and you’d start to see a pattern.”
The former factory Suzuki rider also has concerns for the financial implications.
“Motorcycle racing, more so than other motorsport, is funded within the industry itself, the biggest income is manufacturer backing,” Vermeulen explains.
“Right now who is buying a motorbike and who is selling any motorbikes? Where is the money coming from for the manufacturers?
“Then there’s the private teams, how does this affect sponsors and the rider market?
“The majority of private teams and Moto2 and Moto3 teams are sponsored by Italian and Spanish brands.”
Acknowledging the same concerns, Dorna have now guaranteed the ‘economic well-being’ of independent teams by issuing ‘considerable advance payments’ for April, May and June.
While the financial considerations could be unnerving for off-contract Aussies Jack Miller and Remy Gardner, Vermeulen says it could work to the younger rider’s advantage: “If the teams don’t have much money they could go and get riders out of Moto2, guys that aren’t going to cost them much, they could be a lot cheaper than trying to keep some of the big-name MotoGP riders.”
Vermeulen, a self-confessed Scrooge, says riders and engineers should expect to take a pay cut as teams assess how many staff they need to go racing.
He also says a freeze on development could assist to lower costs including running the 2020 bikes again in 2021.
“It wouldn’t change the spectacle would it?”
And he’s right.
For now though, there are more questions than answers as MotoGP, and the world, aims to get back on track.