Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Formula FAMILY

“Racing, competing, it's in my blood…”

Ayrton Senna’s words were a reflection on his magical ability to dispatch an F1 car around a circuit at a level beyond most of his competitors. Yet the mercurial Brazilian’s words could also reflect another motorsport phenomenon. One that has been bought sharply into focus in F1’s close season with the departure of Ralf Schumacher and the arrival of Nelson Piquet Junior. For while motorsport can be a strain on family life with long trips abroad, racing on circuits in some far flung pit paddock of the globe, racing can also be a family affair. There are some well-known examples such as the aforementioned luminaries Senna, Schumacher and Piquet. Across the ‘pond’ legendary surnames synonymous with speed such as Earnhardt, Andretti and Unser reach out with a V8 guttural roar. Rallying takes a sweeping left-hand swipe back with McRae and Solberg. Here is a presentation of some of the fast and furious families, from disciplines such as F1, Indycars, sportscars, touring cars and NASCAR.


Along with the Unser name, Andretti is one of the largest motorsport dynasties. Andretti fortunes are almost completely entwined with Indycars although not solely so. Mario Andretti still outshines the rest of his family, partly by virtue of his successful F1 championship victory in 1978. He remains the last American to win an F1 race. Mario Andretti is the only driver to have won the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500 and the F1 championship. Juan Pablo Montoya is the only other driver to accomplish the feat. Andretti Senior’s other achievements included four Indycar titles and a race-winning career spanning five decades. Michael Andretti endeavoured to follow in the paternal path and won his sole Indycar title in 1991. Michael failed to win an Indy 500 as part of the ‘Andretti Curse’ and his foray into F1 in 1993 failed to ignite in the way his father’s had. Michael does however have the distinction of being the third highest in the all time Indycar championship car racing victories list (42). Only his illustrious father (52) and A.J.Foyt (67) have more. Michael’s brother Jeff Andretti never recovered from the “Andretti Curse” coined after Mario Andretti’s failure to win more than one Indy 500 in 29 attempts. Jeff, hoping to win in his second Indy 500, crashed violently into a wall after a right rear wheel came off, smashing his legs. He retired two years later. John Andretti, Michael and Jeff’s cousin won only one Indycar victory but his place in history is assured. Along with Mario, Michael, and Jeff, John was part of the first family to have four relatives in the same series and along with Mario and Michael the only family to record a 1,2,3 finish. The feat with John in a Michael (1) and Mario (3) sandwich took place at the Milwaukee Mile in 1991. The Andretti name continues to race with Michael’s Andretti Green Racing team and Michael’s son Marco who races for the team. Marco has one win in two seasons so far. The victory did not come at the Indy 500, with the record for the family being 53 entries and Mario’s sole 1969 victory. The curse lives on.......


As steeped in motorsport tradition as the Andretti family the Unser name started racing back in 1926 when Jerry, Louis and Joe Unser competed in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The relationship would continue for seventy years with Robby Unser, an eight-time winner setting an open wheel division record in 1994 that still stands today. Jerry Unser’s son Al Unser won the Indy 500 four times and holds the record for most laps led in the event with 644, as well as picking up three Champcar titles. Al Unser succeeded his brother Bobby Unser as the oldest winner of the 500. Bobby Unser was not completely overshadowed by his younger brother. He won the Indy 500 three times. Bobby’s son, Robby Unser, has moved on from Pikes Peak glory in pursuit of drifting honours in Formula D. Al and Bobby’s brother, also called Jerry was the first to compete at Indianapolis but died in a practice crash before the 1959 Indy 500. Jerry left behind two sons, one of whom Johnny Unser competed in Indycars without victory and is now Champ Car’s race director. Al Unser’s son Al Unser Junior would go on to come close to emulating his father picking up two Indy 500 victories, two Champcar titles and a Daytona 24 hours. Al Unser Jr, has a son, called, wait for it, Al Unser III, who is currently competing in Indycar feeder series Indy Pro.


As Andretti/Unser is to American open wheel racing so Earnhardt is to NASCAR. The most prolific of the Earnhardt family, Dale Earnhardt, won seven Winston Cup Series, (now Sprint) and is credited as the only man in NASCAR history to win Rookie of the Year and the following season’s Cup. A Daytona 500 winner, Earnhardt tied Richard Petty in the all time Cup Series Champions list. Dale Earnhardt’s combative style earned him many nicknames including ‘The Intimidator’ ‘The Man in Black’ and ‘Darth Vader’. His aggressive racing garnered him a ‘marmite’ reputation-you either loved him or loathed him but Earnhardt could never be ignored. Tragically Earnhardt died after a crash at turn 4 at Daytona in 2001 with his iconic number three being retired. Such was his reputation an outpouring of shock reverberated throughout the sport and beyond. Dale Earnhardt’s father Ralph Earnhardt won the 1956 Sportsman Championship but never finished higher than 17th in the major series. The son of Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Junior has yet to win a Sprint Cup championship but has 17 wins and a 3rd place finish in the series. He continues to race but has left his father’s team Dale Earnhardt Inc. to race for Hendrick Motorsports. Dale Earnhardt Jr’s nephew Jeffrey is currently competing in the Busch Series, following in his father Kerry Earnhardt’s footsteps whose career best finish in the NEXTEL (now sprint) series was 17th at Talladega



Like open wheel racing in America two families more than any other have come to symbolise NASCAR. Dale Earnhardt tied with Richard Petty in terms of Cup Championships but in other respects Petty is Mr NASCAR, with a record 200 race wins and the Daytona 500 seven times. Those were just the highlights of numerous records amassed over a 35 year 1, 184 race career. Richard’s father was put firmly in the shade, despite being no NASCAR no-hoper. In fact, Richard’s father Lee Petty won the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959 and the NASCAR championship three times. Lee Petty and his son are seen as the founder and builder of NASCAR with Lee pioneering the sport and his son’s sterling work off the track paving the way for the multimillion-dollar transformation of a former dirt track sport. Richard Petty’s son Kyle followed the family ‘trade’ but never succeeded in replicating his relatives’ feats finishing a career best 5th in the Cup series consecutively in 1992 and 1993. Still racing in NASCAR his last win was in 1995. Kyle’s son Adam would have been the next Petty to take up the NASCAR mantle but he died in a catastrophic accident in practice for a Busch series race in 2000. Kyle now races the number 45 in his son’s memory.


The Piquet name is about to be unleashed once again on Formula One with Nelson Piquet Junior piloting R28, Renault’s 2008 challenger. Nelsinho has won the South American Formula 3 championship and become the youngest winner of the British Formula 3 championship two years later in 2004. At 19 years and two months he went on to test for the then BMW partnered Williams team. In 2006 he finished runner up to Lewis Hamilton in his second GP2 season. Quite what will happen between Piquet Jr and Fernando Alonso is a mouth-watering subplot to the forthcoming season. Expect one of them to have some Latin style shenanigans. His famous father put the Piquet name into the record books first time around. Nelson Piquet Senior won the F1 World Championship three times in a 13-year career which coincided with that of other greats such as Nike Lauda, Alain Prost, and Ayrton Senna. He also broke Jackie Stewart’s record of most wins in British Formula 3 before his entry into F1. A bad decision to follow Honda to an ailing Lotus team in 1988 for two seasons might have cost Piquet the chance to add more wins and titles to his tally.


Unlike the American dynasties European racing families tend to be smaller and more widespread. A case in point is a ‘Back to the Future’ rerun of the 1980’s clash between Piquet and Rosberg. First time around Piquet won 3 to 1 with Keke Rosberg’s sole Championship victory coming in 1982 with consistent drives. Saddled with uncompetitive machinery and retiring after just eight seasons Rosberg admits he left the sport too soon. His son Nico Rosberg won the inaugural GP2 championship before his step up to F1, currently making it 1 to nil in the young Rosberg’s favour compared to the young Piquet. In addition Rosberg stepped straight into an F1 drive and grabbed fastest lap honours in his first race becoming the youngest driver to do so. Piquet Junior meanwhile had to make do with a year testing at Renault.


If you think I'm good, just wait until you see my nephew Bruno." The Senna name could be on its way back to Formula One possibly as early as 2009. Ayrton’s nephew Bruno, of whom Ayrton held in high regard, has signed for last year’s GP2 champion team iSport. A championship win could see the 24-year-old follow Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Timo Glock straight into an F1 seat. A welcome return to the name which departed F1 in such tragic circumstances. His famous uncle won three F1 titles and an army of fans for his ability to transcend his peers by touching the limit and going beyond it. His win at Donington 1993, in which he passed four cars on the opening lap in the wet, enshrined his legend as unrivalled in such conditions. Ayrton was also the pole king. The number of times he cropped up at the end of qualifying and beat what his rivals had considered unbeatable, requires more than the fingers on both hands.


There are so many ways to describe Colin McRae, the man who arguably more than anybody put the World Rally Championship into focus of the wider public. Enigmatic, focused, speed demon…Colin was also a rare man who became the figurehead for the sport, like MotoGP and Rossi and F1 and Schumacher. When Colin’s 555 liveried Impreza exploded into view with his 1995 WRC championship victory Britain had their first Champion for decades. His success paved the way for a series of games bearing his name, further spreading the word of the World Rally Championship. More than any of these things it was his high-octane ability to place the car exactly on the limit and push that envelope harder than anybody else earned him a legion of fans. In that respect, he was a cross discipline ‘brother’ of Ayrton Senna who also had the same ability to transcend what others thought was possible. Colin’s cheeky humour and imperious control of a rally car will be sadly missed. Colin, a two time British Rally Champion was the son of Jimmy McRae, a five time British Rally Champion, who was eventually eclipsed by his son’s success in the WRC. Colin’s brother Alister also won the British Rally Championship in the same year as his brother’s World title. Alister took Colin’s place in the 2007 Race of Champions after his death. With Johnny McRae, Colin’s son also tragically losing his life in the helicopter crash that took Colin, hopes for the McRae name featuring in the WRC in the future are slim.


Emerson Fittipaldi won two F1 titles, an Indycar Title and the Indy 500 twice in a 26-year career. He was the younger brother of Wilson Fittipaldi Junior who never reached the heights of Emerson though they were the first brothers to compete in the same race and score points in the same race. Wilson’s son Christian Fittipaldi similarly failed to light up F1 but has a Daytona 24 hours title to his name.


Gilles Villeneuve was the archetypal racer’s racer. His epic duel with Rene Arnoux at Dijon in 1979 has gone down in the annals of F1 as one of the all time spectacular classics. Villeneuve simply refused to believe when he was beaten. The catastrophic accident at Zolder robbed the sport of one of its most ardent and gifted drivers. Gilles’son Jacques would go on to win the Indianapolis 500, the F1 title, the Indycar title, one of only three drivers to do so. He may yet go on to add the Daytona 500 and NASCAR Cup to his achievements.


This brother duo first caught the attention of the F1 world when the astute Eddie Jordan picked Michael as a replacement for Bertrand Gachot at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix. Michael, despite only cycling around the track beforehand qualified seventh. His dream debut was thwarted by clutch problems on the opening lap. Typically as ever, the German shrugged off the setback to become the first seven times F1 Champion and breaking almost every record in the F1 stats book. Michael also became noted for his ability to push his car around crucial pit windows and his mastery of wet race conditions. His brother Ralf appeared at his brother’s former team Jordan to great expectation in 1996. Ralf was destined to live in the shadow of older brother Michael, winning six races to Michael’s 91.


Some more families that could create their own family only teams: Hill, Brabham Nakajima, Busch Toivonen, Solberg, Gronholm, Franchitti, Pilette, Lazier, Ickx, Campos, Rossi, Mansell, Wallace, Rodriguez, Brambilla and Winkelhock.


Jackie Stewart won the F1 title 3 times but it was his work as a safety pioneer that also elevated him to elder statesman status. After a crash at Spa, which saw help take twenty-five minutes to remove him from the car, the help being two other drivers, Graham Hill and Robert Bondurant, Jackie had plenty of time to reflect on safety standards. The fact his ambulance got lost on the way to hospital did little to improve his mood. Today many of the safety features he campaigned for, run-off areas, full-face helmets and dedicated medical facilities, would prohibit a race or driver from starting if missing. His elder brother Jimmy took part in the 1953 British Grand Prix.

"It don't mean shit right now... Daddy's won here 10 times."

- Dale Earnhardt Jr on winning his fifth Talladega 2004.

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    Under rigorous examination I suppose I am a considerate, intelligent, humorous type of person