Friday, January 2, 2009

Possibly the most under-reported story in world sport at the moment?

2008 was a bumper year for motorsport. We had a thrilling conclusion to the A1GP until New Zealand went to China [an omen for Fisher & Paykel perhaps?] to kick off the year, then the glorious/farcical [depending which side of the fence you sit on] Lewis Hamilton F1 win... Oh and Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes won their third successive Bathurst 1000, with Jamie also taking out the V8 Supercar gong.

But for months it seemed that something was wrong. Locally, and the first thing I noticed, was Opes Prime dropping its sponsorship deal with Holden Dealer Team [among others].

Now it's the holiday break and we've seen Honda withdraw from F1, with rumours of a South American backer denied, Audi pulling out of American Le Mans [along with Porsche, Kawasaki expected to leave MotoGP and Subaru and Suzuki departing the World Rally Championship. There's some scuttlebutt that Subaru may be picking up Honda's empty grid spots through its link with Prodrive, but with the season start looming it would be a push to get anything done in time.

Now, while teams in motorsport come and go, what makes this significant is that these are factory teams. These are the teams who pour significant amounts of money into research and development, building new cars and sharing the data among others who use them. This isn't like when Citroen 'left' the WRC, but still provided Sebastien Loeb with cars.

The other thing to realise is that these aren't just teams that have popped up ambitiously then fallen over when things haven't gone their way. Honda has been in Formula One for six years. Audi runs rampant at Le Mans and is doing ok against Peugeot in the series. The limited knowledge I have of Subaru in motorsport is all centered around WRC, while Suzuki only recently launched their tilt at the series.

2009 as a year in motorsport will be an interesting one indeed. Particular questions to keep in mind are:
Will Subaru end up in Formula One?
Will Honda stop providing engines to the IndyCar series?
Will Audi continue to compete in the Dakar rallies?
Will it's main rival in F1 gone, what will Toyota's future role be?
Where to now for Chris Atkinson?

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