Many speak of the ‘golden era’ in NZ Motorsport from the late 1960s through to the early 1970s. This was the time when Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon won the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans, Denny Hulme won the 1967 Formula One drivers’ title and McLaren cars started winning both Formula One, Can Am Series (Canadian-American Challenge Cup), Indianapolis 500 races and dominated other racing categories. Also racing at the highest level in Europe was Kiwi Howden Ganley, while over the summer season many of the world’s best drivers were competing in our local Tasman Series.
Yet we can look back on 2015 with admiration at the achievements of our top drivers. Scott Dixon won the 2015 IndyCar Series, Earl Bamber drove the winning Porsche at Le Mans, Brendon Hartley has been crowned World Endurance Champion (WEC), Nick Cassidy is the Japanese F3 champion and Chris van der Drift won the Carrera Cup Asia Championship. Also competing at the highest level at this moment we have three top V8 Supercar drivers (Scott McLaughlan, Shane van Gisbergen and Fabian Coulthard), as well as Mitch Evans and Richie Stanaway in the GP2 Series and Hayden Paddon driving for the Hyundai Motorsport World Rally Championship team. Arguably 2015 has seen some of the best results ever in one year for NZ motorsport.
All these drivers will still be competing in 2016 when we could well have an even better year. Dixon will defend his IndyCar Series title and will look to win the Indianapolis 500 for the second time. Having competed in 13 seasons of the series, he has won at least one Indy car race in the last 11 consecutive seasons. This ties him with Bobby Unser (1966-1976), Emerson Fittipaldi (1985-1995) and Helio Castroneves (2000-2010) for most consecutive race-winning seasons.
Geraldine’s Haydon Paddon and Blenheim’s John Kennard have the skill to win at least one round in the 2016 World Rally Championship with Hyundai. The pairing finished ninth overall in 2015, with their top result a second place at the Rally d’Italia Sardegna. With a full WRC season under their belt and a new Hyundai i20 for 2016 the prospects bode well for the pair.
Brendon Hartley will defend his WEC title along with team Porsche mates Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard with the potential to achieve their first win at Le Mans. With Porsche not having a third 919 Hybrid LMP1 car at Le Mans in 2016, Bamber won’t be able to defend his 2015 title but will compete in a Porsche 911 RSR factory team at both Le Mans and in the USA.
Mitch Evans will compete in his fourth GP2 Series season as well as some rounds of the WEC. Over in Australia Shane van Gisbergen may well have his best chance at winning the V8 Supercars Championship with his move to Triple Eight Race Engineering team (Red Bull Racing) as he will eventually replace six time champion Jamie Whincup.
Nick Cassidy, Richie Stanaway and Chris van der Drift haven’t confirmed their 2016 program, but Cassidy could well see himself with a top Formula Renault team in Europe. So prospects are good for the coming year to add to what has been an outstanding 2015.