Our Top Ten motorsports stories of 2009

1- Jimmie Johnson won his fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in 2009. This is simply an incredible, amazing achievement. Associated Press just named Johnson their Athlete of the Year. I've known champions in many forms of racing, and there's always something which sets them apart from their competitors; a focus and fearlessness not apparent in others. NASCAR is a tough sport, and to see someone like Johnson, from Southern California, soft-spoken and polite, win these four titles proves drivers don't have to be outwardly wild, angry, upset, whatever; sometimes nice guys do finish first.

2- Brawn Grand Prix didn't exist in 2008 in the Formula 1 circus, but in its first year of competition, 2009, team driver Jenson Button won the World Driving Championship and Brawn won the coveted manufacturer's title in an unprecedented attack on the series. Button was considered a-soon-to-retire F1 driver with few wins and certainly no championships. Ross Brawn, formerly the genius behind Ferrari's string of championships with Michael Schumacher, took over the Honda team when the Japanese maker dropped out of the sport in '08, switched to Mercedes engines and proceeded to dominate F1. Next year, the team will be known as Mercedes Grand Prix, the first time in over 50 years Mercedes has used their name as the title of a race team; the company left racing for many years after a privateer Mercedes crashed into the main grandstand at LeMans, killing some 80 people.
2009-12-24-brawngpbuttonsmiling.jpg Jenson Button on his way to the F1 world championship

3- Danica Patrick will run in NASCAR and IndyCar this coming season. The most-popular driver in IndyCar, the only woman to ever win an IndyCar race, will drive a limited Nationwide Series schedule for JR Motorsports, co-owned by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Rick Hendrick. Earnhardt has been NASCAR's most popular driver seven years in a row. American racing's best-known names on the same team will be good for all motorsports. Patrick will open her NASCAR season at California Speedway the third week of February. She plans to compete in the entire IndyCar series.

4- Rick Hendrick has the strongest, most dominant team in NASCAR Sprint Cup. He counts drivers Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon among his stable, and co-owns a team with Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Hendrick is one of the country's biggest car dealers, focusing on Chevrolet and Honda. He's had his challenges, too. In 2004, a plane crash claimed the lives of 10 Hendrick relatives and associates, including his son, an up-and-coming NASCAR driver. Hendrick has also had leukemia. But he's won four consecutive NASCAR titles with Jimmie Johnson, and each one of his drivers is a serious contender for next year's championship.

5- Tony George, who ran Indianapolis Motor Speedway for several years, and whose family saved the track from becoming a housing development in the 1950s, was fired from his top position by his own family and board of directors. Apparently due to his pouring never-ending millions into the Indy Racing League, being in-charge when the most-embarrassing F1 race in history ran at Indy (just six cars started), watching the Indy 500 lose customers and TV viewers, and working out a deal to put most IndyCar races on an unknown cable channel called Versus, they'd had enough. Now bean-counters run the place, and it remains to be seen if they have the passion for racing Indy needs. One more thing: George didn't get along with F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone, but with George gone, it's possible the USGP will return to the track in 2011.
2009-12-24-danicapatrrickblackorangecar.jpg Danica Patrick is bringing her magic to NASCAR

6- Michael Schumacher is returning to F1, at least for the upcoming season. He'll be paid about $10 million for the year, and the 7-time world champion of driving will be with the Mercedes team, formerly Braun GP and the current world championship team. Schumacher's appearance will excite F1 fans worldwide, who want to see if he can regain some of his former glory. And Schuie will be working again with Ross Brawn, who strategized the driver's world championships at Ferrari (last one in 2004). Danica Patrick signing a NASCAR deal and Schumacher's return are the most important driver stories of the year, so far.

7- In 2012, IndyCar will introduce an entirely new, wingless race car to the series. A consortium of top IndyCar people, owners and officials, are funding the car's development. No outsider has seen it yet, but there are no wings, front or rear, and it's described as looking like a Stealth fighter. Crucial is the development of a new turbocharged engine which will be able to get (they hope) as many as ten miles per gallon, while current cars achieve between one and three mpg (these cars run on ethanol, not gasoline). The whole idea is a spec car which is less expensive to buy and maintain than the current racers. This could be a big boost to the sport's popularity and introduce a new generation with the 'green' theme.

8- Trying to connect with their fans and make new ones, after almost three decades of NASCAR holding their Sprint Cup awards ceremony in New York City, this year they moved the celebrations to Las Vegas. And let the public buy tickets to certain events, another first. The Waldorf Astoria Hotel was NASCAR's NYC host, a fit that never seemed completely right. You don't hear a lot of "southern" spoken near the Hudson River. But NYC is the media center of the world, guaranteeing lots of TV appearances for drivers (Jeff Gordon even co-hosted 'Regis and Kelly' and has an apartment in NYC), and many of the sport's largest sponsors have their headquarters in New York. We'll see if it worked.
2009-12-24-jimmiejohnsonand4trophies.jpg Jimmie Johnson and his four NASCAR Srpint Cup championship trophies

9- Formula 1 is nothing if not dynamic, during the racing season and off. The sport has made rules changes for 2010 which most of the drivers like, especially those to the points system, which instead of awarding points to the top eight drivers in a race, will award the top ten. The points have also been changed to favor race winners. Refueling during races is banned, a good safety move. There will be 13 teams, 26 cars, starting in F1 in 2010, some of the highest numbers ever.

10- This past year was the first NHRA ran a full season with their shortened track, done to slow the cars. The change was made in mid-2008 after several injuries and deaths in professional drag racing. The ¼-mile, 1320 feet, is now 1,000 feet for the fastest professional classes. It's worked, but now 5 second races are in the 4's and all the old records no longer count. Many think the cars will eventually be made to go just as fast as they did in the full ¼. Word is NHRA is considering mechanical or electrical governors on the cars among other solutions to get them back on the traditional ¼-mile.

Green light given to Rome grand prix

Formula one commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone has given the green light to plans to host a grand prix on the streets of Rome in 2012 or 2013, according to race organiser Maurizio Falmmini. An F1 world championship event in the Italian capital has been in the planning for approximately 18 months and Flammini has revealed that a deal has been struck with Ecclestone which should bring the plans to life. "The agreement with F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone to give life to the Rome grand prix has already been done and signed," said Falmmini. "The appropriate course still has to be defined."The Italian grand prix is currently held at the historic and evocative Monza circuit and there were concerns that Rome would replace the circuit, which has been a regular feature on the F1 calendar since 1922.But, the mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno said: "We think the Rome grand prix would be very important and we are in favour of it. "And it's not true that it is an alternative to Monza. "Monza is a grand prix on the circuit, and the grand prix of Rome is integrative to that of Monza, it's not a replacement."We have calculated that there will be an income of €1bn [£900m] a year with this grand prix and Rome needs to renew its tourist appeal. "Not only the past, archaeology and monuments, but also the future, something which is aimed at families and youngsters."

Michael Schumacher timeline - how his career unfolded


Michael Schumacher celebrates after winning the Italian grand prix in 2006. Photograph: Patrick Hertzog/AFP/Getty Images
1969: Born on 3 January in Huerth-Hermuelheim, Germany.
1973: Makes his racing debut in a kart race.
1987: Wins German and European kart championships.
1988: Finishes fourth in German Formula Ford championship and second in the European series in first year of car racing.
1990: Wins first major single-seater title, clinching the German Formula Three crown. Steps up to sportscars, driving for Mercedes.
1991: Makes Formula One debut for Jordan in Belgium, qualifying seventh before retiring. Poached by Benetton for the rest of the season.
1992: Takes first grand prix win in Belgium on his way to third in championship.
1994: Wins title, with eight wins to his name, after controversial last-race clash with Damon Hill.
1995: Retains world crown, taking nine victories.
1996: Moves to struggling Ferrari and manages three wins on his way to third in championship.
1997: Wins five races but is stripped of second in the championship for attempting to take out title rival Jacques Villeneuve at Jerez.
1999: Breaks his leg at Silverstone when easily leading the championship.
2000: Finally wins Ferrari's first world title since 1979, amassing nine wins on the way.
2001: Another nine wins and another title, setting a new record for all-time victories on the way.
2002: Wins championship in record time, setting a new mark of 11 victories.
2003: Wins title by a point after six victories, breaking Juan Manuel Fangio's record of five championships.
2004: Breaks his own record for wins in a season to take title No7.
2006: 10 September - Announces his retirement at end of 2006 season after winning Italian grand prix.
2009: 29 July - Announces he plans to make a shock return to Formula One with Ferrari, deputising for Felipe Massa until the Brazilian is recovered from injuries suffered in the Hungarian grand prix.
11 August - Announces he will not make a Formula One comeback due to a neck injury sustained in a motorbike accident in February.
23 December - Signs a one-year contract to drive in 2010 with Mercedes GP, ending three years in retirement.

India racing drivers struggling to make a mark

CHENNAI: Indian motor sport
switched gears in 2009, but rarely, if at all, into overdrive. While the election of Vijay Mallya to the World Motor Sports Council of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) following a fairly successful season for his Formula One team Force India grabbed the headlines, Indian racing drivers and riders did not make much of an impact on the big stage. A second Indian, after Narain Karthikeyan, in a Formula One team remains a distant dream though the possibility of India hosting a Grand Prix race in 2011 could become a reality despite the current roadblocks to the project and the consequent pessimism, if not cynicism. The 2009 season was disappointing for India's two top Formula racing drivers, Karun Chandhok and Armaan Ebrahim, participating in the GP2 and Formula-2 series respectively, as they struggled to mark their presence. While Chandhok, who turns 26 January 19, finished 18th with 10 points, 20-year old Ebrahim came away with seven points while surviving a 250 kmph crash in June. For Chandhok the sands of time are fast running out. In his third consecutive GP2 season and driving for a Portuguese outfit, the Ocean Racing Technology, he had just one podium finish, a third in the sprint race of the British Grand Prix. His best qualifying position was a fifth in Turkey. In comparison, team-mate Alvaro Parente finished eighth with 30 points with one win in Belgium where he started from pole position. As for Ebrahim, he had his share of bad luck as he had to deal with an under-performing car. Though he did not lack in pace in the highly-competitive Formula-2 field, the fact was that he could not produce big results. On his part, Karthikeyan, who will be 33 on Jan 14, represented Team India in the A1 Grand Prix series and delivered one podium and seven top 10 finishes. In between, he drove an Audi in the high-profile Le Mans series that he is likely to continue next year. His third season in the cash-strapped A1 GP was a nightmare as Team India had no sponsors and he missed seven of the 19 starts. When viewed in this context, his overall performance was nothing to be scoffed at. Down the line, the trio of Ashwin Sundar (20), Aditya Patel (21) and Akhil Khushlani (20), had international stints. Sundar and Patel, both from Chennai, drove in the Volkswagen touring car series in Germany, but were never in the frame as they struggled to come to grips with the machine and also the tracks. Khushlani from Hyderabad finished sixth in the Formula BMW Pacific championship driving for E-Rain Racing team with a best of third place in Malaysia besides fourth in Indonesia and Japan. Supported by Red Rooster Racing, he did show some impressive pace, but finished behind two of his three rookie team-mates. Among the two-wheeler riders, 25-year-old Dilip Rogger, undoubtedly the best in the country, had a miserable year with just one outing in Germany before a crash in the National championship race in Coimbatore ended his season. Meanwhile, Krishnan Rajini and Preetham Dev Moses, both sponsored by Red Rooster Racing, ventured in the Asian and Malaysian series, but neither made a big impression. In Rallying, Team MRF's campaign in the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) was far from impressive as their two-car team of Katsu Taguchi and Gaurav Gill was left in the shade by Australian Cody Crocker who won his fourth consecutive championship in a Subaru. However, Arjun Rao Aroor (co-driver Musa Sherif) won the championship in the Malaysian series close on the heels of Lohitt Urs who took the honours in the 4x4 category earlier. On the home front, the calendar was packed with events and disputes, notably in the Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) that was launched with a new sponsor in Bharat Petroleum and promoter, India Mines Group - Pro-Sports Promotion. An otherwise well-run INRC suffered from protests, one of which Gill survived, apart from a poor start, to win the title (provisional) for MRF who overcame a stiff competition from Red Rooster Racing. Red Rooster's hopes were dashed after their lead driver Vikram Mathias had a couple of non-finishes. Team TVS swept the honours in the two-wheeler Rallying with KS Aravind topping the leaderboard with a fine run in the concluding round of the series in Bangalore. The JK Tyre National Road Racing championship also had its share of disputes before Ashwin Sundar took the crown after winning an appeal in the appellate court. It was no different in the Rotax Karting championship where Vishnu Prasad and Ameya Walawalkar are tied on points in the senior section with a court hearing on formers appeal pending. Parth Ghorpade (juniors) and Tarun Reddy (micro) took the honours in their respective categories.