Regardless of how good or bad a year is in every other aspect of life, we can at least count on our passions, like motorsports, to help us through it. And between some big names stepping aside for a new generation, a high-profile implosion of one series and at least one major arrest, 2018 was a pretty wild year.
Here are some of the biggest, wildest and most important stories from this year and this racing season, in no particular order.
Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso, now 37, said in August that this season would be his last in F1, which marked the end of a career for one of the sport’s greats—for now, at least. He may come back in a couple of years.
Alonso might have had reliability issue upon reliability issue during his past few years with McLaren, suffering enough car breakdowns to have an emotional one, but he’s a great driver who shows it when he’s in a competitive car—even if he’s not accustomed to that car at all. Just look at his Indianapolis 500 start.
Now that his F1 career is over, either temporarily or for good, Alonso’s going to race sports cars, endurance races and everything else he can get into. Sure, it’ll be weird to not have him on the F1 grid, but when it comes to cars he’s not going anywhere.
Danica Patrick, the racer who became a household name, retired from the sport this year after she lost her full-time ride at Stewart-Haas Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Patrick’s final two races were NASCAR’s Daytona 500 and IndyCar’s Indianapolis 500, and she wrecked and got wrecked out of both of them despite having good runs.
Wrecks were something a lot of people joked about Patrick for, but the jokes and attention to her wrecks were unwarranted. People paid more attention to her because she was a woman, and judged her harder. She dealt with the criticisms and performed well enough during her career to become a major name, though, which was a huge feat for a woman in a male-dominated sport like racing.
The truly sad thing about Patrick’s retirement was losing that female household name in motorsports—a name so big that people lazily and regularly call other, younger women who race cars “the next Danica Patrick.” It may be a long time before another woman makes it to that level of motorsports stardom, a level that transcends motorsports fans and simply becomes stardom.
This section will be a collection of stories, since racing teams—well, they cheat all the time. Welcome to Cheating, Version 2018.
NASCAR had plenty of cheating this year, as usual, to the point that NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, Scott Miller, said the sanctioning body will use the offseason to look at further punishments for breaking the rules. Miller said the “culture” of NASCAR cheating was in “borderline ridiculous territory” in November, and that’s pretty accurate.
Inspections were a problem all year in NASCAR, like when teams were using special paint-scheme designs to cheat the system. Teams also ran windshield wipers at road courses on sunny days, because they were technically legal in the case of rain and provide an aerodynamic advantage when it’s sunny and they can be in a fixed position. Championship contender Kevin Harvick almost cheated his way out of a championship berth in November, failing inspection after his win at Texas Motor Speedway, and drivers took straight-up shortcuts at the new roval track in September. NASCAR had to make changes to stop them.
Oh, and we can’t forget about the Ferrari F1 team and its camera fiasco. That was a fun one. Ferrari wanted to block the onboard camera view from its cars when they weren’t on track this year, and started by putting an innocent “ice pack” on the camera to “cool” it (i.e., block the views from it when it wasn’t on track). When F1 told Ferrari to quit the ice-pack stuff, it put an umbrella over the car’s cockpit. When the team was told to stop that, it went for the “airbox cooler”—a camera-covering excuse none of us really understand, to this day.
Ah, cheating in world-class motorsports. It’s so stupid, it’s entertaining.
Formula One royally screwed up at the Canadian Grand Prix this year by declaring Sebastian Vettel the winner a full two laps early. Basically, a counting error led officials to throw the checkered flag a lap early and caused chaos—drivers were still racing after the checkered while marshals were waving celebratory flags, because the drivers knew something was up. Because the flag flew a lap early and essentially marked a red flag, F1 reverted the running order to where it was at the end of lap 68 of 70. Those were the final results.
F1 race director Charlie Whiting called the error a miscommunication with local officials and said F1 needs to do a better job of briefing local workers before the race, but that didn’t stop F1 from mandating a digital checkered flag for 2019. That means the real flag will stick around, but it won’t mean anything—if the monitor on the start-finish line doesn’t light up, the race isn’t over.
We, of course, can’t forget NASCAR’s big screwup near the end of the season. The top-level Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series just went and forgot its own rules when penalizing Jimmie Johnson at the Texas race in November, making him start at the back of the field when that wasn’t the correct punishment.
NASCAR said afterward that it would put “procedures in place” to keep that from happening again.
Oh, the Zombie Dodge. Everyone loves the Zombie Dodge, the car that should have left NASCAR after the 2012 race season but managed to stick around in the Xfinity Series all the way through the end 2018—when NASCAR overhauled its rules to make the Dodge Challenger Xfinity Series body illegal for next season.
Dodge left NASCAR officially after 2012, but the Challengers got to stay around, sold off to smaller Xfinity Series teams since the templates still worked during inspection. But NASCAR decided that all cars in the Xfinity Series have to move to composite bodies in 2019, meaning the steel-bodied Challenger will be illegal next year. (There’s more on that here.)
MBM Motorsports took the Zombie Dodge to the last race of the 2018 Xfinity Series season in Miami, tweeting that it would sell the car off afterward since it’s useless in the series now. But we made a lot of good memories with that car, from this story about small teams’ struggle to get to the race track, to this one, about the car showing up and surprising some people at a race in 2016.
It was a good run, Zombie Dodge.
There’s been talk about a “female Formula One championship” for more than a year now, and things got real in October when the series announced details of the 18- to 20-driver 2019 race season with a $500,000 prize for the champion.
That championship, called the W Series, has the right intentions but the wrong execution. Trying to help underrepresented demographics get into professions, sports, or anything else is great, especially when there’s as much cash as the W Series has laying around to make it happen—the series says drivers will be fully funded, and there’s a prize fund on top of it.
The problem with the series comes in that it’s a women’s only championship, and will be looked at as a of junior series due to its lower-level Formula 3 cars, which is a huge disservice for women trying to compete equally with men in motorsport elsewhere. The money would’ve been better off funding women in existing motorsport series, to help them get to higher levels and, in turn, show children and people in general that women can compete equally in race cars.
The more women believe that, the more women will start coming up through the ranks. Creating what amounts to a junior series for women won’t help spread that notion of equality in competition.
Formula One announced at the start of the year that it would ban grid girls from this season onward, which was a welcome step in a more equal, less “women as eye candy at race tracks and car events” direction. But not every race track went along with that order.
We won’t call each individual track out in this post, because that, like the debate of whether grid girls should be at race tracks, is exhausting. Instead, we’ll just say that when men are the heroes racing the fast cars and women stand beside them in identical outfits holding signs or smiling for the camera, it’s less than great for women everywhere. Modeling is great in may circumstances; with grid girls and the huge gender divide in motorsports, it sends the wrong message.
The halo cockpit-protection bar was a highly debated addition to a lot of open-wheel cars this year, including Formula One cars. But drivers called for it years ago, and it saved a couple of heads this race season after F1 finally made the halo part of the series rulebook.
The big debate was basically that the halo isn’t beautiful, but beauty means nothing at the expense of safety.
F1 mandated the halo for the 2018 season, and it was helpful in the series and elsewhere. There was this crash between Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso in F1, and this Formula 2 crash early in the season. Some said the halo might have slowed down response times to Nico Hulkenberg’s fiery crash in Abu Dhabi, when his car hung upside down, but F1 said it didn’t.
Red Bull Global Rallycross, the young, rare rallycross series in America, had a lot going for it. But it also had a lot of problems, and those problems eventually led to its demise this year—all documented in a lawsuit with Subaru.
GRC was jumping all over the place before its downfall, from completely redoing classes as teams left to disappearing from the internet completely and canceling its 2018 season. The lawsuit with Subaru came out, and things got more clear.
In the lawsuit’s counter, Subaru alleged things like abusive treatment of its employees by GRC CEO Colin Dyne and unpaid bills including payments to drivers. There are also other lawsuits from vendors and individuals against GRC, alleging breaches of contract and unpaid bills or wages. The U.S. filed a suit against the series for $441,379 in principal and interest, and the State of Michigan said Michigan GRC owes it $76,000 at the time of the reporting on the Subaru lawsuit.
The word at the time of the lawsuit report was that GRC wanted to “reorganize and start back up in 2019.” Things didn’t look so hopeful then, and they still don’t now.
The Mercedes Formula One Team team ordered its driver Valtteri Bottas into oblivion this year in order to ensure that Lewis Hamilton won his fifth F1 title, including when the team actually told Bottas to pull over and let Hamilton win a race he’d won the pole for and was leading.
Then came the end of the season, when everyone started talking about how Bottas was winless and not stellar in 2018. Team boss Toto Wolff even said he hoped Bottas wasn’t “damaged mentally” after the year, and Bottas himself called 2018 his “worst season so far.”
Bottas didn’t have the best season ever, sure. But the team orders—including the one that took away a likely win for him at the Russian Grand Prix—didn’t help. Ban the team orders, however you go about it, F1.
Toyota won the top Le Mans Prototype 1 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year, but results in the second-tier class weren’t so clear. Somehow, it took a full four months for officials to determine a winner in Le Mans Prototype 2.
Le Mans organizers announced the official finishing order and LMP2 winner on Oct. 2, nearly four months after the race ended, due to a drawn-out penalty appeal. The No. 36 of André Negrão, Nicolas Lapierre and Pierre Thiriet won the race officially, but originally finished second behind the G-Drive Racing No. 26 car of Roman Rusinov, Andrea Pizzitola and Jean-Éric Vergne.
The No. 36 ended the race two laps, or 17 miles, back from the No. 26 car before the “non-compliance of a part in the fuel restrictor” penalty that took away the team’s win. The No. 26 was officially disqualified from the race when everything was sorted out.
Formula 3 driver Sophia Floersch wrecked at the incredibly tight street circuit at Macau, and the crash was so bad that her car went flying through a safety fence and into several people on the other side of it. Viewers noted that the tone of the race broadcast was at a major disconnect from the severity of the crash.
The crash injured Floersch, fellow driver Sho Tsuboi, two photographers and a race marshal, reports said at the time. Floersch had a successful seven-hour spinal surgery after the crash, while Tsuboi was released from the hospital the Sunday night after the crash. A photographer named Hiroyuki Minami was also released, while another photographer, Chan Weng Wang, suffered a lacerated liver, and a race marshal, Chan Cha, had cuts and a broken jaw.
Floersch flew home on Nov. 26, eight days after the crash.
Former Formula One driver Robert Kubica nearly died in a rally crash in 2011, when his car was impaled by a guard rail at high speeds. The crash put him in and out of hospitals for nearly two years, but since, he’s been slowly working back toward F1.
He’ll get that chance again next year, as the Williams F1 team announced him as part of its 2019 driver lineup. Kubica has tested F1 cars more and more recently, and Williams decided to give him a seat alongside George Russell, the king of the PowerPoint presentations.
Former NASCAR CEO Brian France didn’t have the best year, but all he had was himself to blame. He got arrested for driving while intoxicated and possession of the opioid painkiller oxycodone, then he lost his spot at the top of NASCAR because of it.
France was arrested by Sag Harbor police in Long Island, New York, and TMZ Sports reported that he mentioned his friend Donald Trump during the arrest. News came out soon after the arrest that France would take an “indefinite leave of absence” as NASCAR CEO, and NASCAR announced that its executive vice president Jim France, Brian France’s uncle, would take the spot.
Brian France apologized to NASCAR “fans, [the] industry and [his] family for the impact of [his] actions” the day after it all happened.
Since the all-electric racing series Formula E began four full seasons ago, its drivers have needed to swap cars during the race in order to make it the full distance since teams can’t just load the cars up with a tank of fuel.
Formula E unveiled its second generation of cars earlier this year, which raced for the first time in Saudi Arabia over the weekend. The new cars have a higher battery capacity than the first generation did, meaning drivers don’t have to hop out of one car and into another in the middle of races anymore—which, admittedly, was fun.
The first-generation Formula E cars were also for sale as of August, if you have a spare $300,000 and like electric racing.
Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing won the top Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship in 2017, only to announce this year that the team would shut down due to lack of funding. It was an incredible testament to the motorsports climate in general—even the champions couldn’t get enough sponsorship money to keep afloat at their current competitive level.
Truex and the team made NASCAR’s “championship four” final round again this year, and the team shut down after the championship ended with Joey Logano on top. Truex will move to Joe Gibbs Racing, which was a Furniture Row Racing technical partner, next year.
The Force India Formula One team went into administration earlier this year, with billionaire Lawrence Stroll bailing the team out and allowing it to keep competing without missing a race. The team did have to forfeit its title points and change its name right before the Belgian Grand Prix, though, and another name change is in the works now that the season is over. Drivers got to keep their individual championship points.
Lawrence Stroll is F1 driver Lance Stroll’s dad, and Lance Stroll moved from the Williams F1 team to the Force India team over the offseason, leaving former Force India driver Esteban Ocon without a ride for next year.
Scott Dixon entered the IndyCar season finale at Sonoma with the championship lead, and left it as the second driver in the series’ history to win five titles. Four drivers were still in contention for the title going into the Sonoma race—Dixon, Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, and Will Power—and Dixon finished second in the race to win it all.
The fifth title made him the second driver behind AJ Foyt to win five IndyCar championships, and if you’re in the same sentence as AJ Foyt for a racing accomplishment, it’s kind of a big deal.
The unrestricted Le Mans Prototype Porsche dreamt up after leaving Le Mans for Formula E wasn’t so much a single story as it was a year-long parade of enjoyment and the thought of how wild performance stats of Le Mans cars can actually be without any rules to follow.
The unrestricted prototype went around the world smashing track records and flaunting its ability to throw the rules out the window, which made it easy to forget that this was actually kind of a sad tribute tour—it marked the end of a great Le Mans team. But, you know, if Porsche was going to end its Le Mans program anyway, we’ll take all of the track runs we can get out of it.
The whole Confederation of Australian Motor Sport versus Stadium Super Trucks situation from this year was an interesting one. The confederation, which has had problems with Stadium Super Trucks founder Robby Gordon in the past, suspended the series on the basis of danger. It was an understandable reason, since a stray tire from a truck struck a fan bridge earlier this year and driver Matt Mingay lost his jaw in a wreck in 2016.
The Supreme Court of Victoria upheld the confederation’s decision in October, but Stadium Super Trucks came back to Australia anyway—under a different governing body.
Robert Wickens had a horrific crash in an IndyCar race at Pocono in August, which left him with a spinal injury and a long recovery. Wickens was airlifted to the hospital from the track, and the track needed two hours of repair work after the wreck before the race could start up again.
Wickens posted on Twitter in October that he was paralyzed from the chest down, and has documented his recovery and rehabilitation process on social media since the crash.
Perhaps one of the most enjoyable and strange racing stories of 2018 was the one of the decade-old NASCAR Xfinity Series race car that showed up to Daytona International Speedway over the summer and finished fifth.
The team that ran it, Fury Race Cars, told Jalopnik running the 10-year-old race car was a “last-ditch option.” But it turned into a great story for the team and anybody watching the race, all of which can be read here.
Correction: This story has been corrected to change the wording in the Red Bull Global Rallycross section, to convey that Subaru’s allegations were counter claims to a lawsuit by GRC.