… from the IndyCar Series?
Earlier in July, at the 21st annual ESPY Awards ceremony, the 2012 IndyCar Series Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay was presented the Best Driver ESPY. Not only did Hunter-Reay become the 11th different winner of the prize in 21 years but he also became the 9th American to receive it, the only exceptions being the United Kingdom‘s Nigel Mansell and Germany‘s Michael Schumacher.
Among professional athletes, the ESPY Awards –Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Awards – are not a big deal. Portrayed to be the Grammy and Academy Awards of sports, the ESPYS are a bunch of awards presented by ESPN as voted by the people. Anyone can vote. However, given the fact that ESPN is an American-based cable television network, mostly only Americans vote. This type of voting allows, focusing on the Best Driver ESPY Award, an advantage for NASCAR and the IndyCar Series.
The nominees for the award this year were the eventual winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan from the IndyCar Series, Brad Keselowski from NASCAR and Sebastian Vettel from Formula One. There is no doubt Hunter-Reay is a champion in auto racing but is he the best of the year? First and foremost, it may not make sense to compare different series because of the different types of cars they drive but analyzing the statistics may make it seem okay. For instance, Hunter-Reay won 4 races in the 2012 IndyCar Series season, winning his first title by three points over Will Power. Meanwhile, one of the other nominees, Vettel, won just one race more, 5, in the 2012 Formula One season while winning his third straight title after having completely dominated in the 2011 season.
Every nominee could make a case for themselves, as they may seem worthy of the award. Still, it takes more than just finishing first in the most races in a season to be considered the best racing driver. In many series, probably in all, the champions are usually the drivers with the best cars. Being a good racing driver is more than overtaking the car in front, it‘s usually about dedication.
Not just in sports but in life, in general, people who are passionate and dedicated about what they do are successful people. In car racing, a great example can be shown by comparing the seven-time Formula One Champion Michael Schumacher with Lewis Hamilton. Schumacher was capable of winning races in the “minor leagues” but he was only known as a solid driver. Today, statistically he is the greatest Formula One driver. Hamilton, on the other hand, won many lower level Formula competitions before coming into F1 where he finished runner-up in his rookie season. People fell in love with Schumacher because they like champions but people fell in love with Hamilton because of his passion and dedication.
The Best Driver ESPY Award should go to the best driver. If given this job (to chose the best driver) to a panel of experts – hoping that they are not bribed – they would most likely give us two names, Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Loeb.
Alonso, the two-time Formula One Champion, is driving a Ferrari that has been battling its driver for the past few years now. Although most of the time he fails to reach the first row in qualifying because of the lack of speed, the Spaniard manages to push everything out of his Italian beast and, thanks to good tactics, usually ends races on the podium. He ended the 2012 season as runner-up to Vettel by just three points. During the season he demonstrates samurai qualities, as he never slows down until driving through the finish line. Towards the end of the season last year and with the title still in reach, Alonso used Twitter to connect to fans and often expressed his samurai-like mentality, “A normal man takes everything as a blessing or a curse. A samurai is a warrior who accepts everything as a challenge.”
Loeb ended 2012 after completely dominating the World Rally Championship season and taking home his ninth title in a row, as well as winning a gold medal in rally car racing at the X Games. The Frenchman is widely renown as the greatest rally driver ever. After starting his sports career as a gymnast – and he was quite successful at it – Loeb transferred to rallying at age 21 and has since been dominant in every competition. He shows the true will to win using not daredevil-type driving but simply good driving. The last year has only secured his legacy.
Besides passion and dedication, to be the best racing driver takes experience and patience. Much like driving a car in the everyday world. Every motorsports series has their greats and we will never have one greatest auto racing driver. Even the journalists may be biased.
In an episode that aired a few months after what would have been Ayrton Senna‘s 50th birthday, the British television show‘s Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson said, in the show‘s tribute to the late driver, “Senna was spectacular every single time he got in a car.” With performances, such as winning the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix qualifying by a staggering 1.5 seconds ahead of none other than his own teammate, the great Alain Prost, and going from fifth to first position in one lap at the 1993 European Grand Prix at Donington Park, Senna may just be the greatest racing driver ever. He has said, “And so you touch this limit, something happens and you suddenly can go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and experience as well, you can fly very high.” And that is what makes a great racing driver.