Heartbreak, Elation and a Master's Comeback: The Week in Motorsport

It has been a busy weekend for motorsport around the world, and for some of the fast-paced Kiwis involved. In case you missed the action, here are our highlights.

Mar 6, 2023

Three exciting categories near and dear to our hearts kicked off their season this weekend, with both Formula 1 and Indycar's 2023 calendar getting underway, as well as the Australian Porsche Michelin Sprint Series.

As always in motorsport, there have been highs and lows, but overall, the Kiwis involved can be very proud of their collective performance. To top it off, Fernando Alonso's surprise result on debut for Aston Martin reaffirms that the oldest F1 driver in the field has plenty left in the tank.

The Spanish Samurai is back.

On the back of some lacklustre seasons with other teams, it is fair to say that most pundits were not expecting too much from former champion Fernando Alonso's debut race with Aston Martin for the F1 season opener in Bahrain. Alonso had other ideas, however, and his storming performance was a refreshing tonic for fans of the Spaniard and the Aston Martin brand, which is quickly looking like a championship contender in 2023.

Alonso drove with a reinvigorated aggression that we have not seen for some time, performing brilliant passes on both the Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton. The latter manoeuvre caught fellow multi-world champion off guard and was unquestionably only possible with Alonso's combined experience and the obvious pace of his Aston Martin. He then went on to charge past the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, with some contact, in the final stanza of the race to claim third.

"It's the perfect start for this project," Alonso said post-race. "We didn't expect to be that competitive. The aim in 2023 was to be in the mix in the midfield, maybe leading the midfield and getting close to the top three teams eventually. It's a bit of a surprise, but we are extremely happy with the job done at Silverstone in the factory, so let's enjoy this moment and build from here."

St Petersburg heartache for Scott McLaughlin

Kiwi Scott McLaughlin crashed out while leading the first race of the Indycar season on the streets of St Petersburg, Florida. The incident, which McLaughlin has accepted responsibility for, occurred with just 20 laps to go. McLaughlin was re-entering the race ahead of polesitter Roman Grosjean after a pit stop and tried in vain to hold off Grosjean despite being on fresh, cold tyres. McLaughlin's Team Penske Chevrolet just didn't have the mechanical grip to hang with Grosjean, and contact was made mid-corner, spearing both cars off and ruining each driver's chance for a win.

McLaughlin showed his class and owned up to the mistake immediately.

"First and foremost, I'm very sorry to Romain. He's a friend of mine, and we were both going for the win. I just made a big mistake - I tried to push on cold tyres and didn't have the grip on the inside. Unfortunately, I made wheel contact, which took us both out. I don't race like that, and I apologise. I just made a stuff-up, man, and you have your good days, you have your bad days."

Thankfully for Kiwi IndyCar fans, Scott Dixon put down a solid performance to finish third, while rookie Kiwi Marcus Armstrong can be proud of a strong debut in Indycar. The 22-year-old, driving for Chip Ganassi Racing as Dixon's teammate, finished just outside of the top ten in eleventh and was the top rookie home.

Fellow Kiwi Hunter McElrea drove a clean race to finish fifth in the IndyCar Lights feeder category.

Legacy battles were revisited, and there was elation for Marco Giltrap at Phillip Island.

Kiwi motorsport fans of a certain age will no doubt recall memories of young Greg Murphy and Ashley Stitchbury battling each other in Formula Ford in the early nineties as some of the more dramatic duels in years gone by.

That on-track rivalry between Murphy and Stitchbury played out again this weekend, with Greg’s son Ronan and the late Ashley’s son Zac both pushing each other in the Australian Porsche Michelin Sprint Series opener at Phillip Island.

Both are alumni of Porsche Motorsport New Zealand/Earl Bamber Motorsport’s rigorous Driver Scholarship program (with a seat offered to Stitchbury, among others, as a result of the program) and each showed strong racecraft and aggression racing side-by-side in the front battle pack. Murphy would ultimately pip Stitchbury on points for the round with an outstanding drive to second in the 25-lap feature race.

But the weekend at Phillip Island belonged to young Marco Giltrap, who stole the march on the field in race one to claim the win, followed by a second place in race two and, importantly, winning the 25-lap Jim Richards endurance feature race. It was the first step to securing the coveted Jim Richards endurance trophy.

"I've finished with the round win and a couple of race wins - can't get much better stuff than that," Giltrap said.

"We're pretty sure we had some pretty good pace coming into the weekend. There's still some room for improvement as always, but that third race was pretty hectic. I mean, it was a long one. There was a bit of tyre conservation, and then the traffic got involved, and we sort of slipped back to second. Ultimately, we knew we had the pace towards the end of the race, and we kept strong and ultimately, we came out on top," said Giltrap from the top step.