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The remarkable motorsport stories you may have missed in 2023

The motorsport year just passed was full of dramatic moments, but not all of them earned the corresponding level of attention. Our team of writers pick out some of their favourite stories from 2023 that you may not have heard about

Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Autosport Honda

Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

There was no shortage of headlines to result from a 23-race Formula 1 calendar in 2023, MotoGP's addition of sprint races at every round and the influx of manufacturers arriving into the World Endurance Championship's Hypercar class.

Our team of writers scouring the paddocks of international and national motorsport series has diligently covered 24-hour races and border-crossing rallies, showpiece events and humble supports, and each has generated fascinating stories. But often they don't reach the wider consciousness in the way that micro-analysed developments in F1 do.

Here then is a collection of stories you may have missed in the hectic racing year.

By Lewis Duncan, Stefan Mackley, Charles Bradley, Gary Watkins, Megan White, James Newbold, Tom Howard, Alex Kalinauckas and Stephen Lickorish

15 April - Alex Marquez crashes out of COTA sprint because he was sick

Alex Marquez's COTA sprint came to an unpleasant and uncomfortable end

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Alex Marquez's COTA sprint came to an unpleasant and uncomfortable end

There are a lot of stories I’ve written this year that I’ve been particularly proud of for one reason or another. Our coverage of the RNF team’s collapse and our story about Trackhouse Racing taking over are particular highlights.

Sometimes, a story is fondly remembered because it’s a bit random and generates a hell of a lot of traffic. Jack Miller saying he was “smoking cigarettes” before he crashed out of the lead of the Valencia GP caught more attention than expected: when that happens from a fun line, it’s a nice little bonus.

Given everything that has happened in 2023 within the Marquez family, you could be forgiven for forgetting that Alex was involved in a story that turned out to be rather popular… unfortunately for him.

During the sprint race in America, he crashed out at Turn 12. There was nothing particularly noteworthy about that in the moment. But afterwards, it had transpired that the reason he crashed was because at the exact moment he was braking for Turn 12 he was also vomiting in his crash helmet.

It turned out to be a bit of a gross race, to be honest, as Pramac’s Jorge Martin managed to get to the podium with his throat chock-full of mucus from a virus he was battling. Both soldiered on into the grand prix – only to tangle with each other on the opening lap. LD

24 April - Formula E’s Berlin grid invasion

Protestors from German climate group Letzte Generation attempted to disrupt the Berlin E-Prix

Photo by: Andreas Beil

Protestors from German climate group Letzte Generation attempted to disrupt the Berlin E-Prix

Think ‘motorsport protestors’ and the 2022 Formula 1 British Grand Prix – when several Just Stop Oil activists gained access to the Silverstone Circuit on the opening lap – springs to mind. But more recently Formula E had to deal with a similar disruption earlier this year in April at the start of the weekend’s second Berlin E-Prix.

The incident took place as drivers pulled into their grid slots for the start of race, with videos on social media later showing how protestors had hidden themselves amongst the crowd before vaulting over the catch fencing and attempting to glue themselves to the track.

The start procedure was delayed as security swiftly moved onto the track and removed the protestors, who were then detained by police as the race got underway without further incident a few minutes later.

German group Letzte Generation (Last Generation) claimed responsibility for the disruption, with the organisation holding a series of demonstrations around the German capital city over the course of that weekend.

The protests were aimed at the German government and the call for greater action to be taken against climate change as opposed to Formula E’s presence in the country, although that did not prevent the online trolls from coming out en masse.

Without a doubt, though, it showed the unpredictability of sport, even if it was an outside influence which left this writer and my media colleagues sat in disbelief at what was unfolding. SM

28 May - IMS replaces damaged 'Snowball' after Kirkwood's dramatic Indy 500 crash

Robin Matthews was given a new car by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after her vehicle was hit by Kirkwood's flying wheel

Photo by: Andrew Kossack

Robin Matthews was given a new car by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after her vehicle was hit by Kirkwood's flying wheel

What could have been the biggest motorsport tragedy of the year had a happy outcome. When Kyle Kirkwood’s left-rear wheel was torn from his Andretti Autosport car in the Indianapolis 500, following a violent collision with a spinning Felix Rosenqvist, it hurtled over the catch fencing.

Everyone watching held their collective breath to discover where it would land. Fans in the packed Turn 2 grandstand ducked, as it mercifully sailed over their heads and landed in the parking lot adjacent to them. Had it struck anyone? No, thank goodness.

It must’ve hit something, right? Yep, it hit poor ‘Snowball’… That was the name Robin Matthews gave to her Chevrolet Cruze, which just happened to be parked outside Turn 2. Unfortunately for her, Snowball took a direct hit from the hefty projectile…

“We saw the tyre go over,” Matthews, who was watching from a hospitality suite, told the local TV news station. “Somebody said that it hit one of the golf carts.

“Well, I was parked by a golf cart. I looked and saw the back of my car, and I'm like, ‘OK’ – I didn't think anything more. Then, somebody from another suite was like, ‘Robin, it was your car!’ I thought someone was pranking me. It’s a car, it’s fine. She took one for the team.”

Indianapolis Speedway president Doug Boles, who rushed to the scene when he saw the incident occur, arranged for Matthews to get a tour of the track and ride home, while Snowball was towed to the garage, where the damage was found to be terminal. IMS saw to it that Matthews got a white 2023 Chevy Equinox as a replacement, which she’s naturally dubbed ‘Snowball 2.0’.

Following an investigation by IndyCar it was determined that Kirkwood’s wheel tether system did not fail, but it has since updated rear-wheel bearing retaining nuts across all cars. Hopefully, we won’t need a Snowball 3.0… CB

10-11 June - Smartphone hack puts Ferrari on course for Le Mans victory

A little known trick helped Ferrari avoid losing its grid spot at Le Mans

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

A little known trick helped Ferrari avoid losing its grid spot at Le Mans

We live by our smartphones in the modern world. They are both a blessing and a bane. But for the Ferrari AF Corse team one came to the rescue of the Le Mans 24 Hours-winning Ferrari on the grid ahead of the race. Not because said phone was particularly smart, but rather that it was exactly the right size!

It had been discovered during the interminable build-up to the centrepiece round of the World Endurance Championship that the #51 Ferrari 499P Le Mans Hypercar had an issue with a fuel filler sensor, the one that tells the organisers whether the nozzle is attached. It’s a mandatory item and must be in working order. So the Ferrari AF Corse squad had a problem. 

The obvious solution would have been to push the car off the grid to address the issue back in the pits. That would have meant the car starting from the pits, too. A setback that would undoubtedly have been, but this was the centenary edition of the French enduro and Ferrari had a front-row block-out. That was a PR opportunity not to be missed.

The bright sparks at Ferrari played with their laptops and reckoned they’d come up with a fix. But how to test it? Refuelling equipment is not allowed on the grid. 

Something was required that would fit neatly into the filler. A smartphone was produced and pushed in. Bingo! Everything was in working order. James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi and Alessandro Pier Guidi could now get on with trying to win a rather important motor race. GW

29 July - Daruvala’s headrest scuppers win hopes at Spa

Daruvala was left disgruntled by his loose headrest at Spa

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Daruvala was left disgruntled by his loose headrest at Spa

Jehan Daruvala had his best shot at Formula 2 victory in 2023 at the Belgian Grand Prix weekend at Spa, lining up on the reverse-grid pole for the Saturday sprint race. The category veteran took control and led away from the line, but the MP Motorsport driver’s race came to an abrupt end after a bizarre issue with his headrest forced him into retirement on lap two.

Having worked its way loose throughout Sector 2, Daruvala’s headrest eventually totally dislodged at the final chicane, flying off into the grassy runoff. The culprit was later found to have been a securing left-front pin which broke off – an occurrence which second-place finisher (though he was later disqualified) Richard Verschoor dubbed “very, very unlucky for him” adding that he felt “bad for him.”

Though Daruvala was not penalised for the incident, it ended his best hopes of a win in 2023. The Maserati MSG Formula E rookie therefore finished his four-year spell in F2 with three victories in total.

Rodin Carlin driver Enzo Fittipaldi went on to snatch his maiden F2 victory after passing Van Amersfoort Racing rival Verschoor on the penultimate lap. MW

6 August - Bortolotti tip key in Paul's unlikely maiden DTM win

Nobody saw Paul's first DTM win coming, but a handy tip from Bortolotti proved key

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Nobody saw Paul's first DTM win coming, but a handy tip from Bortolotti proved key

The DTM enjoyed a remarkable run of nine consecutive races with different winners in 2023 before Mirko Bortolotti became the year's first double victor at the Lausitzring in mid-August. Among the drivers that stood on the top step in that run were some of the best-known GT3 racers on the planet, a proliferation of factory drivers and a 23-year-old whose previous best finish was 11th.

But the element to Maximilian Paul's shock win at the Nurburgring that went largely under the radar was the involvement of his Grasser Racing team's former driver, Bortolotti. The factory Lambo ace had been unable to start the race due to a mysterious technical problem on his SSR-run Huracan GT3 in qualifying, and was stood in the Grasser pitbox to watch as Paul made quick progress from 13th on the grid - the choice of wet tyres having proven astute in the mixed weather conditions - to run second by his pitstop.

Bortolotti suggested to team boss Gottfried Grasser that he pump up the tyres for Paul's second stint, a point which proved crucial in the German catching race leader Lucas Auer's Winward Mercedes. Paul had previously shown his mettle at the wheel of a Lambo with a final-corner move to win a GT Open round in Hungary, and duly made use of Bortolotti's set-up nous to move ahead before romping away to score the biggest victory of his short career to date.

In doing so, he earned himself another round at the wheel of a car he'd initially taken over from Mick Wishofer on a one-off basis. As storylines go, you almost couldn't write it. JN

8 September - Restaurant visit helps Lappi keep WRC Acropolis Rally alive

Lappi's Hyundai was leaking water, but he kept his rally going after filling up at a restaurant's outside tap

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Lappi's Hyundai was leaking water, but he kept his rally going after filling up at a restaurant's outside tap

The rallying world often throws up some peculiar stories and this year the resourceful Esapekka Lappi delivered a barely believable headline at the Acropolis Rally.

Rally drivers have to be able to think on their feet and react to developing situations as the majority of the time they are out in the wilderness. And if something goes awry, help from the team is often several kilometres away.

One of the most famous examples of this from the past was at Rally Mexico in 2014 when Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville used a bottle of beer received on the podium to fuel his leaking radiator to reach the final time control and secure Hyundai’s first WRC podium. In Greece this year, Neuville’s Hyundai team-mate Lappi provided the latest example of this vital survival trait.

Sitting in fourth, the Finn damaged his i20 N’s radiator in a compression during the rough gravel Loutraki stage. Lappi was forced to pull over after completing stage four to conduct repairs, where he was able to limit the loss of water.

As fluid continued to escape from his car, Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm secured some water bottles at the stage end to re-fill the car’s radiator. But an unscheduled trip to a restaurant on road section was required to safely complete the remaining two stages and reach the end of day service.

“I think I made the leak a bit smaller, but every 30 kilometres I needed two litres of water,” an incredibly nonchalant Lappi told Autosport before going on to finish fifth overall. “I could get water from the stage ends as we could get bottles, and then we stopped at a restaurant on a road section. There was a tap outside of the restaurant and we filled the bottles.

“It was not crucial, but it was just to make sure we had enough [water] for the stage.”

I have nothing but admiration for rally drivers given the intensity of the roads and conditions they battle through. But the presence of mind to repair and nurse cars to the finish is next level. TH

23 November - Alpine abandons F1 engine equalisation push

Alpine withdrew a series of proposed upgrades to its current engine as these did not gain full support from rival teams, which led to an FIA assessment of the situation being closed

Photo by: Alpine

Alpine withdrew a series of proposed upgrades to its current engine as these did not gain full support from rival teams, which led to an FIA assessment of the situation being closed

There’s nothing quite like chasing a news story. The thrill of finding out new information, standing it up with subsequent sources, going through the rigorous editorial process to get it published. Oh and beating the competition too.

In my role as Autosport’s Grand Prix Editor, I necessarily take a slightly more removed view – taking in all the stories and data from every round and interpreting the narrative arcs of each campaign. My superb newshound colleagues Jonathan Noble and Matt Kew are welcome to all that regular headline stress.

But over the Las Vegas Grand Prix weekend – amid the much-vaunted glitz and the complete lack of sleep – I’d come across an intriguing story. That Alpine and its bid to get its Renault engines equalised with the bigger rival power outputs from Honda, Mercedes and Ferrari had it a stumbling block. In a shock move, Alpine’s fellow Piranha Club members hadn’t wanted that to happen and so the Enstone team had requested the FIA drop its assessment of how to make engine equalisation work.

After half a week of digging into emails and phone contacts (in the process discovering WhatsApp calls are strangely challenging in the United Arab Emirates) as the paddock decamped across half the world to Abu Dhabi, we got there. This piece went online and another small piece of the season’s story was entered.

Another, if I may be permitted to indulge myself, was how the drivers suddenly couldn’t park in their grid spots back at the start of the year. Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso got penalties in Bahrain and Jeddah before the FIA widened the boxes on subsequent grids by 20cm and everything got sorted.

But what has been quietly forgotten were the ‘guideline’ experiments trialled in Melbourne. Long white strips to help the drivers line up their machines more akin to pilots parking planes. They didn’t last long – and the whole grid box thing didn’t pop up as problematic again – but served as another reminder of how massive and unwieldy modern F1 machinery has become.

Here they are, seemingly never to be seen again… AK

3 December - 100 up for Greensall in 2023

Greensall's versatility shone through in 2023 as he hit the century mark of race starts earlier in the month

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

Greensall's versatility shone through in 2023 as he hit the century mark of race starts earlier in the month

With motorsport calendars around the world continually lengthening and more and more races being packed into individual events, there is certainly no shortage of opportunities for drivers to get out on track and register a huge number of starts. But very few will have contested quite as many races this year as Nigel Greensall.

The respected driver coach hit a landmark milestone earlier this month at Historic Sportscar Racing's Sebring event when he made his 100th race start of 2023. That is a remarkable achievement in itself, but what makes Greensall's tally even more noteworthy is his success and the sheer range of cars in which he has competed in the UK and much further afield.

Almost half of those outings have ended with Greensall finishing on the podium as he has piloted a plethora of different cars alongside their owners and has won 26 times. In total, he has raced 34 machines during the course of the season - ranging from historics such as a Lotus Elan and Ford Capri to a more modern Ligier LMP3. And his motorsport activity for the year is still not finished as Greensall is also due to tackle the Rixy Stages Rally today (30 December)! SL

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