Author: brfcjordan95

Young La Liga Names To Know

La Liga is a haven for the technical passing style dubbed “Tiki Taka” that Spain exported to the world with their dominance between 2008 and 2014. Real Madrid won their 34th league title, in a team filled with big money superstars.

The financial spending power Premier League clubs enjoy will be limited this summer with the impact of the Coronavirus. Despite this, clubs can still uncover some talented young gems from La Liga for a reasonable price. Here are eight names to know that would be a great signing for your club.

Mikel Oyarzabal – Real Sociedad

Mikel Oyarzabal is a product of the Real Sociedad youth system. The 23-year old primarily plays on the left wing, but can also play centrally. His ten goals and eleven assists helped secure the Basque club Europa League football for the first time since 2016-17.

His eleven assists were second only to Lionel Messi. As with most young Spanish wingers Oyarzabal is good with the ball at his feet, both dribbling and passing. What sets him apart is the intelligence of his movement. He manages to consistently find space within the oppositions defence and expose it. For an in-depth scouting report, check this Total Football Analysis article.

Oyarzabal is happy at Real Sociedad, but does have a £64 million release clause. He’s been linked to both Manchester clubs, and would make an immediate impact in the Premier League.

Oyarzabal stepped up this season. The Spain international took on captaincy and led Sociedad to their first Copa Del Rey Final since 1988. Oyarzabal stepped up above more well-known youngsters like Martin Odegaard and Alexander Isak. Photo: SportsKeeda

Carlos Fernandez – Sevilla

Carlos Fernandez starred for an upstart Granada team. The 24-year old strikers ten goals led the newly promoted club to seventh and Europa League football. Fernandez was on-loan from Sevilla.

He can play as a striker or behind in the number ten role, with pace and size to be a threat to both get in behind defenders or as a physical hold-up striker. He possesses good size and is technically sound but needs to work on his first touch. After two successful loan spells Sevilla could cash in this summer.

Carlos Fernandez (r) was a big part of Granada’s shock seventh place finish this season. The Sevilla prospect could attract Premier League interest after two good loan spells. Photo: Quality Sport Images/ Getty Images

Maxi Gomez – Valencia

Maxi Gomez doesn’t fit the stereotype of a prolific La Liga striker, but hit the ground running in his first season at Valencia. Gomez was a €14.5 million signing from Celta Vigo, scoring ten goals in a difficult season for Los murcelagos.

The Uruguayan is nicknamed El Toro “The Bull” and this best describes his style. He’s strong in the air and is the perfect penalty-box striker. He’s still improving his all-round game but Gomez perfectly suits the Premier League.

Valencia slapped a €140 million release clause in his contract, but he has still attracted interest from Manchester United and Tottenham.

Maxi Gomez isn’t a typical La Liga striker, but has been a shining light in a tough season for Valencia. His physical style would perfectly fit in the Premier League. Photo: Alberto Saiz/AP

Marc Cucurella – Getafe

Marc Cucurella was a revelation for a promising Getafe side. The 22-year old had six assists from the left wing position. He was a Barcelona youth product at left back, excelling further up the pitch.

He can run all day, and fits the modern full-back mould. His pace is an attacking outlet, and can produce in the final third. Cucurella was a constant in the team, playing 37 games as Getafe finished eighth. Nine yellow cards show he can be a rash tackler, but is versatile and excels both in defense and attack.

Getafe exercised their option to sign him for €6 million in March. He’s now linked with the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Napoli.

Marc Cucurella wasn’t deemed good enough for Barcelona, but is now impressing at Getafe. His 938 pressures this season led La Liga. He’s now linked with some of Europe’s elite. Photo: Unknown

Takefusa Kubo – Real Madrid

Takefusa Kubo became a social media star last summer, with his exploits in pre-season at Real Madrid earning him the nickname “The Japanese Messi”. The diminutive 19-year old winger impressed on-loan at relegated Mallorca this season.

His stats of four goals and four assists don’t jump off the page, however this was his first season in La Liga. His 81 successful dribbles was fifth in the Spanish top flight, and his excellent technical abilities were a constant spark.

His dribbling and passing ability are top notch, as is his off-ball awareness. He often drifts into spaces within the final third to receive the ball. Kubo needs to work on his strength, at 67kg he can easily be bullied by top defenders. He will likely go out on-loan again next season, with Europe’s top clubs queuing up to sign him, including PSG, A.C Milan, Ajax and Celtic.

Takefusa Kubo has been unfairly dubbed the “Japanese Messi”, but at 19 still has plenty of time to develop his already impressive technical ability. Photo: Getty Images

Pervis Estupinan – Osasuna

Pervis Estupinan emerged as one of the best left backs in La Liga, as part of impressive La Liga debutants Osasuna. The 22-year old Ecudorian was in the first of a two-year loan from Watford.

Estupinan excelled both in defence and attack. His 63 interceptions (fifth), 87 tackles (fourth) and 57 successful tackles (seventh) were all top ten. He’s the true modern full-back, with the majority of his touches coming in the midfield third.

Almost half of Osasuna’s attacks came from his side, and his 37 crosses into the penalty area was second in La Liga. He was given creative license at Osasuna, and is now highly sought-after. Osasuna have an option to buy him for €9 million, but he can also be recalled by recently relegated Watford. They could then cash in, with Barclona, Athletico Madrid, Manchester United and Chelsea all circling.

Pervis Estupinan is in-demand by a number of Spain and England’s top clubs, with Watford mostly likely to cash in on him now they’ve been relegated from the Premier League. Photo: Getty Images.

Unai Simon – Athletic Bilbao

Many Premier League fans have maligned Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa this season, and Chelsea fans may despair when they see how well his Athletic Bilbao replacement Unai Simon has played this season.

Simon’s 12 clean sheets in 34 games was sixth in La Liga. He is a good shot-stopper, and was key as Athletic Bilbao only conceded 38 goals, the fifth-best defensive record.

The 23-year old is also good with his feet, completing 58.7% of his passes. This was his first season as the number one. Simon has a £43 million release clause, although is close to signing a new deal with his hometown club. This hasn’t stopped Real Madrid from taking an interest, as their long-term replacement for Thibaut Courtois.

Unai Simon has impressed at Athletic Bilbao, adequately replacing the departed Kepa. Simon will thrive when he earns a big money move. Photo: 90min.com

Marc Roca – Espanyol

Marc Roca’s play this season was a highlight for Espanyol. The historic club were relegated for the first time since 1994. Academy product Roca earned plaudits for both his defensive and play-making ability.

The 23-year old excels in central and defensive midfield. His 85 tackles (fifth), 61 successful tackles (sixth) and 218 passes into the final third (fifth) embody his talents. He lacks pace, but has excellent positional awareness and has the technical ability to play passes across the pitch.

He is also known for his high-pressing style of play that makes it very hard for opponents. Roca became a leader for the team, and has attracted attention from the likes of Arsenal, Real Madrid, A.C Milan and Everton. He has a €40 million release clause, but Espanyol could accept less now they have been relegated.

Marc Roca starred for a poor Espanyol side, but is now destined to move on after relegation. Top clubs like Real Madrid, Arsenal and A.C Milan are all interested in him. Photo: Alex Caparros/Getty

That wraps up this quick piece, if you have any thoughts be sure to comment below. Thank you for reading and follow me on Twitter @JWjournalism.

Are Atalanta Europe’s Most Exciting Team?

Atalanta are not an Italian or European superpower, and have never wanted to be. Since their inception in 1907 they have remained a provincial club which embodies their Bergamo roots. They are therefore the unlikeliest of footballing heroes, a team which can claim to be the most exciting team in European football.

The team in the foot hills of an ancient walled Italian city have scored 85 goals in 31 games, a number only beaten by Bayern Munich. The German champions have played more matches, and at their current rate there’s a good chance Atalanta will finish the season Europe’s most prolific goalscorers.

The team are a throwback fans dream of for their team, one which attacks relentlessly, throwing caution to the wind. Amidst the culture of modern football where defending is king and counter-attacking the best option watching Atalanta reminds you of a the great swashbuckling sides of a bygone era.

Gian Piero Gasperini has revolutionized Atalanta, taking them from mid-table Serie A club to Champions League giant-killers. Photo: Unknown

Atalanta have been molded in the image of their manager Gian Piero Gasperini. The 62-year old favours an ultra-attacking high-possession style of football, with little emphasis on defensive tactics. His teams trademarks are to utilize short passing, off-ball movement and overlapping full-backs.

The symbiotic relationship between Gasperini and Atalanta is critical to their success. Atalanta have mastered the transfer market, finding out-of favour players and reviving their careers. They have managed to build a team within their small budget that are now competing in the Champions League, along with making massive profits on the players they sell.

Duvan Zapata was a solid if unspectacular Serie A striker, before joining Atalanta in 2018 for €12 million. Since then, he’s been transformed into one of Europe’s hottest strikers, with 37 goals in 56 Serie A games. Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Ciro Immobile have scored more.

Duvan Zapata struggled at Napoli, making only 37 appearances in five years. Atalanta transformed him into one of Serie A’s best strikers. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

Luis Muriel is an outlier for the club in that he was already established in Europe. The club spent €18 million on him this past summer, but has immediately impressed with 16 goals in 27 Serie A matches. Muriel is an example of the calibre of player the club can now attract with their newfound status as a Champions League club.

In every position you see their extraordinary transfer business. Papu Gomez,signed from Metalist Kharkiv in Ukraine, is on course to lead the Serie A assists charts for the second consecutive season. Josep Ilicic was deemed surplus to requirements at Fiorentina, yet over the past two seasons no Serie A midfielder has scored more goals or created more assists then him.

The trio of Robin Gosens, Rafael Toloi and Hans Hateboer occupy three of the top four spots for most assists by defenders this season. Goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini has kept seven clean sheets in 27 games, good enough for ninth best in Serie A.

Robin Gosens signed for Atalanta in 2017 for a rumoured €900 000 fee, yet three years later the club have already rejected a €22 million bid from Lyon. Chelsea and Inter Milan are also interested in him. Photo: Marcio Machado/Eurasia Sport/Getty

The club have used this strategy to garner massive profits, earning over €110 million from player sales since Gasperini took over in 2016. These include the likes of Franck Kessie to A.C Milan, Bryan Cristante to A.S Roma and Mattia Caldara to Juventus.

Atalanta’s successes both on an off the pitch are intertwined. The club are able to find take risks on hidden gems and out-of favour players because they know their style of play can get the best out of them. They have done an phenomenal job finding players that excel in their attacking system.

After earning plaudits in Italy, the club have now taken Europe by storm. This season is their first in the Champions League, a massive achievement for a club with the 13th highest wage bill in Serie A. Their defensive frailties were exposed early on, but they shocked many by qualifying for the Round of 16.

Atalanta players celebrate their dismantling of Valencia in the Champions League round of 16. Every remaining team will be scared of their attacking prowess. Photo: Daniele Mascolo/Reuters

Their finest hour yet came in those two legs, brushing aside a talented Valencia team 8-4 on aggregate. They will learn their Quarter-Final opponent in several days time, but one thing for sure is that nobody will underestimate them. They are the ultimate underdog story, scaring the European elites with their ultra-attacking presence.

What does the future for Atalanta B.C look like? The club are fighting for second in Serie A and are one of the last eight of the Champions League. Both would be highlights for the club in their 112-year history, but how much longer will it last?

It’s a depressing fact that when an underdog club punches well above it’s weight, the best clubs in Europe queue up to poach their best talent. Monaco and Ajax are recent examples of this. What could limit their losses in Bergamo is their playing style. Clubs might question how much of the players success is individual brilliance or a by-product of an extreme attacking philosophy.

Josip Ilicic (72) and Papu Gomez (10) are both 32, but are enjoying an Indian summer at Atalanta. How long will both remain in Bergamo? Photo: Marca

Another factor on their side is the age of some of their stars. Josep Ilicic and Papu Gomez are 32, which will scare some teams. Strikers Luis Muriel and Duvan Zapata are both 29, so hold limited re-sell value.

It might prove harder to keep their younger stars, such as recently signed Mario Pasalic. He’s only 25-years old and will already be attracting attention. The club has a very young defence, one which has played extremely well despite playing in a system that often exposes them. The club have the joint fifth-best defence in Serie A, and those young defensive stars will be hard to keep hold of as the vultures circle above.

On the flip side, a second successive top four Serie A finish and Champions League appearance will massively boost the clubs financial position. The club have already earned enough from the Champions League (€46.7 million) to cover their yearly wage bill (€36 million).

Their historic Stadio Atleti Azzurri D’Italia is undergoing a massive renovation project to modernise it and bring them closer to the elite Italian clubs. Another year of European football can help the club attract better players, along with offering much higher wages to keep their best players.

The future looks bright for Atalanta B.C, with unparalleled success on the pitch leading to increased financial power and prestige off-the field. Football fans always love an underdog story, and Atlanta B.C are deserving of every possible plaudit for their achievements. As many fans struggle with modern football, the success of Atalanta and their attacking play are refreshing to see. Let’s hope they can continue on their upward trajectory.

Have any thoughts on this article? Let me know in the comments section below and a massive thank you for reading this article. Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism.

2001 British F3: Where Are They Now?

This post came about thanks to a nostalgic trip through YouTube several weeks back. Motorsport2000 on VHS posted almost every race of the 2001 British F3 season. This brought back childhood memories of watching the highlights on Channel 4.

The 2001 season would be one of the series last hurrah. The grid saw six drivers reach F1, with full grids of up to 40 cars. The series carried the reputation as the best in the world, with international drivers flocking to Britain hoping to reach F1.

In the coming years the series would decline after the creation of the F3 Euroseries in 2003. Almost 20 years later, what did the 2001 class go on to achieve?

1st) Takuma Sato – 345 Points – Carlin Motorsport Dallara F301-Mugen Honda

Takuma Sato was the pre-season favourite, as the highest placed returning driver. The 24-year old started the season slowly, before strolling to the title with 12 wins from 26 races.

Sato was signed by Jordan for his F1 debut in 2002, enjoying a very solid six year career. He showed flashes of promise at BAR, but was left in the cold when the Super Aguri team folded part-way through the 2008 season.

He emigrated to America,making Indycar his home since 2010. He notably won the 2017 Indy 500. He’s enjoyed a good Indycar career, and is set for his eleventh year in the series once racing resumes.

Sato was the leading light of the 2001 British F3 grid. He’s become one the most successful Japanese drivers of all-time. Photo: Unknown

2nd) Anthony Davidson272 Points – Carlin Motorsport Dallara F301-Mugen Honda

Anthony Davidson was the rising star of British motorsport in 2001, as the reigning Formula Ford Festival winner plus the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC award winner.

He took time to adjust to Formula Three, but came on strong late in the season. Six wins was enough for him to secure a distant second in the points.

Davidson already had a test driver role with the BAR F1 team, making his debut as a two-race stand-in for the Minardi team in 2002. He would impress as a test driver, eventually getting his chance with Super Aguri in 2007-08.

Since then Davidson has enjoyed a career in sportscars. He’s raced with both Peugeot and Toyota, winning the World Endurance Championship in 2014. He’s remained in F1 as a simulator driver for AMG Mercedes, along with a commentary role with Sky Sports F1.

Anthony Davidson developed during the year, and ended the year in impressive form. He would join team mate Sato in F1 less then a year later. Photo: Peter Spinney/LAT

3rd) Derek Hayes – 234 Points – Manor Motorsport Dallara F301-Mugen Honda

Derek Hayes was an underfunded but talented racer. Hayes had barely a years racing experience before he finished a close second to Jenson Button in the 1998 British Formula Ford series.

The Northern Irishman impressed with reigning champions Manor Motorsport, claiming one win and contending for the title in his debut year. His lack of funding kept him in F3 for 2002, winning a race in the French series.

He moved across to the British Ascar series in 2003, alongside a short stint in the Nascar Busch series. After a two-race cameo in the F3 Euroseries in 2004, Hayes hung up his helmet. He now runs the family caravan park and leisure homes business back in Northern Ireland.

Hayes is one of the lost talents in the 2001 F3 class. The Northern Irishmen tested future F1 champions, but just didn’t have the funding the make the breakthrough. Photo: Peter Spinney/LAT

4th) James Courtney – 227 Points – Jaguar Racing Dallara F301-Mugen Honda

James Courtney went into 2001 as the reigning British Formula Ford champion. He was affiliated with the Jaguar F1 team, and won on his series debut at Silverstone.

This would be his only win, but he remained a constant threat to the dominant Carlin team, generally outpacing fellow Jaguar junior driver Andre Lotterer.

Courtney joined Carlin as favourite for the 2002 title, but a massive Jaguar testing crash at Monza forced him to miss two races, eventually finishing second. That was as close as he got to F1, winning the Japanese F3 title in 2003.

A stint in Japan preceded a move back to Australia in 2006, competing in V8 Supercars. It’s been his home since, winning the title in 2010. He’s also come close to a Bathurst 1000 win, with four podium placings in 14 years.

Courtney seemed destined for F1 in 2001, impressing the Jaguar racing team. A massive testing crash in 2002 signaled the end of his F1 ambitions. Photo: Peter Spinney/LAT

5th) Gianmaria Bruni – 156 Points – Fortec Motorsport Dallara F301-Renault

Bruni was one of the top returning drivers, having finished fifth in his debut season. Despite using an unfancied Renault engine, Bruni was a consistent podium finisher, winning one race at Donington Park.

He would progress through European F3000 to reach F1 with Minardi in 2004. He struggled in a under-developed car, and was evenly matched by team-mate Zsolt Baumgartner.

Two years in GP2 preceded a switch to sportscars. Since 2007, Bruni has excelled as a factory Ferrari and Porsche GT driver. His highlights include three GTE class wins at the Le Mans 24 Hours and two World Endurance Championship GT class titles.

Bruni found success in British F3, but never had the equipment to fight for the title. His career in sportscars show his tremendous talent. Photo: Peter Spinney/LAT

6th) Andy Priaulx – 146 Points – Alan Docking Racing Dallara F301-Mugen Honda

Andy Priaulx found success moving to Alan Docking Racing for 2001, with three wins and seven total podiums. Inconsistency curtailed a title challenge, but his speed was often on display.

A cameo in British Touring Cars led to a career change for 2002, quickly becoming a BMW factory driver for 2003. He would cement his place in history with a European Touring Car title in 2004, followed by three years of World Touring car titles from 2005-07. He’s pivoted into sportscars with BMW and now Ford, over a long career as a factory driver.

Priaulx found success in 2001 after a difficult rookie year. His success in touring cars show what might have been in formula racing. Photo: Peter Spinney/LAT

7th) Andre Lotterer – 143 Points – Jaguar Racing Dallara F301-Mugen Honda

Lotterer moved to the British series after an impressive rookie season in German F3. The Jaguar Racing team struggled in 2001, especially Lotterer. He did win a round at Snetterton, and was a consistent points scorer. Despite a year of F3 experience, Lotterer was outclassed by his rookie team-mate.

His affiliation with Jaguar ended after 2002, instead making his name in Japan. He became a two-time Super GT and one-time Super Formula champion, before moving into sportscars with Audi. He won Le Mans three times in four years, and now competes in Formula E with Porsche.

Lotterer was solid but not spectacular in British F3, and his F1 career with Jaguar petered out after 2002. He did at least make an F1 cameo at the 2014 Belgian GP. Photo: Peter Spinney/LAT

8th) Matt Davies – 136 Points – Team Avanti Dallara F301-Opel

2001 was a make or break year for Matt Davies. The young Brit was in his third year of British F3, needing to impress. Two wins in the opening four races saw him lead the series after two rounds, but only two more podiums for the year saw him slip to eighth.

This would be the high-point for Davies, whose career faltered through lack of finance. He would make forays in club racing, winning the 2008 Porsche 924 and 2014 Mazda MX-5 titles.

Like many young drivers, Davies career was halted through lack of finance. With proper funding, he should have enjoyed a long career in motorsport. Photo: Peter Spinney/LAT

9th) Mark Taylor – 91 Points – Manor Motorsport Dallara F301-Mugen Honda

Mark Taylor’s season was one of two halves. The rookie took time adjusting to F3, but ended the year strongly. Two podiums at Brands Hatch and Silverstone showed improvement, becoming a regular top six finisher in the final rounds.

Taylor stayed with Manor for 2002, winning his first race and improving to seventh overall. He transitioned to Indy Lights in America for 2003, dominating the series and earning a Indycar drive for 2004. He found the jump a difficult one, with a truncated year blighted by accidents. Taylor gave up on his motorsport career, only recently returning in the British Truck Racing series.

Taylor was yet another example of a talented young British driver whose career faltered due to a lack of finance. He proved in America he had the talent to be given a chance. Photo: Lyndon McNeil/LAT

10th) Bruce Jouanny – 65 Points – Promatecme UK Dallara F301-Mugen Honda

Bruce Jouanny joined Promatecme for his graduation to British F3, after previous success in Formula Palmer Audi. The Frenchman struggled early on, but improved throughout the season and became a regular points scorer by seasons end.

Jouanny returned in 2002, winning two races and improving to fourth. His post-British F3 career is varied. He raced in World Series by Nissan, switched to sportscars with three Le Mans 24 Hours starts. These days he is a motorsport manager and co-hosts the French version of Top Gear.

Jouanny showed plenty of potential in British F3, but for unknown reasons his career fizzled out afterwards. Photo: Lyndon McNeil/LAT

11th) Jamie Spence – 63 Points – Duma Racing Dallara F301-Mugen Honda

Spence was the elder statesman of the 2001 British F3 class. The 28-year old had struggled with finance, and had been stuck at the British F3 level since 1993. Duma Racing were a new team and Spence started well with pole for the opening round at Silverstone.

Spence and Duma flashed potential, but they struggled to gain the results. One second place was his only podium, and he missed the final two races at Silverstone. Spence subsequently retired from motorsport, outside of a brief cameo in the British LMP3 Cup in 2017.

Jamie Spence had been stuck in British F3 for many years, but this proved his last hurrah of his racing career. Photo: Crash.net

12th) Paul Edwards – 57 Points – Alan Docking Racing Dallara F301-Mugen Honda

Paul Edwards was thoroughly outpaced by team-mate Andy Priaulx. He scored two top four results in the opening four races, but a lack of budget forced him to miss the final eight races.

He would have been in the top ten had he completed the year. He since made a living in the GT categories in Grand-Am sportscar racing, last competing in 2012.

Edwards struggled in his debut year, and moved back to America where he made his name in Grand-Am. Photo: Motorsport.com

13th) Ryan Dalziel – 55 Points – RC Prost Junior/Duma Racing Dallara F301-Opel/Mugen Honda

Ryan Dalziel started the year at the RC Prost Junior team, which lasted until round six. Dalziel moved across to Duma Racing to complete the year.

Dalziel moved to America, solidifying himself first in Formula Atlantic before switching to sportscars in IMSA. He’s a Le Mans class winner and Petit Le Mans overall winner, and is now in his eighteenth year competing in America.

Dalziel found 2001 a tough year, but had plenty of mitigating circumstances. His success in America is more reflective of his talents. Photo: Crash.net

14th) Nicolas Kiesa – 46 Points – RC Prost Junior Team Dallara F301-Opel

Nicolas Kiesa was a pre-season contender, but he endured a nightmare. His RC Prost team struggled, and he left the team half-way through the year.He completed the season competing in German F3.

Kiesa moved up to F3000, famously winning the 2003 Monaco race at the finish line. His two-year F3000 stint led to a five-race F1 cameo with Minardi to finish out 2003. He took a third-driver role with Jordan in 2005, before a year in DTM and sportscars for 2006. He now competes in Danish national racing.

Nicolas Kiesa would have felt confident heading into 2001. His year couldn’t have gone much worse however. Photo: Motorsport.com

15th) Jeffrey Jones – 38 Points – Manor Motorsport Dallara F301-Mugen Honda

Jeffrey Jones joined Manor for 2001, but struggled throughout the year. Seven points finishes in 26 races reflect his struggles. He moved back to America for 2002, finishing second in Formula Ford 2000. His future racing career is unclear, he possibly switched across to the world of drift racing.

Best of the Rest

Alex Gurney, son of legendary American driver and designer Dan Gurney, moved to British F3 in 2001 partnering Gianmaria Bruni at Fortec. He found the transition difficult, and was thoroughly beaten by Bruni. He returned to the Formula Atlantic series for 2002 before switching to sportscars. He was a two-time Grand-Am champion in 2007 and 2009, but hasn’t competed since 2014.

Milos Pavlovic was in his second year of British F3, at Team Avanti. He only competed in ten races, but managed to score good points. He won the Italian F3 title in 2002, before stints in World Series by Nissan, GP2 and FIA F2 before switching to GT racing. He primarily races in Lamborghini Super Trofeo and GT3 racing.

Martin O’Connell raced the second Team Avanti car in the opening round, scoring an eighth and sixth. O’Connell primarily raced in FIA Sportscars, before a long-stint away from motorsport. From 2011 onwards he’s made his name in historic racing.

2001 was a tough year for Rob Austin, his first in British F3. His Alain Menu Racing team were also new, to further compound their learning curve. Three further years in British F3 didn’t yield much, before national racing success and a re-birth in British Touring Cars from 2011-2018.

Collins was already looking to progress out of F3 in 2001, moving into prototype sportscar racing. This is him racing to seventh in the 2000 Macau Grand Prix. Photo: Peter Spinney/LAT

Ben Collins was a former British F3 race-winner, who made a cameo at Alain Menu Racing at Rockingham and Castle Combe. Collins enjoyed a varied career, racing everything from Le Mans prototypes to Ascars. Collins is more widely known for being The Stig for the popular BBC car show Top Gear between 2003 and 2010.

The final half-dozen only made cameo appearances, to little effect. American Phil Geibler reached F3000, before making the Indy 500 in 2007. Sakon Yamamoto would reach Formula One in 2006, completing partial seasons with Super Aguri, Spyker and HRT.

The class of 2001 was filled with supremely talented young drivers. Six of them would reach F1, with other becoming champions in touring cars, GT racing and V8 Supercars. The grid was also filled with drivers who couldn’t progress, for a multiple reasons. Some didn’t have the finances, some made bad choices and some were simply overlooked. Almost 20 years on, the 2001 class lived up to the immense promise they had at the time.

Racers at Home Series: Colin Braun

The latest Racers at Home series article saw me ask IMSA WeatherTech racer Colin Braun some questions. Braun is a legend of American sportscar racing. He is a three-time Rolex 24 class winner and has enjoyed success in series as varied as Nascar and Global Rallycross.

Braun enjoyed a long partnership with amateur driver Jon Bennett at CORE Autosport. They secured back-to back LMPC titles in 2014-15 before stepping up to the main Prototype class in 2018. They came within three points of the overall title in their debut season. For 2020 he joined DragonSpeed to win the LMP2 class, and is projected to return to the Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time since 2007.

Q1) First of all, where have you been spending the lockdown?

I have been spending that at my home in Charlotte, NC!

Q2) How have you been filling your time?

I have been spending it staying in shape, my trainer Trey Shannon from Podium Performance has created some great at home work outs, and I am lucky to have my own home gym – as well as a lot of cycling!  Plus getting into the SIM scene a bit has consumed some serious time!

TUSC Daytona Rolex 24 Hours

Braun has experienced success in many categories, but has really made his name in sportscar racing. Here he is is celebrating one of three Rolex 24 victories back in 2014. Photo: Motorsport.com

Q3) How did you assess the Rolex 24 with the DragonSpeed team?

I was really thrilled, the entire team did a great job and it was a total team effort win!

Q4) How have your racing plans for 2020 been affected by Covid-19?

Well I think fortunately for the racing community most of our events have been postponed and not cancelled, so certainly some schedule changes but other than that I am glad to know we can all look forward to getting back to the track here, hopefully, soon and safely!

Q5) Have you been joining the online sim racing trend recently?

Yes I have been getting back into that scene, it is tough – lots of little tricks and things to go fast on the SIM vs real life but I am learning and having fun!

Q6) What has been your career highlight to date in your career?

Man tough, winning the 24 Hours of Daytona 3 times is pretty darn special!  Also though my NASCAR Truck series win in Michigan was really special!

2009_michigan_june_ncwts_colin_braun_victory_lane_t810

Braun has found success in many categories, including this Nascar Camping World Truck Series win at Michigan in 2009. Photo: Geoff Burke/Getty Images

Q7) What is your favourite race track and why?

I love Mosport – such an amazing track – great rhythm and flow!  Very fast and full commitment in the prototype cars – just an amazing feeling to be on the limit there!

Q8) What is the biggest thing you miss about racing?

I miss the feeling in the car of being on the limit the most!  A close second is all the great people in the sport, so fun to be able to get down to work with a lot of motivated and focused people pushing towards the goal of winning!

That wraps up my chat with Colin, my sincerest thanks go to him for giving up the time to answer these questions! Follow Colin on Twitter here and be sure to check out his website https://colinbraun.com/.

Racers at Home Series: Tristan Vautier

The latest driver to feature in the Racers at Home series is Frenchman Tristan Vautier. He made his name in America, with a 2011 Star Mazda and 2012 Indy Lights title leading to an Indycar berth in 2013. Since then he has diversified into sportscars, both in America and Europe.

He has parallel programs with Mercedes-Benz as a GT driver and with JDC-Miller in the IMSA WeatherTech series. For drivers like Vautier will multiple drives in a season, Covid-19 and the rescheduling of the season could really affect him.

Q1) First of all, where have you been spending the lockdown?

I’ve been in my US hometown in St Petersburg, FL, since the start of the confinement. Not the worst of places to be in these tough times!

Q2) How have you been filling your time?

I’ve been training a lot outdoors, practicing on the sim, and doing some reading and some other non-racing related stuff!

Indycar Fontana

Vautier celebrating his 2012 Indy Lights crown. The Road to Indy scheme propelled him from the junior ranks to the Indy 500. Photo: Motorsport.com 

Q3) How did you assess the Rolex 24 for your JDC-Miller team?

The team made a huge leap forward in this year’s Rolex 24, One car on the podium, two in the top five. Last year we qualified a second off the best Cadillac, this year, we were less than two tenths away. We still have some work ahead but everyone can be proud of the progress made after only one race with the Cadillac Dpi.

Q4) How has the Covid-19 rescheduling affected your racing plans for 2020?

It’s tough to know for now as we are not sure of the new schedules, conflicts, etc.! I should have a much clearer idea in a month or so.

Q5) Have you been joining the online sim racing trend recently?

I have! I have been trying to not get too addicted and to make sure I use it in the best way possible to be a better driver when we go back racing!

Q6) What has been your career highlight to date in your career?

My Star Mazda Championship title in 2011 because that’s what put me on the path to IndyCar, and to where I am now, at a time when it was make or break.

85-jdc-miller-motorsports-cadi-1

Vautier returned to JDC-Miller for the 2020 Rolex 24, helping the team achieve a very respectable fifth place finish. Photo: Motorsport.com 

Q7) What is your favourite race track and why?

It was the Baltimore Street course but IndyCar doesn’t go there anymore. I’d say Watkins Glen, just because of the flow, the rhythm and the high speeds.

Q8) What is the biggest thing you miss about racing?

That moment when you are about to get going and things get quiet, and you can feel your heart beat rise.

That wraps up this latest installment of this series, my sincerest thanks go to Tristan for taking the time to answer these questions. Be sure to follow Tristan on Twitter here. When racing resumes later this year be sure to watch out for him both in the IMSA WeatherTech series and the Intercontinental GT Challenge.

Racers at Home Series: Nicholas Boulle

This is the third installment of this Racers at Home series. If you want to view my previous interviews with Zacharie Robichon and Dennis Olsen you can find them here and here respectively. My latest interview comes with with IMSA racer and former Rolex 24 class winner Nicholas Boulle.

Boulle dovetails his racing career with working in the family business, de Boulle Diamond & Jewelry. He was the first driver in history to be a licensed Rolex dealer to win a Rolex watch at the Daytona 24 Hours. He’s been spending to keep busy in lockdown, and is competing in the IMSA iRacing challenge. You can watch it at 3.10pm Eastern Time via this link here.

Q1) First of all, where have you been spending the lockdown?

I’ve been in Dallas for the majority of lockdown – near my iRacing sim setup! I’ve had to make a few work trips down to Houston as well and I’m getting very good at making the drive without stopping.

IMG_0152

Nick Boulle in action with his #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsport LMP2 Oreca at this years Rolex 24. Photo: Nick Boulle

Q2) How have you been filling your time?

I’ve been doing the WFH as best as I can. This involved a lot of work on our companies website as well as pre-owned watch sales & jewelry sales. In addition, I’ve definitely taken some time to invest in my racing sim. It was pretty basic initially but now I at least have nice pedals and I’m going to upgrade the steering base some time soon too. The pedals made a massive difference so I am hoping the wheel base takes the same step forward for me. I’ve been playing catch up for sure but once I upgraded the pedals I suddenly saw the training value just by fixing that one touch point.

Q3) How did you assess the Rolex 24 for your PR1/Mathiasen team?

I always really enjoy working with the PR1 squad. Everyone on their team is there to get a result. It’s a family feeling, but no one is without purpose. I think as a whole we were the strongest team in the LMP2 class. And the guys actually showed that through the race even our mechanics & crew were just so prepared. I woke up to find out one of the guys had made a mistake on the banking and had to pit with damage. The guys got the car rolling and really were able to minimize the accident’s effects. Looking back, having learned what happened, we were just so lucky to have them prepared with the parts & capability of fixing the #52 on pit lane so quickly.

Q4) The IMSA season is due to resume in late June, do you think this is realistic?

You know… It’s really hard to say right now because it seems like more news comes out every day regarding COVID and safety & health measures around the United States and the world. I wake up most days wondering what information is going to come out that could change it all for the better or the worse. I’m excited though and it’s positive to hear about the steps IMSA is taking to get things going again.

Q5) Have you been joining the online sim racing trend recently?

I’ve been getting into iRacing a lot actually! My setup is pretty basic but I put a better set of pedals on it recently and it kind of opened my eyes up to how helpful it can be.

IMG_0158

The PR1/Mathiasen crew recovered from a small off to finish second this year, only two laps behind the more fancied DragonSpeed entry. Photo: Nick Boulle

Q6) What has been your career highlight to date in your career?

Definitely winning the ROLEX 24 Hours of Daytona in 2017. I’m not sure I ever found a picture of the car crossing the line which I had the honor of doing for the team… but that’s a special moment with a great group of people. Pato O’ward, James French and Kyle Masson were great teammates and still consider them friends. James French and I actually later had the opportunity to run together in IMSA twice thanks to the 2016 COTA round where we finished 3rd place.

Q7) What is your favourite race track and why?

I’ve got several favorite race tracks, but one in particular I have never been able to race in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship. I really enjoy Mid Ohio. It’s tight & twisty and a tough place to race, but it’s so rewarding when you get it right. I also really enjoy how much of a flow it has to it.

Q8) What is the biggest thing you miss about racing?
This is a tough question to answer because I don’t know where to begin! I would say the
beautiful thing to me about racing is that you live in a bubble for the weekend where the world is binary. The only thing that matters is winning and going faster. That’s maybe an oversimplification with sponsors, friends, family, team dynamics, but it’s how I approach the weekend.
That wraps up this interview with Nicholas, I would like to thank him for giving up the time to answer these questions! Go and follow Nicholas on Twitter here and be sure to check out the de Boulle Diamond & Jewelry website here. Next up next week will be IMSA DPI and Mercedes GT driver Tristan Vautier.

Racers at Home Series: Dennis Olsen

The latest subject for this Racers at Home series is Dennis Olsen. Olsen is the reigning Intercontinental GT Challenge champion and a former Porsche young professional driver. He’s a former winner of the Bathurst 12 Hours and has extensive links with Porsche. Olsen was hoping for a big 2020 season but has had to hit the pause button thanks to Covid-19.

Q1) First of all, where have you been spending the lockdown?

First of all I had to spend the 14 first days inside as I was testing in Paul Ricard when the lockdown came. After that I’ve been busy with coaching, exercising as well as preparing for whatever will come at the end of the year (hopefully). I also had some time to catch up some time with friends and family.

Q2) How have you been filling your time?

I’ve been trying to spend time on what is important to me – it’s been pretty boring to be honest to stay at home for such a long time, but I’ve kept myself pretty busy all the time. So right now I’m just hoping to get back on the race track as soon as possible.

Q3) We’ve seen multiple GT makes scale back their racing plans, how much do you think Covid-19 will affect motorsport?

It’s a sport that requires a lot of sponsorship, money and it is and will be tough for everyone to keep on going as if nothing happened. Hopefully everybody can come through this crisis and get back competing as we did in January at Daytona.

endurance-bathurst-12-hour-201-2

Olsen (left) partnered Matt Campbell (center) and Dirk Werner (right) combined for their Bathurst 12 Hour victory in 2019. Photo: Motorsport.com

Q4) The IMSA season is due to resume in late June, do you think this is realistic?
I do really hope this can be possible. Even though the championship can resume, it might be hard for me to travel. So fingers crossed that I can be there once we finally can see the green flag on track again.
Q5)Have you been joining the online sim racing trend recently?
I would like to and trying to get the equipment needed to be able to join some E-Sport while waiting for the real season to get started again.
Q6)What has been your career highlight to date in your young career?
My career highlight was to win the IGTC championship last year. We were competing against the best of the best, and the championship was not decided until the checkered flag.

porschewin1

Olsen (center) celebrating his IGTC title with his Porsche team mates. Photo: Porsche 

Q7)What is your favourite race track and why?
Nordschleife is to me still a favorite, due to the dangers and consequences the track can give. But I do really love the tracks in the US generally as they still are ”old fashion” race tracks with small margin for errors.
Q8)What is the biggest thing you miss about racing?
First of all it’s driving the cars, and fighting for victories – but definitely also the atmosphere on track with the team members and everyone around on track.
I would like to thank Dennis for giving up the time to answer these questions. We wish him the best of luck for the future. Be sure to follow him on Twitter here and Facebook here.

Racers at Home Series: Zacharie Robichon

Covid-19 has wreaked havoc across the world. As the death toll keeps rising many countries are under some form of lockdown order. The knock-on effect for non-essential business has been massive, as we rightly focus on essential sectors such as health care.

Sport has rightly been largely halted across the world, including motorsport. Whilst the world focuses on much more important matters, this series will hope to bring a little relief by asking various racing drivers how they are spending their lock down time. First up in the series is IMSA WeatherTech GTD Porsche driver Zacharie Robichon.

Q1) First of all, where have you been spending the lockdown?

I’ve been spending lockdown at my cottage in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec. Shortly after the pandemic started and before the true lockdown orders were in place my girlfriend and I decided it best to come up here instead of staying in Montreal!

Q2) How have you been filling your time?

It certainly hasn’t been the easiest to fill all the free time. Luckily up here we have lots to do outside so lots of hikes and bike rides. And the same as many others I’ve certainly been trying lots in the kitchen. I’ve also had some work to do with my role in running the Porsche Experience in Canada so that gives me some work to do everyday!

porsche-porsche-gt3-cup-usa-sebring-2018-zacharie-robichon

Robichon was a dominant Porsche GT3 Cup Canada champion in 2018, winning 11 of 12 races. This propelled him to a stunning rookie season in IMSA GTD last year. Photo: Motorsport.com 

Q3) How did you assess the Rolex 24 for your Pfaff team?

Of course Daytona was a big heartbreak for the team. We really believed that we were in a strong position and honestly as a team I believe we ran a near faultless race. The issue we faced was not caused by us or anything that could have been predicted by Porsche and was really just a freak accident and we happened to be the victims.

Q4) The season is due to resume in late June, do you think this is realistic?

At this rate I believe everyone is doing their best to try and get things moving. The key is that we need to ensure that we can move ahead safely with all the necessary safety precautions in place. I believe the biggest hurdle that we will face is the international travel rules and the potential for required quarantine when you do travel between countries. I’d like us to go racing of course, but I’m unsure whether or not it will be possible at the end of June.

Q5) Have you been joining the online sim racing trend recently?

I have not joined the sim racing trend. There’s a few reasons for this but the main ones being I don’t have the space for one! And to be completely honest my internet at the cottage would likely not support it anyways.

9-pfaff-motorsports-porsche-91-1

Robichon’s debut IMSA season couldn’t have gone much better. A Sprint Cup title, two wins and third in the GTD class. The future looks very bright for this young Canadian. Photo: Motorsport.com

Q6) What has been your career highlight to date in your young career?

It’s tough to pick one highlight but if I had too I would say the GTD Sprint championship from last season. Moving up to this level is always filled with a bit of self-doubt on whether or not you will be able to perform but that accomplishment really made all the hard work worth it.

Q7) What is your favourite race track and why?

If I had to pick one track it would be Road Atlanta, I love the high risk and high speed nature of it.

Q8) What is the biggest thing you miss about racing?

The racing itself! Nothing gets the adrenaline going like competing and pushing to your maximum against people who are doing the same. Driving is incredible, but nothing can replace the competition we feel on Race day.

I would like to say a massive thank you to Zacharie for giving up his time to answer these questions. Be sure to follow Zacharie on Twitter here and check out his website here. Next up in this series will be reigning IGTC champion racer Dennis Olsen. Stay tuned to the blog!

 

Ravens Trade For Calais Campbell

The Baltimore Ravens stole the sports headlines by announcing a trade for defensive end Calais Campbell. The 33 year-old Pro Bowler was sent to the Ravens from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a fifth-round pick (170th overall).

Campbell has been a premier pass rusher for years now, with Pro Bowl appearances in five of the past six years, along with an All-Pro designation in 2017. The move makes a ton of sense for both parties, with the Ravens massively improving a position of need. The Jaguars also clear $15 million in cap space, as it increasingly looks like their rebuilding.

Campbell was in the final year of his four-year $60 million deal, with the Ravens quickly agreeing to a two-year $27 million extension. The move gives Campbell another two years with a premium salary, whilst it helps lower the $15 million cap hit for the Ravens. According to @RavensSalaryCap on Twitter, this now leaves the team with $17.8 million in cap space heading into free agency on Wednesday.

https3a2f2fimages.saymedia-content.com2f.image2fmtcwmdi2mtmzodcynduyotg12fusatsi_13961345

Calais Campbell (left) scooped the MVP prize at the 2019 Pro Bowl. Both him and Lamar Jackson (right) are premium players at their positions for the Baltimore Ravens. Photo: SI

Baltimore now have a formidable front seven, with Campbell teaming up with defensive tackle Brandon Williams to provide a big interior presence. The Ravens like to add big defensive tackles, to help with stopping the run. The Ravens recently franchise-tagged linebacker Matt Judon, but he could be traded to improve the salary cap position.

The Ravens will look for a boost from recent draft picks at linebacker, Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser. The team had already inked veteran linebacker L.J Fort to a two-year $5.5 million extension back in November.

The Ravens defense improved massively throughout the 2019 season, but they have notable free agents this year. They include run-stuffing defensive tackles Michael Pierce, Jihad Ward and Justin Ellis along with linebackers Patrick Onwuasor, Josh Bynes and Pernell McPhee. The front seven position group could experience high turnover in 2020, so signing Campbell eases their concerns massively.

michael-pierce-usat

With the Campbell trade news, does this mean Michael Pierce will be leaving the Ravens this free agency? Photo: USA Today Sports

It’s likely the Ravens will add to this group with a high draft pick this year, as they don’t have massive cap space to sign premier free agents. It’s an excellent move from GM Eric DeCosta, who has now traded two fifth round picks for Pro Bowl talent. Trading for cornerback Marcus Peters made a massive difference to the Ravens defense last season, and now acquiring fellow Pro Bowler Calais Campbell shows the Ravens are in a SuperBowl window and looking to win now.

What do you think of this trade? Let me know in the comment section below and thank you for reading. Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism.

What to do With A Problem Like Manchester City?

The football world was shaken to it’s core on Friday evening with the announcement that UEFA had banned Manchester City from European competition for two years. The governing body of European football took this momentous step because of financial fair play (FFP) breaches along with misleading information provided by the club.

This is a talking point that rumbles on almost a week later. This appears a solitary case, but the ramifications of this could spread far beyond Europe. For now the dispute rumbles on, but what could this mean for the future of football? Let’s examine the events that led to this moment.

Manchester City are accused by UEFA of overstating sponsorship revenue they received to circumvent FFP rules. The estimated £200m allowed the club greater financial flexibility to sign top players like Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sane and John Stones. It also helped to pay their £300m wage bill, the third most in world football behind Barcelona and Real Madrid.

2c24f15700000578-3229462-image-a-137_1441896837998

De Bruyne has been key to City’s success since signing in 2016, the last year of which City are alleged to have breached FFP rules. Photo: Manchester City

This extra money via alleged financial doping unquestionably helped lay the foundations for the juggernaut team that won the Premier League and League Cup in 2018 as well as an F.A Cup in 2019. Some have now questioned the validity of these successes, knowing the club could have cheated to attain them.

This UEFA investigation opened in November 2018 after leaked internal emails from the club surfaced at German publication Der Spiegel as part of their Football Leaks platform. The whistleblower Rui Pinto now sits in a Portuguese prison awaiting trial for hacking charges. UEFA had previously punished City and PSG in 2014 for rules breaches, reaching a financial settlement with the two clubs.

This previous punishment helps explains the ongoing rift between Manchester City and UEFA. The club responded immediately on Friday night, releasing a statement protesting their innocence as well as besmirching the investigation as one of bias with a pre-determined guilt. The club have now employed an army of lawyers to help with their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

EQ1GXKQWsAA_BjE

This is what City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak is reported to have told FIFA president Gianni Infantino in the past. Could this antagonistic attitude cost the club? Photo: City Extra/Twitter.

A large bone of contention between the two entities is the level of dialogue. UEFA believe that City were either non-cooperative or misled the investigation, which factored into their much larger punishment. UEFA has given similar punishments in recent years to the likes of A.C Milan, who were banned from Europe for one season.

The fact City didn’t cooperate with the investigation will have factored into their two year ban. City themselves have refuted this, believing that they provided all necessary information and cooperation in this investigation, despite consistent leaks to the media.

This decision from UEFA will now be played out at CAS, and could last for several years. This is a landmark case for both parties, with the loser sure to come out of this bloodied. If Manchester City lose, they could lose star manager Pep Guardiola along with a host of players. If UEFA lose, the FFP system will lose all authority as clubs ride roughshod over it.

0_manchester-city-v-west-ham-united-premier-league-etihad-stadium

City fans made their feelings towards UEFA known at their Premier League game against West Ham. Photo: EMPICS Sport

Whatever happens, UEFA could lose in the long run. City could use their two-year suspension to build their global brand playing lucrative friendlies in attractive markets such as Asia and North America. If UEFA lose this ruling, it will be a humiliating defeat that will only embolden prestige clubs to create their own breakaway European Super League.

Since taking over the club in 2008, owner Sheikh Mansour has invested hundreds of millions of pounds to elevate City to a competitive level. Since Guardiola took over in 2016 the club have a net spend of £340m. The club have the fifth highest income in football, however this drops to eighth if you discount the troublesome Etihad deal.

The club have been in the shadow of city rivals Manchester United for almost their entire history. United are a truly global club and have become a hugely successful brand across the world, in part thanks to their historic successes. This is something City have been trying to build in just over a decade.

960x0

City rivals Manchester United have a global supporter base thanks to sustained success. This is something City are playing catch up to. Photo: China Group via Getty Images.

FFP restrictions limit the Man City model of a wealthy owner pouring money into the club until they are successful a la Roman Abramovich at Chelsea. City haven’t had enough time to build their global brand, so to compete with the best in England and Europe they will have felt under pressure to use the owners money to even the playing field.

Some pundits have already hypothesized a very small positive to come out of this for City. With looming sanctions, will they turn this into a motivational boost to win the Champions League this year. For the club, it would no doubt give them great satisfaction to be handed the biggest prize in club football by the people they are going up against in court.

This legal dispute feels like a landmark moment for European football that could have far reaching consequences in the near future. Will UEFA be able to stamp its authority, or will City show that big clubs now have the power in football? The legal battle will no doubt be ugly, however it seems this will be difficult for City to overcome.

They have never said the leaked documents were fake, so it seems clear cut that they broke the FFP rules they agreed to every season when they play in the Champions League. The emails and their reactionary statement show a level of arrogance at the top levels of the club that only sways neutrals to UEFA’s side. Maybe City can force UEFA into a reduced punishment, but for now it seems City are bang to rights and need to take their punishment.

Do you have any thoughts on this piece? Let me know on Twitter @JWjournalism. Thank you for reading this article, I really appreciate it!