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Ferrari Formula One driver Fernando Alonso of Spain drives during the first practice session of the Canadian F1 Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal June 7, 2013. Next year, Kimi Räikkönen will join Alonso at Ferrari. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Ferrari Formula One driver Fernando Alonso of Spain drives during the first practice session of the Canadian F1 Grand Prix at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal June 7, 2013. Next year, Kimi Räikkönen will join Alonso at Ferrari. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Motorsports

The big stories to watch in Motorsports in 2014 Add to ...

The holidays may still be fresh in our minds, but the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which starts the 2014 racing year, is already less than a month away. Here are a few of the racing stories to watch in 2014.

Formula One engines

There are several changes coming to Formula One in 2014, but getting the new 1.6-litre V-6 turbo right will be the biggest challenge in grand prix racing next year. The manufacturers pushed to swap the normally aspirated V-8 for a small block turbo to help make the series more relevant to the powerplants they build for road cars.

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The new motors should put out about 600 horsepower (about 150 fewer than in 2013) with a rev limit of 15,000 rpm. The efficiency of these power units will be a determining factor in the outcome of races, since the maximum fuel allowed per race next year will be 100 kilograms (roughly 140 litres), down almost 38 per cent from the 160 kg the cars used in grands prix this year. It’s likely that the leader of the pack will already be identified in winter testing before the 2014 season opener in Australia.

Fireworks at Ferrari?

When it comes to drivers, the most interesting storyline may be Kimi Räikkönen’s return to Ferrari, where he won the 2007 F1 world championship. It will be fascinating to see the dynamic between Räikkönen and the team’s clear No. 1 driver over the past four seasons, Fernando Alonso.

The last time Alonso was paired with a driver who could challenge his speed – Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2007 – things didn’t turn out well, with the infighting and acrimony increasing between the pair as the year went on. In the end, Alonso and Hamilton battled each other to a draw and scored identical point tallies, while Räikkönen took home the title.

To make things more interesting, Alonso hasn’t been in the team’s good books lately. He and Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo traded blows in the media during the season over the car’s performance and then the driver was banned from talking about the outfit in social media following some critical tweets. The two-time world champion is in talks to leave Ferrari at the end of 2014 and re-join McLaren, which would love to have him back.

2014/2015 Formula E Championship

It’s got the attention of Hollywood star Leonardo Dicaprio and lots of love from the auto manufacturers, but let’s see if anyone else will care about the electric car Formula E.

Designed as a series to showcase electric technology devised by auto makers, Formula E will hold 10 rounds between September 13, 2014 (Beijing, China) and June 27, 2015 (London, UK). The events will be one-day only with practice, qualifying, and the race happening in quick succession. The format is due to the cars’ inability to run for long periods on a charge, which will make it difficult to create much buzz for races.

If it wasn’t enough that the limited battery power will mean drivers will need to pit twice to change cars during Formula E grands prix, the cars will also only have 180-horsepower available during races. The two factors alone will make Formula E seem more Mickey Mouse than serious racing. Nevertheless, it has attracted former Formula One team Super Aguri and IndyCar outfits Andretti Autosport and Dragon Racing, along with the Venturi team that counts Dicaprio as one of its owners.

Breakout Year for James Hinchcliffe?

There’s no doubt that the backing of Internet services company Go Daddy played a huge role in James Hinchcliffe’s success in 2013. But the high profile sponsor also kept Hinchcliffe busy off track. While it’s true that drivers have many demands on their time, not being as busy with TV commercials and numerous appearances – which he always insisted were part of the job – outside the car this year may help the Oakville, Ont., driver stay more focused.

Last year, the Andretti Autosport driver won three IndyCar races and became a bona fide title challenger. Although he struggled to find consistency, Hinchcliffe finished 2013 strongly and set the stage for a sustained championship challenge next year.

Make or Break for IndyCar

Six years after the unification of top-level open wheel racing in North America, the IndyCar Series continues to struggle to make an impression. It’s too bad, because the series has a racing product that easily rivals any on the planet and easily outpaces anything available on this side of the Atlantic.

Unfortunately, IndyCar continues to suffer from poor exposure due to several factors. The 2014 schedule certainly won’t help, with the series jamming its 18 races into five months, from March 30 to Aug. 30. With NASCAR dominating the airwaves, not all of IndyCar’s races will be on network TV in the U.S., which keeps it from many households and impedes its ability to gain momentum. And, it needs to find a new title sponsor to replace IZOD, which walked away at the end of 2013.

The decision to have a race on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway a few weeks before the marquee Indy 500 also hasn’t sat well with many hardcore fans. Finally, the series lost one of its biggest supporters and most recognized stars when Dario Franchitti was forced to retire following a crash in Houston. It all adds up to a challenging 2014 season for the series that can ill-afford trouble.

Canada Racing’s Rising Star: Scott Hargrove

Ever since he first sat in a go-kart, Scott Hargrove has dreamed about winning the Indianapolis 500 – and it just might happen. The reigning 2013 Cooper Tires USF2000 champion moves to the Pro Mazda Championship in 2014, as he continues his climb up the racing ladder. With his talent, the Surrey, B.C., teen might end up trying his hand at Formula One before taking a shot at the famed Indy 500.

Late in 2013, Hargrove scored a Team Canada scholarship to represent his country at the famed Formula Ford Festival in England and test his mettle against some of the best young talent on the planet. He didn’t disappoint, finishing a solid fourth overall in the festival and missing a podium by less than two-tenths of a second. The 18-year-old is not only fast on track, but he’s also a well-spoken young man with his feet firmly planted on the ground. Canadian companies would be wise to get behind this kid with long-term sponsor deals now, before his stock rises to dizzying heights.

Title challenge for Robert Wickens

The 2013 season was a good one for Robert Wickens. The Guelph, Ont., driver took his maiden Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) victory with an impressive drive in changing conditions. In addition, he took two other podiums and ended the year fifth overall in points. In reality, he should have been fourth overall and the top Mercedes driver, but DTM’s governing body made a strange decision in July after race winner Mattias Ekström was disqualified at the Norisring race and Wickens named victor.

Following an appeal by Ekström, DTM decided not to have a winner classified for the race and award points from second on with Wickens as the top finisher. The loss of those seven points was the difference between fourth and fifth and being the best of the Mercedes racers. But after spraying some champagne in 2013, Wickens will certainly be back in his AMG Mercedes C-Coupé in 2014 and looking for more wins and a championship.

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