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Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe of Canada competes in the Honda Indy car race in Toronto July 8, 2012. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe of Canada competes in the Honda Indy car race in Toronto July 8, 2012. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

Motorsports

Best and worst moments in Canadian racing of 2012 Add to ...

With 2012 coming to a close, here is a look back at the best and worst moments in Canadian racing this year.

Canadian driver of the year – Bruno Spengler, Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters

In what can only be described as a huge surprise, Bruno Spengler led the fledgling BMW team to the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters’ Triple Crown this season. After a slow start, Spengler lit it up in the second half, erasing a 40-point deficit to Gary Paffett in the final six races to take the drivers’ championship by four points.

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The St-Hippolyte, Que., native not only took individual honours, but his performance also backstopped BMW’s team and manufacturers crowns in its first year back after a two decade hiatus from the series. Along the way, Spengler was tops in wins with four and poles with three in 10 starts. He also became the first Canadian to take home a major international professional racing title since Paul Tracy took the 2003 Champ Car crown, and was the first to win a professional European racing series since Jacques Villeneuve’s 1997 Formula One world championship.

Canadian driver of the year on two-wheels

Jordan Szoke continued to re-write the Canadian motorcycle racing record books this year by taking his eighth national Superbike crown. The BMW S1000RR rider did it in jaw-dropping fashion, taking the title by a whopping 94-point margin over Andrew Nelson in the six-round season. With drivers getting 50 points for a win, Szoke’s margin was almost equivalent to two victories. His three wins in 2012 also put him at a record 40, which is 14 more than the previous mark of 26 held by Steve Crevier.

Disappointment of the year – Cancelled Canadian races

Racing fans in this country got a double dose of bad news this year when it was announced that both the IndyCar event in Edmonton and the NASCAR Nationwide race in Montreal would not be returning. Although it had huge financial support from the city, all eight Edmonton races lost money, going back to their Champ Car days and that was not likely to change without a title sponsor on board. It’s hard to blame race promoter Octane for pulling the plug. It was the same story in Montreal, where Octane ended the NASCAR race’s six-year run, saying it could not make money on the event. Racing fans rocked by this news may find a bit of solace in the fact that NASCAR’s truck series will make its debut at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park next year.

Manica of the year – James Hinchcliffe, IndyCar

When you are replacing the perennial most-popular driver in your series, it helps to have a good sense of humour. But new Go Daddy guy and Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe took that to another level in 2012 as he tried to fill Danica Patrick’s pumps after IndyCar’s most recognizable face left for the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

The Oakville, Ont., native had the series make up his annual IndyCar identification card with him sporting long, jet black hair, à la Patrick. He then showed up for the driver introductions at the St. Petersburg, Fla., season opener wearing the same wig and calling himself “Manica.” From there, Hinchcliffe’s easy going style and friendly demeanour won over the fans and he was voted most popular driver in IndyCar’s year-end fan poll.

Overtaking move of the year – Ron Fellows in NASCAR Nationwide race at Road America

After getting a flat tire while leading nine laps into the Nationwide race at Wisconsin’s challenging Road America track, Mississauga’s Ron Fellows put the bit between his teeth and set about climbing back up the field. Known as a driver who can make a stock car sing on twisty road course, Fellows needed about a dozen laps to get back into a top-3 position, but he needed to get around JR Motorsport teammate Danica Patrick to do it.

The veteran lined up Patrick on the entry to the long right hand “carousel” and then powered around his teammate on the dusty, low grip outside line in a pass that should not have worked. When asked how many times he tried that move in his countless races at the Elkhart Lake road course, Fellows grinned widely and replied: “Once.”

Rookie performance of the year – Robert Wickens, Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters

2012 wasn’t just Robert Wickens’ rookie year in DTM; it was the Guelph, Ont., driver’s first time racing a car with a roof. He adapted pretty well, scoring three points finishes by the end of the 10-race season and equalling his much more experienced teammate David Coulthard in points, and long the way, he learned how to bang fenders.

His race at the legendary Nurburgring in August showed that he has the right stuff in a touring car. On that weekend, he qualified ninth on the grid and then overtook three cars in the run to the first corner to move to sixth. Although he lost a place later in the race during the pitstops and finished seventh, it’s unlikely that his flawless drive for a backmarker Mercedes team went unnoticed. It was a successful first year for the driver who many feel is Canada’s best shot at getting to Formula One.

Worst luck – Alex Tagliani, IndyCar

The 2012 season finale said it all for Bryan Herta driver Alex Tagliani. He struggled with his car throughout practice at the California Speedways but worked hard to get things right for the race. Tagliani emerged as the frontrunner in the race and looked to be cruising to an easy win when his Honda engine blew with 20 laps left.

For fans who had watched Tagliani’s year unfold, it wasn’t a huge surprise. Simply put, whatever could go wrong in 2012 for the Lachenaie, Que., driver did. It started with the underpowered and unreliable Lotus engine, which his team dropped before the Indianapolis 500 and switched to Honda, but only after he was forced to sit out the fourth race in Brazil as he waited for his new motor deal.

When he finally had a fast car, something always seemed to go awry. For example, he easily had the quickest car in Detroit, but an electronics failure on the grid meant he started dead last. He sliced through the field to fifth before an ill-timed caution forced him to make a pitstop while the pits were closed and delivered a penalty that robbed him of any chance of a win. In addition, his one and only test of the season ended after one session due to an engine failure. The good news is that his luck probably can’t be worse in 2013.

For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone (No login required!)

Twitter: @jpappone

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