The 1993 Indianapolis 500 was one of the greatest motor races of all time.
Nigel Mansell should have taken victory at his first attempt but messed up a restart with just 16 laps to go. His mistake let another Formula One World Champion, Emerson Fittipaldi, through to take victory.
Although it was a great race with twelve different leaders it was most notable for who took part. Joining Mansell and Fittipaldi on the grid were two other past F1 Champions, Mario Andretti and Nelson Piquet. Ex Grand Prix stars Stefan Johansson and Eddie Cheever were also present along with some of the best American racers of all time. In total the drivers shared seventeen Formula One and CART titles between them.
Proof of the driving quality was that three times CART Champion, Bobby Rahal, failed to qualify.
However the race could have been so much better. There was one other driver who wanted to take part but narrowly missed out due to circumstance. Ayrton Senna.
Senna was disillusioned with Formula One in 1993. His McLaren team had lost Honda engines and looked like struggling against the mighty Williams outfit. Ayrton had tried jumping ship to Frank’s team but Alain Prost got there first and prevented the move.
Without wanting to spend a year getting beaten, Senna decided to seek new pastures. He had always dreamed of racing at Indianapolis and Le Mans so this was the year he could try it out. Ayrton sorted a race-by-race deal with McLaren that meant he would drive only at the Grands Prix he wanted to and could leave the team at any chosen moment.
Senna then tested a Penske Indy Car at the Phoenix Firebird West track before the F1 season started. Regular Penske driver, Emerson Fittipaldi, was present and could not believe it when Senna beat his best lap by half a second. This was a circuit that Penske frequently used for testing but after only 25 laps Senna had gone quicker than Fittipaldi in an unfamiliar car. If Ayrton had applied himself further there is no doubt he could have succeeded in the Indianapolis 500.
As it turned out, Senna unexpectedly won three of the first six Grands Prix of the 1993 season and ended up staying with McLaren all year. Perhaps if he had not done so well at the start of the championship he would have pushed Penske harder for an opportunity at Indianapolis. Imagine if Senna had lined up in arguably the strongest field ever to contest a motor race. That would have been something awesome and would’ve started conversations for years. A real race for the ages.
Motorsport fans were treated to a similar spectacle only six years ago, although no-one knew it at the time.
The final round of the 2001 World Karting Championship at Suzuka was cancelled leaving race organisers to find another venue at short notice. Enter Michael Schumacher.
The seven times world champion quickly made officials an offer they could not refuse. He would let them stage the final round of the championship at his own track in Germany, provided he could take part. It was a win-win situation for everyone, especially for fans who got to see Michael Schumacher against the best youngsters on the planet.
World Championship Karting in 2001 was very healthy and it set up an awesome weekend at Kerpen.
Michael Schumacher lined up against the new kids on the block, who included none other than Vitantonio Liuzzi, Nico Rosberg, and some sixteen year old called Lewis Hamilton. Also in the field were Giedo van der Garde and Loic Duval who have recently tested Formula One cars.
Joining the line up of future F1 pilots were Karting legends Davide Fore and Sauro Cesetti. Both of them have battled for the World Championship over the past ten years with Fore emerging victorious on four occasions. Cesetti has always been the bridesmaid in the world title chase but has won numerous other European trophies. They were the kings of karting, so Michael Schumacher had put himself in the deep end against the very best.
The final two races at Kerpen would decide the outcome of the World Championship. Both Liuzzi and Fore were in contention, although Vitantonio had a comfortable points margin and was the clear favorite to win.
The other karting great, Sauro Cesetti, was not far behind the top two on the ladder and was keen to finish his season on a high.
The other notable challenger in 2001 was Giedo Van Der Garde, only sixteen years of age at the time. He had taken victory in the first race but inconsistency throughout the season dropped him to fifth in the standings. He was still very quick on his day and has since gone on to win races in European Formula Three. His Formula One testing duties are currently in dispute between Super Aguri and Spyker who both claim to have a valid contract with the Dutchman.
Van Der Garde was doing much better in 2001 than Team MBM who were running Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Neither of the two drivers impressed and only Lewis had scored points. Mercedes helped create the team so there was plenty of pressure on Hamilton and Rosberg to change their fortunes in Germany.
One of the men they were chasing was Loic Duval. The Frenchman did reasonably well in Karting and later went on to take pole and victory at the famous Macau Formula Three race. He also competed with success in the Formula 3 Euroseries but his best results came when he started racing in Japan. He won at the Suzuka round of the 2006 Formula Nippon championship, making him the only Honda powered driver to win ahead of the dominant Toyota cars all season. He managed another win before the year finished and was comfortably in front the nearest Honda challenger in the championship. He scored a test with the Renault Formula One team but nothing further came from it.
Given Lewis Hamilton’s recent success, Duval must be thinking gladly back to the days when he beat the Brit in Karting.
Schumacher, Hamilton, Rosberg, Liuzzi, Duval, Van Der Garde, Fore, and Cesetti. It was a very special collection of talent and the racing lived up to its promise.
The field was split into two groups for qualifying and it turned into a lottery when rain fell partway through. Schumacher was one of the drivers who qualified in the wet and although he dominated his group he was behind everyone who had set dry times. There was more drama to follow.
The defining moment of the weekend came at the very start of the first race. Davide Fore’s kart failed to make it off the line and instantly handed the World Championship to Liuzzi. Vitantonio celebrated by finishing in fourth just ahead of an improved Rosberg.
Sauro Cesetti won the first race and Lewis Hamilton took his best ever finish in seventh. Van Der Garde and Duval were close behind Lewis in the top ten.
Schumacher on the other hand had a very entertaining drive. Starting mid-grid he powered through the field only to suffer a wheel bearing problem on lap fifteen. The result was a DNF, but Michael’s speed was awesome and he made full use of his second chance later in the afternoon.
Schumacher decimated the competition in race two storming through the pack to finish less than a second ahead of Rosberg in third. When the race winner was disqualified, Schumacher’s third became second.
Michael finished only four seconds behind declared winner Cesetti, whose two victories gave him runner up status in the championship. Nico Rosberg gave Team MBM their only podium all year, but Hamilton’s second consecutive seventh place meant he beat Nico in the championship by a solitary point.
Liuzzi and Van der Garde failed to finish, but Fore managed fourteenth starting from the back.
Liuzzi promised Michael after the race they would race together again in the future. Tonio delivered on his word and in the first Grand Prix of the 2006 season stuck a great move on Schumacher into turn three at Albert Park. It may have just been enough to make Michael think back to that special day in 2001.
If anything it is a pleasant reminder that somewhere out there you’ll find a young kid driving a kart on his way to a Formula One World Championship.