Happy New Year, CEP listeners! I hope you and yours had a fantastic holiday season. I know I did, and as the clock wound down on 2018, I took the chance to look back on the year that was. We all get reflective at this point in the year, so that’s going to be the theme of this blog: a 2018 year review. I’m going to be sharing my nominations for the best of the year, from both road and track. Now, we did a year in review for one of our last episodes, but we never did any “award” nominations. I have created fake awards and will present my winners in the coming paragraphs, and the beauty of doing this blog is that my opinions won’t get “tainted” by my co-hosts. Let’s begin with the best on the road…
BIGGEST STORY OF THE YEAR
There’s no question that this has to be Ford deciding to cut production of all cars except the Mustang. While the data does show that trucks, SUVs and crossovers lead the way in sales, there is always going to be a place for cars. Ford even said it themselves, stating that cars are “commoditized.” Well the word commodity, while normally used to describe raw materials, basically means something that sells all the time. This move was clearly a quick cash grab attempt by the company, executed with only investors in mind. Those investors are now pissed, because they’ve watched stock prices go from roughly $11/share at the time of the announcement in April down to $7.65/share on New Year’s Eve.
DIPSHIT OF THE YEAR
While this title could very easily be bestowed upon the entire board at Ford, the real winner is Elon Musk. If you don’t know why, call the SEC or check Twitter.
BEST BANG FOR YOUR BUCK
I have to nominate the Hyundai-Kia group for this award. If you want to talk about a value purchase, look no further. These folks pack ALL the amenities into their vehicles, along with a 10 year/100,000 mile warranty into truly good looking vehicles that consistently match the competition in horsepower and beat them in fuel mileage, satisfaction ratings and “stuff.” What this company has done in the past 5 years is truly impressive.
BEST NAMEPLATE REVIVAL
It seems like everyone has been eating their ‘Member Berries lately, and automakers are no different. Ford has brought back the GT and the Ranger, with the Bronco coming soon. Honda has relaunched the NSX, and General Motors announced the return of the Blazer a few years after reviving the Camaro. For 2018, I have to pick BMW and their 8 Series as the best. Originally produced from 1990-1999, the 8 Series is back from its 20-year slumber and comes packed with 523hp, a 0-60 time of 3.6 seconds and a road-limited top speed of 155mph. Oh, and they launched an M8 GTE spec race car to boot, which won twice in its debut season.
MOST POINTLESS CAR
Despite all of the ragging on GM lately, I genuinely am a lifelong fan. So it pains me to say this, but the most pointless car of 2018 is the Yenko Camaro, built by the Specialty Vehicle Engineering custom shop. Customers can get this car in one of two “stages.” Stage I comes with 835hp, and if that for whatever reason isn’t enough, you can buy a Stage II version with 1,000hp. Costs are $90,000 and $130,000, respectively. Ok…but why? You can say that this is a track day car (as SVE does, it isn't even road-legal in CA), but you can also spend roughly $25,000 LESS on a ZL1 Camaro which consistently laps track days quicker than Aventadors, 458 Italias and AMG GTs, so don’t you dare give me that argument.
Well, those are all the fake awards I could think up for the road. Time to shift gears here (pun intended, take that, Andrew!) and hand out some imaginary hardware to their track-dwelling counterparts…
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR/BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT
The only winner taking home 2 awards this year is Robert Wickens. When it was announced that Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports was signing Wickens to be James Hinchcliffe’s IndyCar teammate in 2018, I thought they were nuts. While he had some success in the junior open wheel ranks, he had spent the last half-decade racing in DTM, a German sports car series. No one really knew what to expect, but then I found out that Hinchcliffe actually took a pay cut so the team could afford to sign him! Why? He quickly answered that question by qualifying on pole for his very first start, and he was leading the race with 2 laps to go, until an aggressive pass attempt by Alexander Rossi sent him into the wall. In his 2nd career race, his first EVER race on an oval, he finished 2nd at Phoenix. He came home a respectable 9th in his Indy 500 debut. He quickly racked up 4 podium finishes, led 187 total laps and was in contention for the point championship until Pocono.
Now, the biggest disappointment of the year is not Robert Wickens himself. As you just read, he was far from that. The biggest disappointment of 2018 is the devastating accident that kept us from knowing how his 2018 rookie campaign would have finished. Wickens was racing with former champ Ryan Hunter-Reay when the two cars touched, and the rookie went airborne into the catch fence at nearly 200mph, shredding his car into pieces. At this point, the question isn’t if he can get back into a race car, but rather, will he be able to walk again. He’s already shown via social media that he can stay upbeat through a very trying recovery process. Hope to see you back at the track soon, Robert!
DRIVER OF THE YEAR
You’d probably think I’m going to pick Scott Dixon here, as my favorite driver just put a 5th notch into his IndyCar championship belt…but he’s not my choice for 2018. This year, I have to pick another new 5-time champ, Lewis Hamilton. The best F1 driver of this generation just keeps getting better. Yes, F1 is largely dependent on the team’s budget. Yes, a lot of drivers could hop into a Mercedes F1 car and perform very well. But despite the inherent advantage of racing for the sport’s best team, Lewis went above and beyond this year. In 21 races, he matched his career highs with 11 wins and 17 podiums. His AVERAGE finish was 2.6! Compare that to his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who drove in the exact same equipment: 0 wins, 8 podiums. Need I say more?
TEAM OF THE YEAR
I’m going stateside for this award, and passing out my imaginary hardware to NASCAR’s Stewart-Haas Racing. The 4-car outfit dominated the NASCAR schedule this year, winning 12 of the 36 races on the calendar and scoring a combined 39 top fives, 84 top tens and 9 pole positions. Not bad for the team’s first Danica-less season, huh?
While not the team of the year, another NASCAR team needs to be recognized: Hattori Racing Enterprises, from the NASCAR truck series. Founded by former Japanese racing star Shigeaki Hattori, this admirable group competed against tall odds this year. The team was on such a tight budget, they literally didn’t know if they would make it to the track on a week-to-week basis. But in the midst of all the “Will-I-Have-A-Job-Tomorrow” distractions and last minute sponsorship deals, the team kept their heads down and delivered a slew of quality performances. Hot shoe driver Brett Moffitt actually won 6 races and the series championship! Despite the accomplishment, they still don’t have plans for the upcoming season due to budget/sponsorship issues. Hopefully, some good news comes quick because the defending champs have proven that they deserve a shot to defend their title.
LUCKY BREAK OF 2018
If you haven’t seen the accident from this year’s Macau GP, involving German teenager Sophia Floersch…Well, take my word for it, it was nasty. Sophia suffered a catastrophic failure right before a heavy braking zone. While everyone else was breaking for the near-hairpin turn, Sophia slid onto the scene backwards at 170mph, launched over another car and into a photographer’s stand on the outside of the catch fence. She escaped with moderate injuries, required back surgery, and has already stated her intent to be ready to race next season. She gets the Lucky Break award for avoiding what could have been the worst accident in racing this year.
That should just about do it…what an epic year 2018 has been, and not just in the world of cars and racing, but for us here at The Check Engine Podcast as well. While we’ve all had some great personal and professional milestones this year, the fact that we still have a podcast to look forward to is the best news we could’ve hoped for, and it’s because of all of you who take time to listen, comment, like, share, and read.. Please, get back to me on this piece. Do you agree with my choices for these fake accolades? Do you have your own imaginary awards to hand out? Tell us, via our socials or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I wish you all the best in 2019, and ask you to stay tuned because another awesome year of The Check Engine Podcast is right around the corner!