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Have a go heroes: Motorsport stars that have tried something different

Features

12 Oct 2019

Credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar Media

This weekend Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe will tackle the Bathurst 1000, Australia’s biggest motorsport event.

The pair will be competing as a wildcard entrant for Walkinshaw Andretti United – a team co-owned by Michael Andretti who runs the same IndyCar team that Rossi competes for. For Rossi, it will be his first foray into Aussie motorsport, meanwhile Hinchcliffe – who previously raced for Andretti Autosport between 2012-14 – competed at the Surfers Paradise rounds in 2012 as a co-driver to Michael Caruso.

Both IndyCar race winners are the only wildcard drivers in this weekend’s Bathurst 1000 but they are far from being the only racing drivers to have sampled other disciplines during their careers.

Here are some more ‘have a go heroes’ who gave something else a go during their high profile careers:

 

Kurt Busch impressed on his Indy 500 debut – Credit: Walter Kuhn/IndyCar Media

Doing the double

NASCAR champion Kurt Busch had already competed in an NHRA drag racing event and tested a Champ Car and a rallycross car prior to his IndyCar debut in 2014.

Busch had never had any single seater racing experience before, but you wouldn’t have noticed – he qualified 12th out of 33 entrants, and finished a superb sixth. Later that day he flew from Indianapolis the Charlotte to compete in the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR’s longest race. Unfortunately 409 miles into the 600-mile contest, Busch’s engine expired, ending any hopes of him completing both events in the same day.

Busch, along with fellow NASCAR stars Kyle Larson and brother Kyle Busch have all expressed an interest in sampling an IndyCar race, but Kurt Bush’s 2014 appearance remains the most recent instance of a stock car driver competing at Indy.

 

Fernando Alonso has tried pretty much everything in recent years – Credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar Media

A jack of all trades?

Since his Formula 1 career wound down Fernando Alonso has become the quintessential ‘have a go hero’. During his penultimate F1 campaign Alonso skipped the Monaco Grand Prix to race in the Indianapolis 500 – he led 27 laps during the race but retired early due to engine failure.

He returned to Indy earlier this year for a second crack at the 500, but failed to make the race after what was a tricky month for McLaren’s self-run entry.

Away from single seaters Alonso dovetailed F1 with the World Endurance Championship in 2018. The sports car foray gave him his third FIA world championship crown and a pair of Le Mans 24 Hours victories, albeit during an era where Alonso’s Toyota team was the only factory-backed prototype entrant and where the rules in place severely hampered privateer competition.

Following the conclusion of the 2018-19 WEC ‘superseason’, Alonso has spent time behind the wheel of Toyota’s rally raid Hilux machine. The Spaniard has tested and competed in the truck with limited success but is eyeing a future assault on the gruelling Dakar rally.

 

Raikkonen (L) raced for Joe Nemecheck (R) in the NASCAR Truck series – Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images/NASCAR Media

F1 to ovals, via rallying

Fernando Alonso isn’t the only contemporary F1 driver to go and play elsewhere. After leaving Ferrari for the first time at the end of 2009 (coincidentally to make way for Alonso), Kimi Raikkonen spent two years competing in the World Rally Championship.

He made his WRC debut as a privateer in 2009, while still a Ferrari driver, but then joined Citroen’s Junior Team the following year. Sadly Raikkonen couldn’t carry over his F1 success to rallying, and in 21 events he notched up a single stage win and no overall victories.

For 2011 Raikkonen took part in a partial campaign, again in a car he entered himself. Alongside his rallying commitments he tested Peugeot’s 908 Le Mans prototype and made his NASCAR debut.

After qualifying 31st out of 37 entrants, he finished his Truck series debut in 15th. He followed that up just over a week later with a 27th place finish in his Xfinity series debut. A mooted Cup series debut was canned after a testing crash, then Raikkonen returned to F1 for the 2012 season.

 

Sebastien Ogier’s highest-profile racing exploit so far has been in DTM – Credit: Philip Platzer/Red Bull Content Pool

DTM welcomes superstar guests

Sebastien Ogier has dovetailed his hugely successful rallying career with a handful of racing outings over the years in the Porsche Supercup and German GT championship.

Last year he made his DTM debut as a wildcard driver for Mercedes at the Red Bull Ring in Austria claiming a best finish of 12th. Ogier was one of three wildcards in 2018, with each manufacturer drafting in a driver for a sole weekend appearance over the course of the year. Audi welcomed back former driver Mattias Ekstrom for a swansong appearance, while BMW welcomed long-time affiliated driver Alex Zanardi.

While Ogier hasn’t returned to the circuit since, DTM has continued to welcome wildcard drivers with MotoGP star Andrea Dovizioso competing at Misano in Italy this year. The Italian even matched Ogier’s best result of 12th, despite having never raced at such a high level before.

 

Sebastien Loeb had multiple F1 tests in the late-2000s – Credit: Getty images/Red Bull Content Pool

Full-time Formula 1? Not quite…

In recent years we’ve seen several top-level drivers sample F1 machinery. NASCAR champions Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Jimmie Johnson, WRC’s Sebastien Ogier, even MotoGP star Jorge Lorenzo; but none have come close to making a full-time switch to F1.

Seven-time champion Valentino Rossi and nine-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb did come close though.

After a handful of tests for Ferrari in the 2000s, Rossi was rumoured to be joining the famed Prancing Horse, with the team all but confirming that the motorcycling legend would’ve joined the team had F1 allowed three-car teams. For Rossi the move never came off and he remained on two wheels… mostly. Rossi has also competed in various rally events as well.

As for Loeb, the Frenchman has competed and won in pretty much everything. After calling time on his full-time rallying career Loeb moved firstly to the World Touring Car championship and later the World Rallycross championship, but in 2009 he very nearly became an F1 driver thanks to sponsor Red Bull.

Loeb had tested F1 machinery in 2007 and 2008 for Renault and Red Bull, and was set to make his F1 debut at the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in place of compatriot Sebastien Bourdais. The one-off appearance was even supposed to lead to a full-time switch in 2010, however the FIA refused to give Loeb a Superlicence and the plan was scuppered before it even got off the ground.

 

Nico Hulkenberg won on his Le Mans debut for Porsche – Credit: Jean-Jacques Abalain/Wikimedia Commons

Hulk smashes Le Mans

Nico Hulkenberg is widely regarded as one of the biggest talents in F1 today but it was in sports car racing that he enjoyed his most recent success.

While racing for Force India in 2015, Hulkenberg competed in the Six Hours of Spa and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a third entry for Porsche alongside Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber.

After claiming sixth place in the Belgian race, which is often regarded as a warm-up for Le Mans, Hulkenberg, Tandy, and Bamber won Le Mans at the first attempt. The win came as something of a surprise, with Porsche’s hopes expected to be in the hands of its two full-time entrants. It also marked the first time in 17 years that Porsche had triumphed in the French classic.

‘The Hulk’s’ sports car cameo may well serve him in good stead in the coming months, with his F1 future hanging in the balance following the news that he would be replaced at Renault for next season by Esteban Ocon.