Friday, June 6, 2014

Coffee Brake: Who is Your Favorite Driver?

by CFlo

Us enthusiasts pretty much all like to imagine that we're fantastic drivers when behind the wheel, whether the wheel in question belongs to an '80s Tercel in a high school parking lot, or an E36 M3 singing around the local road course. But the truth of the matter is that the guys and gals who are really, really good at driving start when they are 3 or 4 years old - or just have some natural innate ability to go faster than everyone else while making it look easy. So who's your favorite?

I was lucky enough to be behind the camera and capture this moment at Pikes Peak last year, during the Wednesday practice for the monster hill climb. Former gymnast and 9-time WRC champ Sébastien Loeb has just returned from a run up the lower section and is giving a download to the Peugeot Sport team and Director Bruno Famin (left). I was awestruck by the man and his 208 T16 - basically an LMP1 car in a tube chassis wearing a hatchback body. I've always admired Loeb for his no-nonsense professional approach, car control skills, and ability to dominate consistently. Granted, watching him win rally after rally got a bit boring in WRC, but seeing the record demolishing run up Pikes Peak last year was amazing.

I am always impressed by how the fastest drivers seem to be just barely moving the steering wheel. A driver making smooth inputs with a light touch allows the vehicle to do its thing with the minimum of disturbance, and a maximum of tactile feedback.

Here's my short list of favorite drivers, since I can't choose just one:

Mark Donohue: American driver in Indy, Trans-Am, Can-Am, Le Mans, and Formula 1. A mechanical engineer, very analytical and humble guy who happened to be really decent behind the wheel. Tragically died from a cerebral hemorrhage sustained in a crash during testing for the 1975 F1 Austrian Grand Prix.

Alvis Upitis: Racing Greats &emdash; Mark Donohue at Donnybrooke
photo by Alvis Upitis

Sir Jackie Stewart: Scottish F1 World Champion and champion of safety in motorsports who has saved countless drivers' lives with his efforts. Huge proponent of plaid on every surface.

Stig Blomkvist: Swedish WRC champion, pilot of Saab 99s and Group B Audi Quattros; master of car control in any condition. Would make you look like a beached whale in comparison if you raced him on ice. The Stig as far as I'm concerned.

Who is your favorite driver and why?


  1. i read an article years ago (sure wish i could remember the source) where the author went for a run in moderate freeway traffic with a famous elder statesman driver (i want to say it was Jackie Stewart) in his 560SEC

    the vibe was like: he doesn't seem to be doing very much, hardly changing lanes, and yet we always seem to have an opening in front of us and making more progress than anyone else - he's got this almost supernatural sense of how things are going to unfold, and thus has all the time in the world to gradually get into optimal position

    i've always tried to emulate that, with varying degrees of success

  2. I'm going to offroad a little bit here and choose Jay Leno.. not because of his driving skills but because he (as a driver) has access to a mix of motorcycles and cars which demonstrate that he is the consummate gearhead. The guy has an encyclopedic knowledge of cars and is reported by people I trust to be a very decent guy. I was recently impressed by one of his videos of him riding one of his early Nortons.. he's kind of heavy now, but the thing I noticed is that his old black biker's jacket is worn, very well worn, from LOTS of miles driven.

    He may own the newest McLaren and Porsche but he also appears to be just as excited when he's driving one of his early steamers.

    I have to echo what one of our commenters Gianni wrote the other day, there's nothing better than getting a new old car. We've seen Leno in action in a variety of articles, blogs and video, he acts just as excited getting his new-old Falcon as his McLaren (not EXACTLY, but you get the picture)

    Jay is the consummate Daily Turismo guy as he didn't drive a blandmobile to work before he retired from the Tonight Show. Having owned a '57 Buick, I always enjoyed the opening of the show with the clip of him arriving in his '57 Buick convertible.

    1. Great choice! Jay drives the cars I want to own!

  3. Adrian Fernandez: All around good guy who was fast and consistent in his day and drove a bitchin’ looking champcar.

    Alex Zanardi: How can’t this guy be on anyone’s list!? Spectacular to watch.

    Emanuele Pirro: Listened to his recent interview on Motorsport Magazine’s podcast – what an optimist and a great personality!

    Fernando Alonso: Cool, collected, the best all-around talent (in my humble opinion) and grabs every car he jumps in by the neck before flogging the crap out of it.

    Allan McNish: Because he didn’t mind making small talk while we shared a wiz at Lime Rock.

    1. Zanardi is one of the all time greats and it has been awesome to see him return to racing, sans legs!

      Alonso definitely seems like he is all business on the track. None of the whining and complaining you hear from a lot of the other dudes over the radio. I've taken a trick from his book for whenever I'm go-karting - what I call the "Alonso Start," wherein right after the flag waves for a standing start, if you're starting mid-field you go around the outside and late brake the crap out of everyone to get (almost) all of your passing done by the exit of the first turn. It works!

  4. My favorite driver is the one who moves out of the way on the highway.

    1. Precisely! Also known as, "those who know the meaning of keep right except to pass signs."
      Honorable mention: folks who have figured out what the little stalk on the left hand side of the steering column is used for in conjunction BLINKING to INDICATE a DIRECTIONAL change.

    2. Amen brother, A-f'n-men.

  5. Funny that you mention an 80's Tercel and an e36 M3. The Tercel was my first car and the M3 is one of my current ones.

  6. I can't believe we're this far down in the comments and nobody has yet mentioned Kimi Raikkonen.

  7. My favorite driver Oh, oh, professional driver -- maybe Robert Kubica - because he is a polish F1 driver (what are the odds eh?) and is least until he crashed and broke his arm, then leg. Finally, he always seemed humble in the post race interviews...not the same for the current crop of kids on the podium.

    ...or Kimi Raikkonen because of the quotable stuff he says.

    1. Quotable indeed. One of my favorites:

      Martin Brundle: “Kimi, you missed the presentation by Pele.”
      Kimi : “Yeah.”
      Martin: “Will you get over it?”
      Kimi: “Yeah. I was having a shit.”


  8. Juan Manuel Fangio ... Lloyd Ruby ... Parnelli Jones

  9. John Buffum. The only FIA priority rally driver the US has produced.

    I took this picture of JB at the 1986 Olympus World Rally.

  10. Besides myself it is the one and only Mark Donohue.
    He did it all and even cheated well.
    Me? I am the guy on the highway who always is alone in a space with 1000 feet or more ahead and behind him that is vacant of activity.

  11. Ayrton Senna--hands down. Not just for his superb driving skills and wins. In Brazil he is "God". Decent guy and model philanthropist on education of poor kids living in the slums. Not a popular issue at all in his time. The Ultimate Cool Dude.

  12. The one and only Dan Gurney.

  13. Arie Luyendyck for strictly personal reasons, although he has a resume to justify it, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, Gordon Johncock cause I had a chance to chat with him at a Road America flag station after his car died on the back stretch before Canada Corner,

  14. Fred Flintstone. Nobody could do more with less.

  15. Modern: Fernando Alonso or Jimmie Johnson. Same guy in parallel universes.
    Mid-century+: Mario Andretti. Could win in so many classes. Sir J. Stewart for many reasons including creating his own category at the 'Ring.
    Old-timey: Fangio. Five times World Driving Champion in four different makes, so good he could hand one to Moss just because they were in England.
    All of the above were/are points machines as well as thrilling drivers, a rare combo even at the elite level.
    "Anonymous" due to site issues.


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