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Le Mans

Alan McNish racing in Bahrain
Pictures courtesy of Audi Motorsport

Scots driver, Allan McNish, is on course to make this year’s St Andrew’s Day one to remember when the Dumfries-born race ace challenges for his fourth win of the season in the Six Hours of Bahrain on Saturday. McNish is already assured of the FIA World Endurance Championship Driver’s title along with co-drivers Tom Kristensen (Den) and Loïc Duval (F) in the eight-race series that began with the trio steering their hybrid-diesel Audi to victory at Silverstone in April. Two other wins that included the Le Mans 24 Hours, three seconds and a third have earned the trio an unassailable points lead but McNish is nevertheless gunning for further success in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Allan McNish

Allan McNish

“Four wins in a season sounds much better than three while it’s not often I get the chance of winning a race on St Andrew’s Day so it’s gloves off in Bahrain,” he said. “It’ll be no holds barred for everyone because there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain to sign off the year in spectacular fashion. Audi has won six out of seven WEC races this season but Toyota will be very keen to make amends for the close fight they lost in China. Tom, Loïc and I also want another win but it will be tough. In China we had to take a very cautious approach through traffic to make sure there were no mistakes and get our hands on the title.”

But confirmation of the Driver’s title for the trio will only come to fruition so long as each driver completes the 45min minimum driving time in the final round on Saturday. In last year’s corresponding race around the 3.91-mile Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, McNish claimed pole-position and went on to finish second behind the “sister” hybrid diesel Audi of outgoing WEC champions Marcel Fässler (CH)/André Lotterer (D)/Benoît Tréluyer (F).

Qualifying is staged on Friday with the eighth and final FIA WEC race scheduled to start at 12 noon (UK time) on Saturday.

Saturday
The Lions roar Down Under as they take the First Test against Australia in a 23-21 thriller in Brisbane.

British and Irish Lions in action

British and Irish Lions in action

The outcome though should have been so different, but Wallabies kicker Kurtley Beale missed two kicks at goal late on, the second, when his standing foot slipped as he attempted a last-minute penalty. Beale had chosen to wear moulded studs, a costly error for his nation. But hey, he’s Aussie, and aren’t they supposed to be the roughest, toughest, hard-nosed sportsmen around?

I’ll keep my sympathies – if there are any – for after the Series is decided, although I will always remember Beale’s name. Always better I think to refer to someone in person rather than ‘that Aussie who fell on his arse …’

Sunday

Allan Simonsen  Killed In Tragic Le Mans Crash

Allan Simonsen
Killed In Tragic Le Mans Crash

I happened to be in France in 1998 when Allan McNish won the Le Mans 24 Hour race for the first time. Indeed, I still have L’Equipe from the Monday morning, the Scot featuring on the front page.
I wonder whether he’s ever featured on the back page of a newspaper in his native Scotland, despite winning three races at La Sarthe, the third coming this weekend for Audi alongside Frenchman Loic Duval, who had never previously won the endurance race, and Dane Tom Kristensen, who takes his record tally of wins to nine.

Sadly, the race was overshadowed by the fatal crash involving Kristensen’s countryman Allan Simonsen, who died on Saturday when he crashed his Aston Martin. Accordingly, the post-race celebrations were somewhat subdued. Rather like the newspaper coverage McNish has received in thrice claiming the most famous race in the world. And yet we think of ourselves as a sport loving nation …

Monday
No sooner had Wimbledon started than former champion and French Open winner Rafael Nadal was headed home after he slumped to a shock first-round defeat at the hands of world No.135 Steve Darcis, who even some Belgians didn’t know comes from Belgium. So began a week of shocks, with injuries and unexpected exits decimating both the Men’s and Ladies draws.

Andy Murray

Andy Murray

Needless to say, it didn’t take long before 2013 was going to be Andy Murray’s year. If only Wimbledon was that simple.

I remember 1973 when after 81 of the leading men boycotted the tournament, Ilie Nastase was installed as No.1 seed and favourite – and went out in the Fourth Round to little-known American Sandy Mayer. A Brit did almost benefit from the carnage, Roger Taylor reaching the semis after beating some scruffy kid from Sweden, Borg I think his name was, before losing a rain-effected, late evening encounter to eventual winner Jan Kodes.

So let’s not build our man up too much. It only makes disappointment all the harder to take …

Tuesday
Some followers of Motherwell must be in a right tizzy today when their beloved club announces their ‘delighted’ at being granted associate membership of the European Club Association (ECA).

Motherwell FC LogoYou see, this was the organisation described as ‘Mickey Mouse’ and meaningless by some elements of the Fir Park faithful when the ECA announced last year that historically, they still considered the current Rangers as the Rangers of old. And now, unbelievably, Motherwell FC are celebrating that not only are they “able to rub shoulders and share information with football heavyweights such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, AC Milan and many more,” but that they’ll join “Celtic, Rangers, Hearts and Aberdeen as the only representatives from Scotland.”

That line, plucked straight from the Motherwell website, says Rangers, not The Rangers, not Newco, not Sevco, just Rangers. Do those who run Motherwell know or accept something others just don’t want to see or admit? I’m sure the Motherwell web editor or master, or the club secretary, or even Chief Exec Leeann Dempster – who attended the ECA General Assembly in Doha, Qatar back in February – would be delighted to hear from you. PS And I’ve got the screen grab as evidence …

Wednesday
Achievement should always be acknowledged and Rachel Yankey wins her 126th England cap in a 1-1 draw against Japan. However, acknowledging achievement and political correctness appears to been mixed into a heady cocktail which some have binged when the Arsenal Ladies midfielder is billed as England’s most capped player ahead of ‘former men’s goalkeeper Peter Shilton.’

What? I’m sorry, Yankey has had a great career, as did Shilton, but there is no way you can compare like with like on that one.

Thursday
HampdenThe Scottish Parliament publishes their same sex marriage bill. This will make it easier, and legitimise acts of union between those who are the same. I haven’t read the Bill, but obviously it doesn’t apply to football bodies.

The SPL and the SFL meet at Hampden to unite under their new name, the SPFL. Some 16 hours later, and the two are still individual groups who look the same, sound the same, and, carry the same suspicions about one another. If their big day was anything to go by, this marriage is one that’s headed for the divorce courts no-one wanting custody of the debt …

Friday
The SPFL of course will now need a Chief Executive, with Neil Doncaster and David Longmuir both being interviewed for the role. Given everything that’s happened in the last year, Scottish football could end up with the evil of two lesser …

Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, track-fighting man <em>Picture: Chell Hill</em>

Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, track-fighting man Picture: Chell Hill

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Usain Bolt aside, athletics has been up against it in recent times, drugs putting a question mark against everyone. So those in charge of the sport have tried all kinds of marketing ploys to lift the popularity, from Golden to Diamond leagues, strange-coloured vests, and world record attempts at every opportunity.

But it appears they might have cracked it with a completely new event – the middleweight street-fighter 3,000m steeplechase. I know there have been wee neds and polis throughout Scotland participating in this event for years, but never on a world stage.

Watch this and tell me who wouldn’t want this in the 2012 London Olympics or Glasgow 2014?

Channel 5 has live boxing, the British and Commonwealth heavyweight title fight between holder Dereck Chisora and Tyson Fury.

Fury took the win on points after 12 rounds, which I had scored 117–112 in his favour. There were some inquisitive looks at me when the MC read out the judges’ scorecards, the first two giving Fury the fight by the same margin. There are those amongst my family and friends who forget what I used to do for a living.

All in all, it was more thud and blunder than blood and thunder, but a good enough scrap nevertheless. I’d score the contest 7/10, above average, because over the years I’ve paid more to watch worse…

Sunday
The German Grand Prix lost out to a BBQ. I admit, I missed a great race (although I watched the highlights later).

Star performance of the day comes from Mark Cavendish, who won the final stage of the Tour de France in Paris, becoming Britain’s first winner of the green jersey for the race’s best sprinter.

Cavendish deserves the plaudits for his achievement, although what he won was a series of races within one big race. Overall, he finished 130th, ninety-nine places behind the top Brit, Geraint Thomas.

Still, Cavendish rewrote the history books in capturing that green jersey, and had plenty more written about him as a result.

But imagine if he had taken such a title and finished at the head of the field. What media frenzy would have followed that?

Well, back in 1984, that’s what Scotland’s Robert Millar did, winning the King of the Mountains red polka-dot jersey outright and finishing an amazing fourth overall.

But Millar’s incredible performance merited probably a tenth of the exposure in this country that Cavendish’s did.

That’s how much sport has grown in the last quarter of a century. Or do I mean the hype around it?

Monday
While he might never have enjoyed the hero-worship of Jimmy White or Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry was always a popular guy.

People presented him with awards aplenty, adoring fans even commissioning special trophies to mark his achievements, with my good friend Neil White’s Waterford Crystal piece commemorating Hendry’s 100 Crucible centuries a particularly striking gift.

Whenever the seven-times world champion was signing autographs, there would be a lengthy queue, with all sorts wanting him to pen their books, photographs, programmes, tickets and the likes – and, in the case of a few daring young ladies, certain parts of their anatomy.

Stephen joked a few months that he was now the property of the granny brigade. But just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse when it came to admirers…

I have to say, all credit to Stephen for posing as an Apache warrior…

Tuesday
While Rangers entertain Malmö (although they struggled to do the same with the home support) in their Champions League qualifier at Ibrox, holders Barcelona are participating in the Audi Cup at the Allianz Arena along with Bayern Munich (who they would eventually defeat in the final), AC Milan and Internacional from Brazil.

Audi spend a shed-load of dosh year-on-year backing their own record-breaking team in endurance car races, especially at Le Mans.

But while there are those out there trying to tell butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers just how wonderful motorsport sponsorship is for brand awareness, here is one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world sinking even more cash (they are official car suppliers to Manchester United) in football.

What does that tell you about the power of the glorious game?

Back to Ibrox, and in the inner bowels of the great stadium ahead of the game, I’m interviewing the legend that is the “Greatest Ever Ranger”, John Greig. “Greigy” is helping me with a few chapters for a book idea I’m working on and complains bitterly that I’ve asked him to recall some details from nearly 50 years ago.

He then rhymes off team-mates, goalscorers, who passed to who and other recollections as if it were yesterday.

What does that tell you about the power of the glorious game?

Wednesday
One year to go to London 2012. 365 days now, or is it 366? It’s a year, anyway. Unfortunately my preparations have been curtailed somewhat by injury (a long-term Achilles problem has flared up again), and the fact that I am still trying to decide what event I want to compete in. This decision-making process will be all the easier once I work out what sport I am going to be good at.

I’m still thinking football, as the token Scot – or judo, as you would get to keep a nice jacket if nothing else.

It might be my imagination, but champion diver Tom Daley has started appearing even more regularly on my TV, fronting the Nestlé “Get Set, Go Free” campaign.

Now as a diver, young Tom is agile, inventive and expressive – all of the things he is not in this advert.

I noted that while he tried out golf and hockey, the kept him well away from horses. Copyright there probably belongs to Zara Phillips.

Of course, there has only ever been one athlete capable of world-class diving and being able to act with it. Watch and learn, Tom, from a master at work.

Thursday
El-Hadji Diouf has always had the ability to play at the very highest level. He has also had the ability throughout his career to start a fight in an empty hoose.

This week Diouf fell out of love with the Senegal Football Federation (FSF) which banned him for five years after comments he had made on Radio France Internationale, in which he claimed that “the whole system of African football is corrupt”. I couldn’t possibly comment.

But Diouf is naturally upset by the outcome and promised he would “go to war” with the FSF. Well, he wouldn’t be himself if he wasn’t warring with someone. Ask Scott Brown, the players of QPR, and at least one Celtic fan. The list is endless.

This latest spat, coupled with Diouf’s non-appearance for Blackburn’s return for pre-season training, has put his future at Ewood Park in doubt, with Rovers boss Steve Kean indicating that perhaps the time was right for the player to leave the club.

And here was me thinking that Kean had allowed Diouf to play at the tail-end of last season with Rangers, just so he could welcome him back with open arms.

However, there might have been some method in El-Hadji’s madness, missing the making of this.

Maybe Tom Daley isn’t that bad after all…

Friday
Northern Ireland’s second-best golfer Rory McIlroy doesn’t like criticism levelled at him by American broadcaster Jay Townsend on Twitter.

After seeing the US Open champion double-bogey the last hole at Killarney, Townsend tweeted: “It was some of the worst course management I’ve ever seen beyond under-10 boys’ golf competition.”

McIlroy countered: “Jay Townsend shut up… you’re a commentator and a failed golfer, your opinion means nothing.”

Townsend responded with: “I stand by my comments.”

The Ulsterman retaliated with “Well, I stand by my caddie,” and then revealed: “I have now blocked him on Twitter so I won’t be reading anything more.”

Different sport, different people, different times and different technology.

But you could never see someone like Graeme Souness in his pomp, or Sir Alex Ferguson, resolving their differences with someone by telling them they’d blocked them on Twitter…

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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